Nonfiction from Jennifer Fliss

Photo: Clay Banks

I Cannot Wash It All Away

It is true what they say, the hands age first. They belie the life that is still living, still loving with the vigor of youth.

My hands are no longer soft. The skin there not as resilient as it once was. I knew this was coming, but it arrived earlier than expected. Suddenly, in my fortieth year. The word quarantine comes from forty; it’s appropriate.

In eighth grade I learned the skin loses its elasticity over time. Here, my teacher said, pinch your skin. See how it snaps right back? That’s because you’re young.

My fading elasticity has moved exponentially forward. Aging, getting perilously closer to that time when we are told we are no longer of value. I once thought I knew what time was and then they changed the clocks. Forward when it was supposed to be back. The hands of the clock shockingly as fickle as my own. The elasticity of all the hands.

After that science experiment, cuddled up in bed with my grandmother, I would pinch the skin on her hands, watch how it took seconds—a long time for a young girl—to return to its home back tight against the body, hugging it, protecting it.

I wash and I wash and I rub my hands together. I lather each finger, enveloping it in soap. I caress the soft spot where my thumb meets my palm, under my fingernails, in the U of my cuticles, over the precious veins at my wrists. I am saving a life when I do this, I’m told. Many, perhaps.

I have never before taken the time to get to know my hands so intimately. None of us have. I have learned though, that your life line and your love line stay intact after all this friction. Isn’t that interesting?

The pointing the punches the sucking the thumb. The peace signs. The thumbs up. The signing of “I love you.” The pinching the holding the grasping the gripping. My ring finger is permanently indented and, if I look close enough, my fingernails show my every deficiency.

My hands, though chapped and textured, though unpretty after all this, though tired of the continual stretching and washing, can still rake the knots from my daughter’s hair. They can knead dough and twiddle uselessly. They can avoid my face and they can cradle my daughter’s. These hands of time, they’re the only ones I have.


Jennifer Fliss (she/her) is a Seattle-based writer whose writing has appeared in F(r)iction, Hobart, PANK, The Rumpus, The Washington Post, and elsewhere, including the 2019 Best Short Fiction anthology. She is the 2018/2019 Pen Parentis Fellow and a 2019 recipient of a Grant for Artist Project award from Artist’s Trust. She can be found on Twitter at @writesforlife or via her website,

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