THE TENDERNESS OF DIRTY PALMS
Some days the world cleaves our rib cages open with its bare hands. I lay in a meadow with my eyes open to the sky, but they’re foggy. I can’t see. Where my lips part, blood leaks down until it pools on the petals of a flower below my neck. I can feel the wind on my organs where the skin is split.
It’s not cold. I thought it would be.
She comes back a few moments later, daisies, dandelions, and four-leaf clovers in hand. She always had a talent for finding four-leaf clovers. Lucky. Her feet are bare and when she rushes to my side her skin smears red. She kneels beside me, silent, her torso curling over mine.
Eventually, she brushes my hair behind my ears. It feels nice—the warmth of her fingers on my skin. She takes some moss and dabs at the blood on my face and neck. Delicate, like any move she makes might lever open the cracks in my bones. It won’t, but it wouldn’t matter anyway. She sits with me until late afternoon when the day starts to cool, and then she stands, brushes the dirt off her knees.
She drags my body through the flowers, underneath the shade of our favorite tree. An oak that reaches high into the sky with fingers long worn from weathering wind, storm, and snow. She fills my open chest cavity with baby’s breath, daisies, and half of the patch of clovers, as if their luck compounds until she can press the world to her palms and bend it.
She comes back the next day and adds new flowers, the most beautiful ones she can find. When she’s done, she lays beside me and sings all of the songs she knows I like. I already miss her voice the moment the last notes ring out and she draws in a breath. I imagine the day is cold because she wears a sweater over her dress, but the only difference I feel is when she presses her side to mine. My fingers have always run cold, so she holds them until the sun is falling past the tree line and she starts shivering. I’d tell her to go if I could.
She comes daily for a while, relayers, and sings. It must be nearly winter by the time her visits become less frequent and, on the final evening before the first snowfall, I can hear the sound of her voice fading as she walks away. When the first flurries settle on my cheeks, I wish her fingers were there to brush them off, but I don’t blame her for not braving the cold. She always hated winter.
Without her visits, I can’t tell days from weeks or years anymore, I can only feel the weight of decomposing flowers on my skin and the tree roots that have grown around my shoulders and legs. When she returns, the songs she sings are unfamiliar as she presses new petals to my collarbones. They keep the sun from me. I’d like to feel it again, but there’s no way to tell her, to ask her to clear away what has rotted.
She’s older now. I suppose I am too. I still feel seventeen, though, bright and childish in the way that teenagers try so hard not to be. She has a family, children, grandchildren, and she brings them every once in a while. They’ve carried on the tradition, but they never had her knack for finding clovers, so now it’s just daisies and dandelions, maybe some violets. And they don’t sing like she did. I can’t see anymore, the tree is swallowing me, but I can feel the ghost of their hands as they layer and layer.