My father’s hands were never still. He’d draw the cigarette pack from his shirt and tamp it on his palm. Then, he’d light a Kool with his Marine Corps lighter. His fingers would tap his chair while he read a teacher’s note or pondered excuses for uncompleted chores. Then, he’d crack each knuckle in final judgment before unbuckling his belt.
My father’s hands would push the mower on Saturday morning then tighten a dripping faucet in the afternoon. After supper, he would command, “Fetch me a beer William.” Later, he’d flip the final can beside its mates and march up the stairs. Soon the bedsprings would creak, his hands engaging my mother.
My father’s hands wrenched on the Dodge every Sunday morning. “Can’t see the preacher today. The truck’s not running.” My mother would protest that the truck ran fine yesterday, but he’d silence her with a slap of the wrench against his palm. After service, I’d head to the garage. My father would always look up from under the hood and point toward the cabinet. I’d retrieve his bottle and pass the medicine.
My father’s hands were motionless that day when he’d told me to come straight home from school. He sat at the kitchen table, one scarred hand resting on the other. “Your mother and I are splitting,” he said. “I’ll be leaving tomorrow.” His face lacked expression, but his chest pulsed. Henry, embroidered on his blue work shirt, convulsed as if animated. “You’re man of the house now,” he said. “Come help me load the truck.”
My hands trembled as I followed him up the stairs. I was thirteen. I wanted to play baseball, and I needed to study. I wasn’t the man.