Sunday, October 21, 2012

Mama's Hands

Mama’s Hands
by Lisa McCourt Hollar
 

“Mama’s hands were always nice. She kept lotion on the back of the sink, so she could lather them down after she did the dishes. Soft… not like mine.” Calli held her hands out, inspecting them, then showed them to the man sitting across the table from her. “See how calloused they are? Mama’s hands would never dare have looked like this.”

Squinting, Callie looked closely at her weathered hands, puzzling over a blemish. Scrubbing them against her jeans, she sighed, inspecting them again. “I don’t suppose you have anything that will take this ink off?”

“Miss Jones, what happened to your mother?”

Leaning back against the chair, Callie folded her arms, ignoring the question. “Gardening was something mama was never good at. That’s why my hands look like this; she had me do all the digging. Pulling weeds will make your hands blister. There were nights, when she first put me in charge of the garden that I would go to bed crying, my hands hurt so bad. Mama would put some salve on them, bandage them up for me, but until they calloused over they were always tender.”

The man leaned forward, trying to catch her eye. “California…”

“Don’t call me that! Who names their child after a state? I never did understand what possessed mama to name us children the way she did. Tex said he thinks it was so she could remember where each of our daddies was, though why she would want to be reminded of those dead beats is beyond me. Not a one of ‘em ever paid child support, though I don’t s’pose they ever knew about us.” Callie paused for a moment, her eyes troubled. Looking up she stared past him as though he weren’t there. If he hadn’t known they were the only ones in the room, he would have turned to see who she was staring at. Then clearing her throat, she continued, “Maybe they was the lucky ones.”

“Miss Jones…”

“You may call me Callie, sweetie. Everyone does.”

“Okay, Callie… there’s blood all over your kitchen and your neighbors say they haven’t seen your mother for over a week. Can you tell me what happened? Where is she?”

Callie grew distant again and for a moment he thought she was done talking. Then she spoke, her voice so quiet he had to strain to hear her. “She was mean, my mama. Her hands may have been soft, but when she beat you with them they was hard as steal. And she beat me with them more than the others. Iowa said it was because I was ugly and she wanted her only girl to look beautiful, like her.” Callie’s eyes grew dark. “I’m glad I don’t look like her. But even so, she wouldn’t let me go, not like she did the others. They managed to escape but she made me stay and dig in the garden. Digging holes for her to hide her secrets in.”

“Callie, we’ve dug the garden up, there are no more buried secrets. You know what we found, right?”

“My babies… Mama killed most of them when she found out I was carrying. She’d make me lay down on the bed, my legs spread wide and dig them out of me. Once I managed to hide my condition, kept her from knowing until I went into labor. She strangled that one, then beat me with it. She hit me over and over again with my own dead baby. Its body broke open, covering me with blood and other things. Then she made me go bury him with the others while she cleaned her hands, making them look all soft and pretty again so no one would ever know she’d used them to kill a part of me. She didn’t even give me time to heal before making me lay with another man.”

“Callie, what did you do to your mother?”

“It’s not right, I just wanted to have one of my own. If she found out about this one… I couldn’t let her, but she knew anyway. She kept track of my cycle and knew I had missed the last three. She grabbed hold of me by the back of my hair and tried to drag me to my room. She had the hanger she used to scrape out the last child. I screamed NO MAMA, but she didn’t listen. She gripped my hair even tighter and punched me in the stomach. I started bleeding then, blood gushing from between my legs. I knew this one was dead too. Mama just handed me the mop and told me to clean it up.”

“Callie…”

My baby is still in me, she didn’t bother scraping him out and I don’t know how to do it on my own.”

“Callie…”

“I swung the mop, catching her in the back of the head. Then I swung again and again and again… I didn’t stop until her head busted open. I didn’t bury her in the garden with my babies. That was too good for her. She’s in the basement. There’s a tool box in the corner, if you move it you’ll see a trap door. She called it the pit. That’s where she’d put us kids when we was bein’ punished. You’ll find Tex and Iowa there too, just the way she left them.”

“Callie, we already found your mother, I just needed to hear from you what happened. There’s something you haven’t told me yet, something I need to know.”

“What’s that?”

“You cut her hands off and carved the word killer onto each of them, then mailed them to the police station? Even then, we probably wouldn’t have traced it back to you, except you put your return address on the package. You wanted us to come to you. Why?”

“A person’s hands should tell your story… mine, they show I’ve had a hard life. Mama’s hands… they lied, but they can’t lie anymore.”

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