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Blue Hands Black Coffee

by Michelle Valois

From Blue Collar Blues, a work in progress
Also by Michelle Valois: Blue Money | Blue Ford Truck

  Fall 2013 Fiction, Memoir & Poetry Anthology  |  Contents  |  Authors  |


My father’s hands were blue from the molds he made in the machine shop where he worked. My father’s hands were strong. My father’s hands struck out, sometimes; sometimes they repaired what was broken around the house. Usually his hands held cans of beer or shots of Jack Daniels or cups of strong coffee. On Saturdays, if there was no overtime, his hands cocked a gun. On Sundays, they were folded in prayer. Later in the day they shuffled a deck of dog-eared cards as we and grandparents and sometimes aunts and uncles huddled around the dining room table to play Pitch. When we were infants, his hands cradled us, after my mother had bathed and powdered our tiny bodies but before she put us to bed. I could not remember his hands like this.

Last week, in my daily paper, I saw a help wanted ad for a job at the local university. The Physics Department was seeking a tool and die maker, someone to run the department’s machine shop, someone who could assist professors and graduate students with the instruments and tools needed in the fabrication of the scientific equipment used in sponsored research.

My father met every requirement, except for a high school diploma, but I could see him fast-talking his way into an interview and into the job, offering to fix the diesel engine on the department chair’s 475-horse-powered boat and then being invited to go deep sea fishing. He would smoke with the maintenance men, 100 feet from the nearest building; check lottery numbers with the department secretaries; tease the academic dean, a bespectacled man in awe of my father’s unwavering ability to operate and fix every machine in the university’s shop (which would be cleaner and better ventilated than anything my father had ever worked in before).

My father in a white, buttoned-down shirt; ironed, but which would not stay clean and pressed long. I would visit him often at work. He would introduce me to his graduate students, young men who, when they looked at him, wished their own fathers could handle tools like that. He would make a point of walking by the offices of the department’s faculty and introducing me as one of them. My daughter, the professor, he would boast, and add, almost apologetically, English, and then, because he could never help himself, We always thought she spoke good enough, which is what he started saying the year I left for college.

I want to pen a letter, on his behalf, to the department of human resources:

Dear Sir or Madam:

Enclosed please find the resume of a man who, with half a century of experience as a tool and die maker and extensive knowledge of manufactured materials, most notably plastics; three years of active duty during the second world war; a surprisingly gentle fathering ability; not to mention overall likeability and unquestionable collegiality; meets nearly every one of your desired qualifications.

At his wake, twenty-five years before such a job was ever advertised or maybe even existed, I was struck by how white my father’s hands were, folded upon his chest — not the white of pressed dress shirts, the kind he never wore to work; not the white of an empty sheet of paper, or a baby tooth, or cream — he liked his coffee black.


end of story


"Blue Hands, Black Coffee" originally appeared in The Baltimore Review (as "Human Resources"), 2012

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