September 19th, 2020
Uncle RobertFor as long as I've known my uncle Robert he has sat with busy hands, absent-mindedly folding pleats into his trousers, which were thick and old-fashioned, so neat and bold that they were coming back into fashion. Now he keeps his hands moving to combat the tremor which he might not have fully accepted. He pushes his hands along the tops of his legs, spreading the material flat, letting it spring back a little then flattening it again. On his feet he keeps the fingers moving with wiggling stretches, as though he were playing a violin or clarinet, though I don't think he ever did. I never noticed how beautiful his hands were until I was drawn to them by these unconscious fidgetings. They had an elegance that belied his work in the fields, hauling and staining before sunrise to give live to earth and to others. Though the hours were long and the work physically draining, the farm was always a happy place, where the cousins, some eight or nine of us, would run through the fields, scamper under the orchard trees and make havoc in the barns when the chickens were no fun. My father's hands were thicker, though no less worn than the old farmer's, lined from wrenches and spanners rather than sacks and wooden handles. It was the first time they met that I noticed the difference, one with drumming fingers, nipping at his pleats and rubbing his knuckles, rubbing the calluses and lines that spread across his palms. The other, still, his hands together in his lap, barely moving to gently feel a sore on the back of one with the thumb of the other. I looked from man to man and saw the differences in every part of them, how the hair of one was wild and sprawling, always being pushed back and ruffled to keep from falling into his eyes, the other neatly cropped and lightly oiled, not a hair falling from place. For one the world was full of new and exciting things, the joy of simple yet beautiful sights; the sunlight catching on a freshly filled watering can, the leaves turning gold and the first softly falling, the promise of tarts and pies from the apples that ballooned in the autumn and were hastily picked before the wasps came drunkenly feeding on fallen fruit. Even then he would say, in his inarguable way, that the yellow and black were simply drunk on the sugars of life, that for them the hard work was over and their reward was the sweet rotten fruit to which we lower beings turned up our noses. For the other the world turned and he with it. The planets span on into unimaginable space, the universe expanded and he expanded with them, swinging through the solar system, one hand resting gently on his knee, the other feeling the soft arm of the chair, the throne from which he observed the globes spinning and gliding. It was a surprise to see how much older he was. Though no less spritely, and still with the same eager life in his eyes, he was certainly getting on. Uncle Robert sat in his usual chair, the biscuit tin open on the table. A cat wondered in from the hall, rubbed up against the doorframe and went to the chair by the window to watch the outside from a lazy, sunny spot. We talked about the family, who was where now, some overseas, others home for the summer. He was as eager as ever to hear every detail, to the point I felt I was lacking in my own search for updates, I made a mental reminder to call around and check in. Perhaps that was telling, that he had become more and more interested in the smallest concerns of family members he saw less and less. As we worked our way through this side and that, I thought about my father, and how he had been before he died, the way he had so calmly faced the changes that affected us all for better and worse. He accepted so much that was beyond his control, events slid by that would shape our futures but not his, the world kept turning around him and he kept his hands in his lap, or on the chair's arm, or gently stroking the cat that purred in the afternoon sun. I looked at my hands, still halfway between boy and man, the last part of me that still retained some youthful aspect. When would they age I wondered, when would they line, tire or shake. When would I have the hands of my father, that a boy would see and know that I had lived a life in this body, used these hands over and over, controlled and grasped, held, pulled, touched, pinched, hurt and been hurt. A scar traced along the inside of my wrist, a burn from the oven in a house we used to live in. Another on the back of one knuckle from when I fell as a child, went flipping over a signpost on a bike and landed in a patch of nettles. It was the stinging I remembered, but the scratch from the broken handlebars that remained. I followed the lines on my palm. Once I'd had them read by a woman wearing a long red cloak and a turban, jewels dangling from her ears and neck, gold flashing on here fingers, the smell of incense heady in the tent which sloped in sharply to a point, the fire crackling until I coughed from the smoke and had to go out. She followed, apologising and begging me not to complain, a bad review on Trip Advisor could cost her the hard fought for spot on the Strip where drunken Stags went to find their futures. That was years before she and the rest were replaced by a mechanical booth that took your money and clanked loudly, giving you nothing at all.
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