by Rachel Esser
They tremble now, the hands of the nurse. Once assured and steady, they used to prick the skin of patients, lure blood from bodies, feed fluids into thickened flesh. Firmness and warmth soothed the arms they patted, the foreheads they felt for fevers. Now, they are soft, the skin supple, plush to the touch. Short, clean fingernails are embedded in the ends of utilitarian fingers, always maintained but never manicured.
A single gold band adorns the ring finger of the left hand, dulled by the weight and pressure of years come and gone. Nothing sparkles or shines on the hands of the nurse, for diamonds can catch and gems can get lost in the messes of care.
Made for mending, the fingers used to be nimble and precise. They fixed wounds and repaired furniture, patched blue jeans and hemmed skirts. They fastened buttons onto prom dresses and tightened the same ties in preparation for the same business trips, fingers wiggling in the air as the station wagon rolled away from the curb. They pried tender meat off of carcasses, stirred bubbling pots, wafting away steam from lifted lids. They dangled in foamy water, ensuring a temperate bath.
The hands of the nurse held the hands of death and the tiny fists of new life. They stroked the wrinkled knuckles of war veterans and brushed the hair of women with forgotten children. They cradled the tender forms of babies, children, and grandchildren, more beings in need of nurturing. Notches in door frames recording growth, pencil lines sketched by aging digits. The hands of the nurse clapped together as curtains closed at recitals and baskets were scored in chilled school gymnasiums. They smoothed flyaway curls and straightened tutus.
Gentle fingers curled around the calloused palms of a son, squeezing reassuringly on the benches of the courtroom, feeling the indented space of a removed wedding ring. The hands of the nurse lifted telephones from hooks, answering late night phone calls. They steered a cherry-red minivan across the city, opening a front door with a squeak and patting a familiar shoulder with encouragement.
Companionably, the hands of the nurse now grasp onto the hands of the man who started it all. They pat the broad muscles and hardened veins that pulse beneath scarred skin, feeling the gold band that matches their own. Rumpled fingers now grip the sides of chairs, heaving a tired but functioning frame out of a blue velvet easy chair. Shelves are dusted and vegetables are chopped. A ruffled dog snores easily on the rug, head tilting towards the hands that stroke his scraggly fur.
The hands of the nurse look like my own, but smaller, stronger. They pull me into a hug, grasping my body firmly, reluctant to let go. They wave in the cool autumn air as I drive away.
They tremble now, the hands of the nurse, drawing shaky signatures and terms of endearment on birthday cards and letters. The easy looped letters and crisp lines of their handwriting have become careful and considered, a concentrated feat. I reach across the side table and take the warm hands of the nurse into my own. Palm to palm, they are steady once more.