His hand is larger than mine, but I’m the one with the strength now. I fold my fingers over the edge of his palm, taking note of the contrast. Young against old. Soft against coarse. Decades of blue-collared labor lie evident on his flesh.
I glance at the pads of our fingertips. Mine, puckered dewdrops, and his—soot-stained and flat. Bald like the rubber grooves of a worn tire. Just like the one he pointed to when he attempted to teach me about automobile maintenance. I was eight years old.
“This tire needs to be changed,” he had said, bringing my tiny pale hands up to the cracked-gum surface. “See the lines on the outside. They’re not deep enough to grip the road. You need traction if you want to be safe. Go inside my tools and get a tire iron. It’s big metal X.”
Thirty years have past since that day, and his touch still feels the same, only colder. I put his palm inside both of mine, rubbing back and forth to gather some heat.
Friction. Another trick he had taught me.
It was snowing and my gloves were wet, turning my fingers a violent shade of beets’ blood.
He took off his gloves and held my hands; nails painted with an age of twelve. He rubbed my palms back and forth. “Friction produces heat.”
“I know that,” I laughed. “I’m not an kid anymore.”
He smiled. His nose the same color as my hands. “You’ll always be a kid.”
Now as I sit here, staring down at his frail-paper skin—the weakness of his grasp—I think about children on deathbeds feeling no different than grown-men on theirs. Their fears paralleled. Their hopes still high—lingering and cruel. And I see now that youth never leaves us. Our shells might age, and our memories might dull, but the disoriented emotions of our scrambled births remain dormant, only recycling when death’s door opens with the invitation to walk through.
“Are you scared?” I ask him.
His face crumples. A baby’s cry.