By Jennifer Sinor
You cannot open the pickles, so you ask your father, who is visiting for the holidays and hunched at the dining room table playing solitaire. Only moments before he announced that he had accomplished the impossible by winning back-to-back hands, the sound of triumph in his voice wafting into the kitchen like a forgotten smell.
My thumbs, he mutters, staring at his hands as if does not recognize them. And then he tries to open the jar.
As a child, in church, while the priest droned on about Peter and Paul and the children in front of you drove dented cars along the kelp-green kneelers, you held your fatherís hands, rubbed the wire-thin scabs left by errant two-by-fours or nails that popped when hammered askew, and wound your own slender fingers in between his, measuring their girth. He had his motherís hands, hands that could withstand blistering temperatures, move logs in the fireplace without tongs, take casseroles from the oven without mitts, brand the back of your legs with a swat. Covered with freckles and marbled by dryness, his hands could hold you hard to the floor as you fought to get free of his tickling. Small hands for such a large man, he always said. Large hands to such a small girl.
The jar wonít open even after he bangs the top against the tiled floor. When he moves to the kitchen for a hammer and screwdriver, you head in the other direction, toward your bedroom, imagining the shattered glass and the visit to the emergency room, unwilling to witness the quiet desperation with which he confronts the jar, shutting the door behind you.
Days later, he will carry your infant son into the desert, hold the tiny body against his stomach, watch his feet along the trail, the cactus, the tiny pebbles that threaten to roll beneath his feet. Every five minutes, you will offer to take your son, remember the pickles, the thumbs, the way his eyes flickered at the prospect of failure, but he declines. Maybe he, too, recalls the moment, the way you left the room. Rattlesnake Trail refuses to end, the pitch of the land becoming steeper, the saguaro, taller. When he finally relinquishes your son, both their foreheads are slick with sweat; he will have carried him for miles.
When you return from the bedroom, the jar is sitting on the kitchen counter, the pickles bobbing in the briny water, the yellow lid resting to the side.
Sometimes you think you notice a trace of the Parkinsonís that took your uncle in your fatherís hands, a tremor, a tremble, a casual shaking. The more your look for it, the more you notice the way your father hides his hands, buries them in pockets, keeps them fisted. He spread the same chemicals over the acres of farmland, handled the same poisons, breathed the same fertilizers as his older brother. The legacy of nerve damage cuts as true a line as any Nebraska country road.
Thanks for the pickles you call to your father who has resumed his card game in hopes of winning a third before the evening is over. Your mother opened it, he says, the cards pausing for a second, perhaps the eight of clubs not yet played, winning still possible, while you stand in the kitchen, out of his sight, holding the open jar in your hands.
Jennifer Sinor is the author of The Extraordinary Work of Ordinary Writing. Her essays have appeared in Fourth Genre, Bellingham Review, Ecotone, and elsewhere. She teaches creative writing at Utah State University