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  • Lobster Hand
  • Alexia Arthurs (bio)

Her hand was like a lobster's. At first we all thought some terrible accident was what caused it. Someone suggested that was likely, with all the children her parents had and not being able to watch them all. Someone else said she was born that way, and when we looked at her hand again, the right one, that story made the most sense because everything was smooth, not bumpy, not like three of her fingers were torn off.

I'd forgotten about that hand for all these years until I glance down at the woman sitting on the bench beside me. There the hand lay in her lap in an Upper East Side playground on a chilly Monday. Recently, the days had started to cool into autumn, the colors of the leaves overhead echoing reminders of colder days ahead. I move my eyes from her lap to her face to confirm what I already know. She glances over, sees me looking and asks, "A rain it a go rain?" I look up at the sky. Rain hadn't been on the forecast that morning, but the skies are warning us anyhow. "Yes," I say. "It does."

"Mek mi tek de children home," she says, rising and walking across to where two little girls are, red haired and the bigger one pushing the smaller one on the swing. She hadn't recognized me, and now she's walking out of the park with the two girls, then latching the gate shut.

When I was nine, she—I remember she went by Michelle—sat right next to me in our class. And whenever she glanced at me to say something, I didn't know where to look because all I wanted was to look at that hand. I was too embarrassed to say much to her, so all my face did was nod and shake. [End Page 237]

One time our teacher, Ms. Thomas, gave us something to read and some questions to answer. A story about a boy and his dog or a girl and her horse—I can't remember which. Mostly I remember that Michelle and her lobster hand came to sit down at her desk, using that hand, three fingers missing, to wipe the tears from her eyes.

After we read the story and answered the questions, we were told to bring our notebooks for Ms. Thomas to see that we answered the questions correctly. But Ms. Thomas wouldn't look past Michelle's answer to the first question, which asked, "What is the title of the story?" Ms. Thomas said the word "title" was spelt wrong, loudly, so that the whole class heard. So Michelle put her head on her desk and cried quietly, but soon after, she wiped off her face with her hands, my eyes on only one of them, and asked me how to spell the word title. I looked from her notebook to mine and we had the same spelling and it was the correct one. T-I-T-L-E.

She went back to Ms. Thomas who saw it was the right spelling after all. I knew because I turned in my seat to look at that hand.

I look up at the sky again and decide it's time to leave. "Meredith, Heather, Dominic," I call, waving them over. The little one, Heather, runs over while the other two walk slowly, hesitancy in their steps because I've ruined their fun. "Look at the sky," I say, before any pleas to play longer. "Oh," Meredith says looking up, the finality in the voice convincing her siblings, who are looking up too.

This year makes my ninth with the family. I started when Meredith was a newborn, and stayed when the others came along, all of them growing out like their mother: tiny bodied, curly haired, big eyes. "Look," Heather says, tugging at my hand. We're waiting to cross the street and I'm holding her hand on one side, while the boy is holding my other hand and also his older sister's. I look to where Heather is pointing, and it's a...


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pp. 237-242
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