by Mickey Fisher
I went home to visit my parents last February. My mom was the only one around. Their woodstove was cooking; I felt as though I was being baked by a heat lamp. In the heat, I knew the cracks in the skin between my knuckles would open up again.
I sat with Mom at her kitchen table, a little dish of Valentine’s Day candy between us. “How’s Mary?” she asked, finding a Crackle in the dish, her favorite.
“She’s good,” I said. Mary had seen how my skin split and had cradled my hands in hers, asking if I wanted hand cream. It wouldn’t have been of any use, and I told her that, but she got some for me anyway. I set the green tin of cream next to my sink in an effort to force myself to apply it after I washed my hands. I would end up putting it on and washing it off ten minutes later.
“When are you two coming back to visit?” Mom asked, before unwrapping the Crackle and taking a bite.
“Am I not enough?” I asked. I knew that I was. I found a Hershey’s Special Dark in the dish.
“Of course you’re enough, you’re more than enough. But we never get to see her.”
I felt the flesh between my knuckles stretching thin as I unwrapped the candy. They were riverbeds caked dry through the combination of my excessive washing and the cold weather. I used to wash my hands for a count of about eight seconds. I’d heard somewhere that you were supposed to wash for the length of the ‘Happy Birthday’ song, so I would sing it rapidly in my head while I was at the sink. When the anxiety came back, I started dragging the song out, making it last longer and longer, closer to an actual rendition than a sped-up one. Soon, the song wasn’t enough. I would count to one eight times, then two eight times, until I counted to sixteen eight times. It seemed like a number that was thorough enough for me, satisfying in an obsessive way. For every number I counted, I rubbed my palms together while interlocking my fingers, to spread the soap and water. I was rubbing my hands together one hundred and twenty-eight times per trip to the sink. If my hands touched the inside of the sink at any point during the process, that was another one hundred and twenty-eight times, because you never knew who was spitting into that porcelain. If my hands touched anything other than a dry, clean towel after a wash, that was another one hundred and twenty-eight times.
I dropped the Special Dark. It landed on the kitchen linoleum. Careful to not touch the floor with my fingers, I picked the candy up by pinching a corner of the wrapper that was pointing upwards. Mom must’ve seen how I was holding it, like it was a snake that could bite me, because she was up and between me and the waste bin before I could stand up. She crossed her arms over her chest. She knew where this was going.
“You’re not going to throw that away,” she said.
“I don’t want it.”
“Mickey, it’s fine. It’s still in the wrapper. You can still eat it.”
She didn’t see it the same way that I did, all the potential diseases lurking on the linoleum that would then be transferred to the wrapper of the Special Dark; from the wrapper to my fingertips, from my fingertips to the chocolate, from the chocolate to my mouth. “I’m not going to, though,” I said. I stood up and held the candy out to her. I knew she wouldn’t throw it away, but I didn’t want to keep holding it.
She took it from me and held it in her hands, keeping eye contact. When I sat back down, she put the candy in front of me. Whatever germs had been on the floor were now on an eating surface.
“You can eat it, if you want to,” I told her.
I got up and left the kitchen, walked past that baking stove to get to the bathroom sink. I left the door open.
Mom followed me and leaned against the doorframe, watching me, looking at the slight redness of my raw skin. “I thought you were past all of this.”
“Comes back around when I don’t have anything else to worry about,” I told her. I just wanted to wash up for my peace of mind, and there was only Dawn at the kitchen sink. My parents had a ceramic liquid soap dispenser, colored with a mix of Easter pastels, that they used year-round. The soap inside was a watery, cream-yellow liquid that was too runny to convince me that it would be effective. It stung as it leaked into the cracks in my hands.
“It’s up to your wrists,” she said. “It hurts my feelings.”
“Why?” I asked, knowing that the answer was going to hurt.
“Because I feel like I’m responsible.”
Mickey Fisher is a current degree candidate at The Mountainview Low Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction.