For Children

Anya Levin

The Hands of a Phoenix

5th & 6th Grade Prose Honorable Mention

Some people think that eyes are the gateway to the soul. I believe that humans learn to lie with eyes as much as they do with their mouths. They put on masks of happiness, of sorrow or affection. They even cry on demand, at least kids do, if you can judge by my brother, but hands never try to hide the truth. They shake, move aggressively; palms sweat and leave streaks of unwelcome grease on the tablecloth, but they always tell a story, the true story of their beholder, and they cannot be changed by their master.

My first childhood memories are wrapped in the delicious smell of “blini” and the long coarse hands of my Grandmother. She was always there for me, her hands would stand strong to revive me when I was vulnerable and to catch me when I fell. Her bony index finger would dance in front of my face when I was bad, and I was terrified of it. Each of her knuckles was like a marble, covered in lace, each wrinkle telling a story. She would work fast, stripping carrots of their skin, chopping, slicing, and ripping. I would see her hands fly and create culinary marvels which were always spiced with a good story about the old country.

One thing I never realized was that she had left so much behind. She had left her homeland for this mysterious new country. She left her friends and everything that defined her. Every keepsake, every memory preserved in souvenirs collected over the life time of travels were left to dust on the old shelves of her apartment in St. Petersburg, Russia. The bitter smell of autumn leaves in Summer Garden, the familiar expressions of the marble statues were part of the past. 

I ravaged the food, but mostly half listened to her stories. They were always there in the past waiting for me like my grandmother’s hands, always there, always reliable, while the real world was roller coasting around me.

One dreadful year, all of that changed. Her hands became frail; the life seemed to be draining from them as if they had been kissed by dementors. Her limbs would just lie on the blanket covers unable or unwilling to engage in a dialog with my body. I lingered around. The days were sunny and warm, but inside, I felt only cold and sickly fear of the days to come. I longed for a story, any story. Let it be something that would teach me a lesson, something that would criticize my world of high-tech gadgets and video games. Anything, to return me in the comfort of her nest. I hid behind closed doors and listened to my parents hushed whispering: “Doctors. Infusions…Therapy… Long treatment.” New people started flooding our apartment. I found refuge in swallowing books and retelling them to my Grandmother. Somedays she seemed to not listen at all, her crystal eyes staring into emptiness. Her hands were unmoving. She wasn’t the same in how she acted either. Her previous kindness turned to anger and her excitement became ignoration. Somedays she engaged a bit adding her spin to my tales; that gave me hope. I began to ask about her life, cherishing every little detail that she would spare. I missed the days when her hands were warm and rough and full of savory treats. For one year, I lived afraid that a light thread connecting my present with the past will break into nothingness. For one year, I leaped to every improvement and died with every setback. In truth, there was nothing worse I had ever experienced. Even now, every word that I heard during that year rings in my head.

My Grandmother’s hands are not completely back, yet I have hope, something I didn’t always have during that long, exhausting year. She can peel potatoes and carrots again, and her hands fly with the same rapidity, but now their pace seems more measured and tranquil. The marbles have rolled back into her hands making them coarse and rough once more, but now she seems even more gentle. Her inner strength has returned and so have the stories. The stories that I listen to carefully now, not losing a single word in my thoughts of school. They fit into my life just as much as they do in hers. These tales I write down to remember for decades to come. The support that she once gave me is flowing back, but now I value it and can use it, because I understand where it came from. Each memory can hold me stronger, and my grandma illuminates my life like a star. She is a phoenix who rose from the ashes to hold me up once more.