Delicate Labor

by Marvin Shackelford

To play Sara’s game we need only an icepick and fingers. She insists on the icepick; the fingers follow naturally. We line up for a turn. The winner takes her hand, and from there we walk into the sunset. We climb the stairs to her apartment. Her mother works nights, is never home. Her father is dead. Sara reaches, desperate to hold us close. 

Some need hands more than others. Some play baseball, think college scholarships. One piano, a couple guitar. Mostly we know the arc of a hammer, tumbling of garbage, scrape of a mop poorly handled. We barely know ourselves. We’re lucky to know Sara. She’s Jewish and generous, our mother and our wife. We take to heart the small wanderings of her voice, the desert of her words. 

“So long ago,” she says, “I wished for a drink. I wished for a body. I wished for fingers to grip my insides, my outside cupped to hold water. 

“Eventually, I settled for this.” 

We choose not to understand. We carry away blood from her stoop, holes peroxide won’t bite closed or clean. There are so few of us, and no promises pass our lips that she will not eat. We have only the tapping of fallen icicles on the heat of the concrete. Sara sways, a reminder of her hips and the landscapes over which we toil. We are fractured and scattered by the tiniest hairs. We’re blunt and made useless. This isn’t delicate labor, but we are not fit to perform it.

Marvin Shackelford is author of the collections Endless Building (poems) and Tall Tales from the Ladies Auxiliary (stories, forthcoming). He resides in Middle Tennessee, earning a living in agriculture.
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