For Sian, everything started with hands.
Mother's hands, warm and soft, encircling her at an early, fuzzy age. A barrier from the outside world, smelling faintly of fabric softener and sweat. The smell of the laundry where she worked, for ten hours a day.
Father's hands, less nice to remember, pushing and shoving and tearing down the barrier. Pushing mother against the wall. Rough and mean hands. Sian still remembers the sound her head made against the bench, like an egg cracking.
Teacher's hands, tapping the cane against one palm. Tick, tick, tick. Like a bomb. School was disapproving looks and the light from high windows.
Kitchen hands, from her first job. Curiously, this is the part of her memory where people started to possess eyes as well. The chef's were brown and thoughtful, younger than her parents, but guarded; as if his thoughts were written in a different language. Which was probable, as he was Dutch. His hands were not beautiful or soft, but still graceful with a knife. Sian watched him work, fascinated, but not for very long.
"What are you doing, meisje? Go and find me six of these."
In high school, there were boyfriends' hands. Matty's hands, almost too big for his arms, with round, soft knuckles. Jay's hands were so dark next to hers, with delicate artistic fingers. Callum had calluses on the tips of all his left digits, from playing the guitar. She held all of these, savoured their differences, their lightnesses and contours and moments of intimacy.
Hands that pressed to the pages of the Bible, their wedding day. Callum's hair looked like gold in the sunlight, she thought. She was married to her sweetheart at the age of nineteen. Twin silver wedding bands adorned their hands.
Hands on their wedding night, guided by instinct and lust. Kiss-bruised mouths gasping for breath, and tired arms finding a familiar place in each other's warmth.
Doctor's hands, running over her swelling belly, seeing the proud smile on her husband's face. The harsh lights of the hospital in her watering eyes, overflowing with new emotions. Hormones are funny things.
Seven months later, midwife's hands, firm yet gentle. Doctors' raised voices over the bed where she lay, dying, splitting apart from the inside. And then it was over. Exhausted and slick with sweat, she felt tiny hands, with soft newborn skin. Tiny digits curled around her index finger. Her baby boy, cradled in her arms.
Before too long, Thomas was three, and she was lighting the candles on his birthday cake. His friends from playgroup crowded around, sticky children's hands covered in cupcake icing. Little milk-white teeth, exposed by laughter.
Not long after that, brutal hands touched front door of their house, flinging it open. There were three men, armed. In the distance, Sian could hear police sirens. She put a hand on Callum's arm, but she couldn't stop him. He flew forward at the men with guns, them and their horrible angry hands, so much like her father's.
Hands that pulled the trigger.
Callum fell down, broken doll, staining the carpet like red wine. Sian heard herself scream, and there were hands that flew over her mouth. Her hands. Chapped and small, with square palms. Her lifeline pressed against her chin.
The man raised his gun again,
with shaking hands.