We sat on a mattress in the living room
side by side backs against the wall,
a round girl and a hard woman,
she picked up my hand- small, pudgy
fingers, sweaty palms – too much flesh
for too little bone with hers
-wide palm, rough, dry skin, calloused –
I watched her stretch
her palm against mine, like
holding hands but closer
her fingers shorter but firmer,
familiar, capable, formed.

When she scrubbed floors on hands and knees
and picked up after lawyers, I saw
what made the callouses.
We vacuumed, dusted, dragged
side by side.
She thanked me for helping her every
time- I smiled, didn’t mind.
She told me about her Master’s degree
in engineering and music conservatory
every day.
She pretended to be happy.
I believed her

until years later she sat across from me on the couch
in the living room,
a tired woman
she looked at my hands-
intently “you could span an octave with those hands,
easy.” We looked down: long thin fingers
pale skin next to thick red palm and hardened fingers,
that stuck to her “Christian hands” she told me –
like a curse “working hands”

her hands that spent hours stretching
across keys they couldn’t reach,
hands that remembered scrubbing filthy floors
I placed my smooth palms together,
twisted a rubber band,
her gaze rested on long, narrow nails
“where did you get such blue blood?”
she looked down at blue veins through
delicate paper skin, studied them like
abstract artwork- interesting
“everyone’s blood is blue”
she shook her head, pointing at
rounded nails, short fingers,
“not mine.”

Anastasia Ivanushkina, Age 17, Grade 12, Hunter College High School, Gold Key

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