Left Hands Are For Buttons

By Cody Chesmore

Mama always said left hands were for doing buttons. Before church on Sundays, when she deemed me too old to have my sleeves buttoned for me, my left hand stretched across my body, trembling.

“Go on, Chase. You can do it.” She whispered sweetly.

She was right. Imagine her surprise when I started doing other things with my left hand. Drawing and writing. Each of my letters on paper with enormous lines coming from the opposite angle as everyone else in class. When I drew pictures of a goose for Thanksgiving, my classmates looked at me with wide eyes, as though I just told them I was communist. My teacher looked sternly at the drawing, then to the pencil in my left hand, a grim line growing on her face.

“That’s not right,” said she.

My father agreed. He’d been working at the mill since time out of mind, loading enormous logs up onto an even more enormous table, a line running down the middle that sawed the logs in two. Sometimes, I think that log was us. Maybe every family was a log that eventually split. My father veered right, where logs had been going and shipped away to the right plant in the right town where things were done the right way.

I veered left.

Each night he came home we created memories of insanity. Frantic spills in an exchange of my own hands, each feeling as foreign to the other as a pencil, water brush, or crayon was thrown into my non-dominant hand before my father bounded up the stairs to see if I was minding him.

“You practice with the other hand, Chase. Son, you have to try to be right in this world that is sometimes so wrong. You know what happens if you don’t.”

All too well. Don’t try to be right and you get beat bloody. One night, I didn’t hear the approach of his rattling pickup outside. So engrossed, was I, in a story about a beaver who learned to take everything that was wrong in the world and dam it all up in one lake. But that wrongness spilled over the dam about the time my father burst through my bedroom door, looking from my left hand to my face as though he’d just caught me kissing the boy a farm over.

“What did I tell you? What did I say?”

His hands wrapped around the collar of my shirt and he drug me down the stairs, their edges beating into my back with finality. I screamed to my mother that my father meant to kill me, I was sure of it. In the kitchen, she stood, her hands writhing between an old dishtowel as she screamed, “Ed! Ed, no! Ed, please!”

The earth was cold under my bare feet as we made our way to the woodshed. Wisps of breath wheezed out of me in whimpers.

“Dad, no.” I said. “Dad, please. I won’t do it again. I’m sorry I made you mad.”

“Yes, son,” he said, stopping. “I know you’re sorry. So am I.”

The door’s hinges screamed before it slammed into the wall. He drug me to the work bench. Only then did his hand leave my chest and grasp my wrist, yanking it up onto the wooden table as he fumbled with the tools hanging above him. He weighted my left hand with his own, grounding it in place. The only time he’d ever held my hand.

“Got to do this, son. Got to fix this while you’re young.”

“There’s nothing wrong with me!” Suddenly I was yelling, fighting. And he looked at me with such pity in his eyes and I wanted to scream at him more. That he didn’t understand me. That just because I was different didn’t mean I was wrong.

“It’s already gone too far,” he said.

With that, he pulled the hammer down and did what he had to.

We didn’t speak for weeks after. My mother shied away from me at every given opportunity, my bandaged and frayed fingers a reminder of what had happened that night. Each morning, I rode with my father to school before he left for the mill. His truck smelled like diesel, faint aroma of whiskey, and the confidence that he’d done the right thing. My schoolwork took twice as long and he forbadea doctor.

But late at night, when the pain of my hand kept me awake, I’d sit at my desk and write, slowly, and painfully. The fractures in my fingers flared with pain as I wrote my name as many times as I could so that at least I could remember who I was. Then, exhausted, I’d collapse into bed, passing out in a pool of sweat.

Sunday morning, my father came into my room. My mom had been talking to him, I could see it in his face, like he was about to apologize. I thought the sight of his son struggling to button his shirt with his right hand would help the apology along. Instead, his eyes drifted to my desk, running over the jagged lines of my letters in my name and his eyes were so proud, they twinkled in the sunlight shining through my window.

“You’re getting better,” he said, choking back the only tears I’d ever seen him cry.

Cody Chesmore is a teacher at Hawkeye Community College. He currently resides in New Hampton, IA, with his cat, whom he is rather upset with as she can neither read nor edit his work. In addition to Cat On A Leash Review, he has published in The Madras Mag, The Literary Nest, Peeking Cat Poetryand an anthology with other various writers entitled Exes. His aspirations include sharing late night drinks with strangers and elaborately explaining that there is more to Iowa than corn.