A Full Hand
A boy from school said my mother
sounded like a stripper. Because
only strippers and whores are
named Candy. I told him my mother was a librarian. I told him
that strippers were
whores. And I thought about my mother, whom Iíd never seen in a bra
and slip. The way I saw my friendís mother almost every week, her
pale, sticky skin and breasts the size of watermelons. My mother, I
thought, would look different. My mother, I thought, would look
My mother drew a uterus on a piece
of paper. This is where the
baby grows, she said. I thought it looked like a soft triangle.
Or a hollow guitar pick. She asked me to hold out my hand and make a
fist. She said this was the size of my uterus.
I thought my fist was the size
of my heart, I said. She paused. And then,
Your heart and your uterus are
the same size.
I walked up to my room, looking at
my fist and thinking about the size of our neighborís baby. I
wondered if a uterus could open itself up like a closed hand. I
thought about my mother when she was pregnant. Tall and skinny in
photographs, with a stomach much larger than her fist. When I was
older, she told me about black sand that felt softer than it should
have. About my fatherís smile when he held it in his hand.
This is from that, he had
said, pointing to the mountain behind them. That night, my mother
left the beach with a full hand.
In school, when we studied
volcanoes, I thought about my mother. I thought about my father
leaving a black beach with a bottle of sand. Maybe because itís
illegal. Maybe because it leaves you cursed. Or maybe it doesnít
matter why my father died three months before I was born. With her
father in the waiting room. Reading yesterdayís copy of the sports
A girl on the bus asked me what it
felt like to not have a father.
Everyone has a father, I
said. I looked out the window, thinking that not having a father was
like not having all the answers. That it meant wondering if your
father hated overhead lighting the same way you did. Or felt sick
when the weather went from cold to hot and then back again. That
sometimes, not having a father makes you try to find him in
yourself. To pick up boxes full of rocks in the basement and wonder
if you could love the earth as much as he did. Or understand the way
it opens up and closes in on itself. Always staying the same size.
When I was fourteen, I learned to
backstroke. Not because I wanted to, but because of the goggles in
my fatherís bedroom. The bedroom I slept in when I stayed with my
grandparents. One July, I filled the empty spaces in my suitcase
with pieces of my father. An album I had never heard of. A bar of
soap from his dresser drawer. A ribbon from a swim meet that had
happened over twenty years ago.
I never could swim like my father,
no matter how much I practiced. Sometimes, I would pull myself from
the water and lean forward with my arms on the edge of the pool.
Barely able to breathe. On these days, I would run home wet and
smelling like chlorine. I would go into the kitchen and hold up my
hair and say that I hated it. I would point to my eyes and call them
ugly. My mother would bite her lip and look down at the floor, her
hands on the counter behind her.
My mother came to my room with a
box in her hands. She sat on my bed and showed me the way my father
made his Eís. The top half
was barely there. She was holding something he wrote next to
something I wrote and saying,
Look at the way you ignore the margins. Like they donít exist.
She pulled a metal bracelet from the box and put it in my hand.
He never wore his either,
she said. I slipped the bracelet on and thought about my father
telling a nurse he was allergic to penicillin. I wondered if he got
tired of telling them. Over and over. Like I did.
She pulled a photograph from the
box and held it in front of me, a picture of my parentsí hands.
What? I said. When she
pointed to the bump on my fatherís thumb, I understood. I thought
about my father running his finger over his thumb in a thoughtless
My mother talks with her hands
when sheís driving. On the freeway outside of town, she says,
Your father would look for
fossils in the median. She laughs and tells me that because of
the mental hospital nearby, the police mistook him for a patient.
Crawling on his hands and knees in the grass. Escaped, between six
lanes of traffic. When he told them he was
just collecting rocks,
they said it didnít matter. He was scaring drivers, and they were
getting calls. And really, they had
more important things to do.
I biked to that median and lay
down in the grass. Thinking about the man I had seen in my motherís
bedroom. My mother in the doorway with her robe pulled shut saying,
Melanie. Wait. Closing my
eyes and listening to the sound of tires on pavement. Thinking about
the way men looked at her. Wondering if there had been more. Opening
my eyes to watch cars drive past in blurry color.
I understand why my mother had to
love men she didnít love. The kind of men you hold in the deep end
of a city swimming pool. At night with the lights off and the gates
closed. With your whistle and bag on an empty metal stand. With NO
RUNNING. Or DIVING. Or LIFEGUARD ON DUTY. Just simple, quiet sex.
Pushing his mouth on your neck. Pulling the fabric of your swimsuit
toward your thigh. Feeling him move against your knuckles in the
water. This is the kind of man you do, but donít really love. The
kind of man you can press into the edge of a swimming pool and ask
to look up at a sign. Scraping him against the cement and saying,
Arenít you glad it doesnít say NO FUCKING?
Sometimes, itís easier to give a
man the outside. The skin your mother gave you that you used to
hate. The breasts that stay silent in his hands. Never mentioning
the afternoons spent on a muddy median. Wishing someone, anyone,
would stop their car. Never telling him your father didnít need the
surgery, but a doctor had thought it might help. When a manís hand
is on your stomach, he never has to know about the silly trick life
played on you. That your mother left the hospital thinking,
It was just a broken bone.
Today, Iím driving to Arizona. Iím thinking
about a bumper sticker on the first car I remember my mother owning.
If a rock falls in the
Grand Canyon, does a geologist hear it? Sometimes, I
wonder if Iíve heard my father. In a dentistís waiting room, I read
that babies react to sound before theyíre born. I think that for one
month, I might have heard my fatherís voice. But because I canít
remember, I imagine my mother and father on the edge of the
Grand Canyon. Wearing cotton shorts and dusty leather
Sara McKinnon received her MFA
from Ohio State University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming
in Fugue, Gulf Coast, The Iowa Review, The
Los Angeles Review, New Ohio Review, The New York
Quarterly, Quarter After Eight, and Quarterly West.