“Crone Hands” by Molly Howes
Her large hands bear bony knuckles and uneven, cracked fingernails. An array of rounded patches holds the history of warts. Thin scars line her fingers, the result of working with too much speed and not enough caution. Her hands are functional, not things of beauty.
When she was a child, their unloveliness stood out more. By her teens, her hands resembled an ancient witch’s: worn and wrinkled, with misshapen fingers. Never graceful nor suited to adornment, she would have looked absurd with polished nails. She envied friends’ delicately tapered fingers and clear, unlined skin. She dreamed of slipping her slim hand into a handsome Prince’s larger one.
After being badly dislocated, her left ring finger retains an odd lump at the first knuckle. Her fingernails have grown perpetually cracked from endless long strokes through swimming pools. Recently, they’ve begun to develop the vertical ridges that grace elders in her family.
But, also, across many seasons, she has learned to love the magic in her strong, unpretty hands. They can whisk egg whites and cut sheetrock and soothe a baby. They can pleasure a lover or herself. They have taught her to trust them.
In her middle years, she surprised herself by loving a man with twinkling eyes and tall stature, but smallish hands – for a man’s. His were as capable as hers, if not more so, but they foretold other differences between them: His aesthetic was more graceful; hers, plainer. She marveled at his economy of motion; he marveled at the depth of her engagement.
She was prepared when he proposed, romantically, with roses, but was startled by a fabulous, sparkling diamond ring. Later, she confessed, “I’m just not a big ring kind of person.”
He replied, “The ring means I want to marry you.”
She understood, but had trouble wearing the ring.
Which he noticed.
“Why don’t you wear it?” he asked with hurt in his not-twinkling-right-then eyes. “Are you saying No?”
She didn’t know how to tell him. The unlikely gem was a masquerade for her, like Cinderella in a ball gown. When people saw it she cringed, thinking they also took in the worker’s hand – and lumpy finger – on which it would ride. Then she felt disloyal to her hands, which had served her well. Why should they play the role of ugly background for this expensive bauble?
She tried to explain. “I don’t have the right hand for this ring.”
He looked in her eyes. He took her hands in his, which are almost exactly the same size. Hers didn’t feel too big.
“I love your hands,” he pledged. “Yours is exactly the hand I want to wear this ring.”
She said Yes.
She still takes the ring off when spreading grout or mixing meatloaf. But now, when she looks down at the lovely, contradictory ring that adorns her working hand, she sees the grace of his love, as well as the alchemy of the relationship they’re building and the sturdiness of the older woman she’s become.
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Molly Howes Artist Statement:
I am a writer of a certain age, living near Boston.
My publications include the New York Times “Modern Love” column, the Boston Globe
Magazine, NPR’s “Morning Edition,” Bellingham Review, The Tampa Review, Passages
North and the Brevity blog. My work received a Notable listing in Best American Essays
2015 and has been chosen a finalist in major contests. I am a grateful recipient of
fellowships from Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Ragdale Foundation and
MacDowell Colony; and a committed member of the A Room of Her Own community.
I recently finished my memoir, The Temporary Orphan: A Tale of Invisible Wounds and
Unexpected Grace, which tells the story of a childhood quest to find meaning and my
own story. My lengthy experience as a clinical psychologist has informed my
sensibilities; sending four children into the world has taught me much more.