Dirty Hands

Bill worked with me for a year before he was gone. Everything I knew about him, he told me on our lunch break while we ate sandwiches and drank coffee. He always ate ham sandwiches. His oily fingers left black marks on the bread.

He told me about his mother. How she’d died when he was young. He told me she died of cancer. He told me how much he loved her and some of his happiest memories were of his mother, his father, and himself playing football together in the park. He told me his father was good at football and often described his father in goal, saving the ball with his large hands. ‘I shook his hand once,’ Bill told me. ‘Two of my hands made one of his.’

We worked in a steel factory. One day he sliced his hand wide open on a sheet of metal. It bled so much that when he jerked back the blood went in my mouth. I was terrified by how it tasted. He just looked at me. I got cleaned up and afterwards he told me he didn’t have any diseases. They told me to get tested anyway, so I did. It came back clean.

I sat alone for a few days, eating my sandwiches and drinking coffee. I liked being alone but I also liked Bill’s stories. One afternoon I didn’t feel like eating. I placed my sandwich down and looked at the indentations my fingers made in the white bread.

He showed up the following week. We sat and ate together. His hand was all bandaged up. ‘Look at my hand,’ he said. ‘I’m no good anymore.’

He told me that he remembered when he cut his finger when he was a little kid and his mother put a plaster on it. He then told me he killed her.

I said, ‘What?’

And he said, ‘Nothing. Doesn’t matter.’

I asked him What about his dad? But he told me his dad was old and doesn’t talk much.

The next day he didn’t come into work. He didn’t come in the day after. They said he took a payment from cutting his hand. I didn’t see him again.


© Michael Holloway

Cover photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash