It was her hands. The face was old, lined, wrinkled, the eyes squinting into ever increasing darkness. This was my community service. For vandalising my dentists car when she gave me teeth so white I needed sunglasses to look in the mirror-actually true-when I switched on the bathroom light, they shone so brightly I had to wear dark glasses. She refused compensation to me so I dented her car.
I now wear a mouth-guard wherever I go. And I have gotten used to sleeping with my mouth taped shut. And a breathing tube although there is still a faint fluorescent glow that lights up my nostrils in the night. Her car, on the other hand, one of those self repairing ones, just re-grew its bodywork and is all fine. Vehicles with an exterior made of reinforced bacteria that can reshape and reform itself-well you know how the commercial goes-accident free because one colony avoids another etc etc- and she had one of those vehicles that could phosphoresce. Which is nice in a car but not what I wanted with my teeth, hence the criminal damage.
I liked community service though, in an old peoples home. Old people who mostly have robots for company don’t relish the idea of having to have a conversation with a human anymore, bot conversation is so much easier. But ‘she’ seemed to like me from the moment I arrived. There was only one kind of odd thing. She wore gloves. All the time, and I mean -all the time. Gloves to make coffee, gloves to eat food, gloves to play on the computer. Gloves as she went into the bathroom. She even read her paper magazines with gloves. Nobody else seemed to notice. Well nobody else much was human, except for the other residents who all had their own little foibles.
I was in her room one day and noticed she seemed to have gloves for every occasion. More pairs of gloves than I have shoes, no really more pairs of gloves than I have shoes.(67 by the way-assuming we aren’t counting flip flops-82-if we are-give or take a pair I left on a virtual holiday-I know, how?)
I wanted to ask about the gloves but the conversation never went in that direction. Then it got to my last week and finally my last day. She smiled across at me. I knew she could see the faint glow from my teeth but I was not sure she could make out all my features. We were there in her room sitting across the table from each other. There was a ceramic vase with fake plastic flowers on a doily between us. She moved it to one side. And then she did it. She slipped off one glove and then the other. And I saw her hands.
Long elegant fingers, perfectly manicured, not a wrinkle on them, perfect flawless hands extending off gnarled, wrinkled wrists. Maybe the most expensive hands I have ever seen. Beautiful hands. Young hands. Human hands. Not her hands.
I didn’t know what to say. They must have cost a fortune.
‘They’re not mine’ she said.
Well I didn’t study rocket science but I knew that.
‘Who’s?’ I said, as that felt like the logical thing to ask. I wonder now if that wasn’t just a bit impolite.
‘My daughters,’ a pause, then awkwardly, oddly she went on, ‘she didn’t want them anymore and doesn’t want the hassle of coming to visit me, so she gave me her hands. She has mechanical ones and doesn’t want these ones. She was quite young when she had it done. Its sweet, she is with me always. I’m looking after them for her, until she comes back for them. She may want them again one day.’
As an aside I had decided that I didn’t want to exchange any body parts with my Mum. It remains contentious. She still wants my knees-that was a difficult conversation. She covets my knees but I still need my knees and I don’t like the look of the replacement ones. They’re so shiny, the last thing I need is shiny knees with my teeth. In the end my Mum got knees that have a small flip out screen on them so she can watch TV on the bus, they also have a torch function-useful for when she’s out jogging at night and you can use them as a phone on days where you’re feeling flexible. I never feel right calling my Mum’s knees though. I use the other number that’s connected directly to her ear-best not to ask what she’s done with her ears, brighter than my teeth. She’s her own personal club night when she’s out running..
‘I wonder’ she went on, ’would you do me a favour?’ I looked at the hands. Beautiful hands.
‘ Would you visit her, say hello, tell her I am ok?’
She nodded. It seemed a bit odd, I told her she should call or go herself. This place wasn’t prison but she insisted she wanted me to go and there was no reason not to. I watched her elegant hands scrawl writing, real writing-with a pen-across a piece of paper. It was mesmerising.
‘I’ll come back and let you know.’ I said.
‘No need’ she said and with that I felt as if we had said goodbye. I left. Those hands, those beautiful hands, that vision stayed with me for a few days.
A week later, I took out the slip of paper and took the bus to the nearest stop (yep there are still buses-for those of us who can’t afford bacteria based transport). I walked the rest of the way, rehearsing what I was going to say. Picturing the metallic hands at the end of human limbs and remembering how bright my teeth could be and that people had the right to make different choices-even my mother.
I turned onto the street, on one side a neat row of houses, on the other a metal fence surrounding a garden. This couldn’t be right. There was no number 53. I stopped and I asked someone and they told me the gate was further along and to go in. I did.
And there it was, plot number 53. Sometimes it goes wrong. Plot number 53, with a proper tombstone and everything. And the inscription, ‘Always and forever, Mummy holds your hands’.
My head was spinning, my teeth glowed, I spun on my heels and ran.