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Sara McKinnon


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 beautiful.


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 page.


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 circle.


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 sandals.


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.

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