As she reached for his arm she saw it become tense; it was an involuntary reaction on his part, caused by the palsy affecting his left side since birth.
She paused for a second, and he hoped she wouldn’t stop.
Finally she continued, placing her hand just below his elbow. She felt the tension in his bicep, it was as tightly wound as any muscle she had ever felt, but gradually the flesh of his arm became malleable.
He could feel his skin being molded underneath the pressure of her fingertips.
His arm remained soft and loose as she ran her fingers down the length of his forearm to his hand, which crumpled into a fist as if it possessing a mind of its own. She felt the tendons of his hand go taut underneath her touch.
Once again he hoped that such tension would not deter her and once again it did not. She turned his hand over so that the top was facing the ground; her own hand forming a cradle underneath.
His remained clenched in a fist, but she was curious to see inside — to expose the palm.
She used one of her fingers as a wedge and pushed it slowly underneath his pinky, and then pried the little finger open. The rest of his digits followed.
“There used to be a tiny mole right in the middle of my left hand,” he said, “so when I was first learning to tell right from left I would look at my palms for the mole. I still do it sometimes, force of habit.”
It felt to her like a great secret of the universe had been revealed.
She placed her entire hand inside of his and stretched out her fingertips. His fingers, which had been curled in a bowl shape, slowly straightened as she applied pressure. Soon his hand was completely flat.
“I didn’t used to be able to make my hand go flat,” he told her. “I had an operation in high school but before that, my thumb just stuck straight out. You can still see the scars from the surgery on top of my hand.”
She rotated his hand in hers, and as promised, the scars where there. She ran her index finger back and forth along the crest of his thumb, which had a three-inch scar on it. It was straight, neat, and narrow — trademarks of a surgeon’s craft.
“Is this one of them?” she asked.
“Are there others?
He nodded, using his right hand to point in the direction of the others.
There was one on the knuckle of his index finger. This scar was shorter and pinker. She stroked it back and forth and felt the change in texture as she moved from skin to scar tissue and back to skin again.
With the feeling of his scars embedded in the memory of her fingers, she moved her hand further up his.
His wrist felt thin and frail; she could almost wrap her hand completely around it.
“Bend your wrist for me,” she said.
The joint didn’t bend fluidly like a normal wrist, it moved in a motion similar to a ticking clock; first one position, then another, then another. As his wrist moved, she could feel mysterious canyons and crevasses within his bone structure opening and closing underneath the weight of her touch.
Much like his wrist, his forearm was also thinner than expected.
“Your arm is kind of small,” she said. “I never really noticed it before.”
It usually made him nervous when someone paid so much attention to his left arm, but on this occasion he had never felt more comfortable within his own skin.
On the inside of his triceps she discovered two more scars. They were faint and almost completely camouflaged by the skin; only an expert could see them.
“Yes. I had this surgery done when I was very young. I sort of remember it. It must be among my first memories. I remember it hurting.”
“Why did they do it?”
“I guess so that I could straighten my arm better. It must have been pretty warped before.”
“How straight does it go now?”
She placed one of her hands on the back of his bicep and then applied pressure with her other hand to the opposite side of his forearm; his arm tensed again. She looked up at him nervously and saw his faced was etched with concentration.
“I’m trying to loosen it,” he said. “Sometimes it doesn’t do what it’s told.”
“Does it just tighten up for no reason?”
“Sometimes. But there’s usually a reason. Sometimes you can tell exactly what kind of mood I’m in just by looking at my arm.”
They both smiled.
Her cell phone rang and it startled them both; their exploration of flesh and bone has been interrupted.
She spoke briefly on the phone and then returned her attention to him.
“I have to go,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
She placed one finger — her index — gently on his forearm.
She looked into his eyes.
“It’s beautiful,” she said.
And then she left.