He came to me on his seventy-fifth birthday, when his hands were soft enough to save. They had kept him alive for a lifetime, laying bricks that grew into buildings, cooking food that grew into flesh. He used to say we had that in common, but my skin was smooth like porcelain, nails pink and polished, warm and delightful. The first time he held my hands, they seemed to disappear, engulfed by size and strength. ‘I am conditional,’ he said, ‘on these little limbs.’
My hands were perfect because they were paid to be, because I was female, and because there was nothing else. I lived in a tiny room above the salon, where I spent my nights with peeling paint. Once a week, I would find him sitting in the pristine waiting room, surrounded by women half his age, and watch as he fumbled with glossy magazines, thinking how much it suited him, this part of our world.
I realised quickly that he wanted to be touched, so I rubbed his fingers slowly, applied pressure to his palms. To my restrictive mind, old men did not crave beauty, so I removed the parts of him that were dying and decided it was enough. Even after he forgot me and his hands were all I had, he still came.
We were sitting opposite each other one afternoon, our fingers coiled together, when he said, ‘Oh.’ And then, ‘I’m young again.’ He lifted my hands to the light and kissed them one by one, enchanted. And instead of drawing them back when I had already taken so much, I offered them willingly, understood when he said, ‘This is how it’s meant to be.’ He smiled at them with tears in his eyes, smiled and smiled and said our name.
Leonie (she/her) is Editor-in-Chief of The Hungry Ghost Project and has an MA from the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her writing has been published widely, and she won Third Prize in the June 2021 Bath Flash Fiction Award. Leonie’s debut chapbook, In Bed with Melon Bread, is available from Dreich.