My family kept gallon cans of shortening in the kitchen. Mama would ask us to grease the pans, and we would– washing our hands only to dip them directly into the condensed oil.
My hands are very sensitive. I don’t enjoy touching most things, and I never enjoyed the chore. The lids were hard to peel away and I can still remember what it is to feel cold rigid metal in one hand as I held the can steady with my body, and let the plastic pry into the fingertips of my other hand. When the lid finally plopped off, my fingers would slide along the inside, buttering themselves.
I used a very specific hand motion to scoop the ghee. My three middle fingers woulld bend halfway toward the palm, and my little finger and thumb stretched upward.
It is a mudra, actually– the mirga shirsha, the deer head. The face of the deer dips into the shortening in a quick choppy motion, and then I would scrape my fingers against the black skillet.
This part I liked. I like black skillets. I like how they take everything you give them, holding onto unbelievable weights even while being run through fires and floods.
Later, I would wash my hands but it would do less than the scraping did, and the oily residue would stay. I would swear I could feel it for weeks, but I would not say anything to anyone about it. We were lucky that mama made so many of our favorite things, and that we had so much to eat. I never wanted to seem ungrateful. I never wanted to be ungrateful.
The leftover shortening would cool into the pan as we ate dinner, and by the time I was setting my dishes into the sink, I could look over the stove and see it sitting there. Solidified, stained, burnt, clumpy– just resting malformed against the edge.
I never had to clean the skillets, thank goodness.
Last night, or perhaps the night before the last-last night, I had a dream that I was sick. My throat was aching. I couldn’t speak. I looked in the mirror, opened wide, and I could see the infection that had wreaked havoc over my tonsils. It didn’t look like a normal infection, though.
It looked like shortening.
Not the perfect but pinguid cloud I stole from the can, or the invisible oily air I wore for weeks– but like the warning of an apocalyptic sky resting in a skillet.
It was clumped and stained against my edges and the sight of it turned my stomach. I felt my hand forming mudra, shaping the deer head I had not called upon for years, and I let it into my mouth, to scoop away the grease. My teeth pressed into my fingers as I reached, like a plastic lid on smaller fingers, and sure enough– when it was all said and done…
I felt oily.
I know the dream is about the chores I feel lucky to do, and sickened by, all at once. There are so many now.
I know the dream is about the fears and ideas and wishes I leave unsaid. There have been so many recently.
But they are not pure enough to scoop. They are feelings and thoughts that only exist in the shape they hold because I have been through fires and floods. So I leave them where they were stained by me, in the back of my throat, and I go about my day.
I wash my hands.
I scrape my thoughts along the minds of my sharpest friends.
But when I reach for words now, I do not feel the friction of fingertips like a circling mountainside of truth–
I still feel oily.
[Picture from http://mudrasofindia.blogspot.com , showing the mirga shirsha mudra, on a henna-stained, jewelry-adorned right hand.]
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Ra Avis is the author of Sack Nasty: Prison Poetry and the girl behind the dinosaur at Rarasaur.com. She is a once-upon-a-time inmate, a reluctantly-optimistic widow, and an exponential storyteller.
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