Fingernails painted matador red—
the colour of pomegranate seeds,
a gored bull’s blood,
a heart tattoo.
A lifetime of my mother’s hands—
fingers twirling my hair into updos,
hemming button-fly Levi’s,
braiding bread dough,
caressing my cheeks.
Humiliation at her hands when she dragged me
out of the smokers’ section at my high school
in front of the tough girls who taught me how to inhale.
Gasp back smoke and say, “My mother’s coming.”
I didn’t dare look back at black-lined eyes and red lumber jackets.
Our fingers intertwine—
almost identical but for her manicured nails
filed into the shape of almonds.
She peels her fingers away
one at a time.
A sudden flutter of fingers—
She taps her fingers in time to the ventilator,
a noteless accordion playing
the final measure.
–Candice G. Ball