Hand Clinic

by Lynne Barrett

A car wreck in summer brought me to Boston for surgery, and now, in January, after my fourth wrist reconstruction, I am forbidden to fall down. I transfer everything to a backpack to keep me balanced as I walk across the Longfellow Bridge to Mass General. Last night the thermometer hit 2 below. I wear a man’s parka and oversized Polartec mittens, big enough to slide over the splint that guards my left hand. I plant each step with firm intention.

Inside the clinic, my therapist removes the splint and puts my arm elbow deep in a machine that blows warm cornmeal around, to loosen me up. Buoyed, I listen to tales of new patients who, slipping, put out their arms to break the fall and snapped their wrists or carpals. There are so many, more even than the fractures of skateboard season. When you start to topple, you are supposed to wrap your arms around yourself and roll, but instinct is against it. Today the therapists whisper about a man admitted upstairs who left a bar drunk last night at 2 a.m., and, struggling to unlock his car door, pulled off one glove with his teeth, then dropped his keys and groped around in the dark, while frost bit fingers he’s now likely to lose. I’m not supposed to hear this.

In my yard in Miami there are teak chairs under the avocado tree, and a tub of scarlet nasturtiums. My son, about to turn twelve, will sit there doing homework this afternoon, and my husband will make himself a gin and tonic before serving the roasted chicken and potato salad he bought at the store, and after that they’ll call me. While my therapist braces my hand upright, I flex and extend my fingers, yanking my tendons past scar tissue one more millimeter, and another, anything to get me home again.

Lynne Barrett is the author of two short story collections, The Secret Names of Women and The Land of Go, and co-editor of the anthology Birth: A Literary Companion. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in One Year to a Writing Life, Miami Noir, A Dixie Christmas, Painted Bride Quarterly, Other Voices, Tampa Review, and the Sun-Sentinel. She teaches in the M.F.A. program at Florida International University.

Back to Issue Two: Winter 2009