Thursday, November 19, 2009

Flash fiction, 19 Nov. - Big, Gooney Hands

Big Gooney Hands

Bill had big hands. Bill worked at the Cargill meat processing plant in Iowa. He worked the pork line. It took him a long time to get used to the pork line. He told his wife that the insides of pigs looked a lot like the insides of people. It upset him, but he got used to it after a few months.

His wife, Mimi, was a tiny thing. They sat right next to each other in his big blue, Oldsmobile. She would cuddle up next to him, her head just visible over the seat - Bill's head in contact with the roof of the Olds. They would go to the diner on Thursday nights for a steak and curly fries at Myrna's Cafe. Sometimes Bill would have two pork chops on a stick – a house specialty.

Bill's big hands were always moving at work, cutting the pork bellies open or lopping off the ears on the line. He kept his two knives razor sharp with a steel. For seven hours a day, Bill stripped meat from bone or filled blue, plastic crates with pig ears headed for Chinese markets and pet food companies.

After dinner, Bill and Mimi would go home to watch TV and play with their dog, Buster. Bill's fingers would almost touch the floor when he sat on the couch. Buster would lick the big, puffy fingers, still smelling of pork and fat.

Sometimes Mimi would bring Bill a tub of warm, sudsy water with some Epsom salts so he could soak his aching hands. They ached from handling the heavy knives and the chilled meat for so many hours, day after day.

If it were Friday, Bill would go to the little corner of the bedroom where he had his workbench. He'd put on his magnifying visor and take the little box off the shelf. Inside, the tiny figures of Bill, Mimi, Buster, and some of their friends and family. All carved from cow horn he would collect in the beef department of the company during his lunch hour. The largest of the figures, Bill, was only a half inch high. Bill's big, gooney hands were visible on the carving if you looked real close, with the visor.

Mimi was amazed at how realistic the figures were, and how they had so much detail – right down to the little mole she had on her chin, and the rabies tag that Buster had hanging from his collar. Bill made his own tools out of discarded and broken dental tools that Dr. Lange saved for him. Bill was meticulous. He kept his workbench as tidy and clean as Dr. Lange's. It was his way of having some order, control and neatness, unlike his job on the line.

No one else in the family ever saw Bill's carvings. Over the years, his collection had grown to forty figures, including Buster and the feral cat that lived under the porch. Everything fit into a box the size of a cigarette pack, lined with cotton wool, and kept on the shelf near his table.

Bill would work for a couple of hours every night before taking his bath and climbing into the bright yellow, wrought-iron bed with Mimi. She would massage his hands and sometimes rub them with olive oil that she warmed on the wood stove.

If they made love that night, Bill would talk a while, then turn on his side and tell Mimi about what he carved that night. Tonight, sleepy from his big meal and lovemaking, he told Mimi that he was having a little trouble with one of the carvings. It was the figure of Mrs. Lovette's daughter, Emma, that lived across the road. Bill had put a little too much pressure on his carving tool this time, and had broken one of the tiny arms. He was upset, but would try to mend it the next evening.

In the morning, as Bill was climbing into the cab of his pickup, he saw Emma walking to the school bus. She had a big bandage on her hand and her arm was in a sling. He asked her what had happened. She told him she was practicing her cheer-leading last night and she fell from the top of a pyramid that the other girls had formed for a new routine. Her arm was broken. It was a clean break.

Rev., 30 April, 2011

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