Mum’s hand was around mine as great-grandmother Kettie opened the front door. Her skin had blotches like coffee stains. Her eyes were blue as denim.
Her boxy flat was cluttered with dark furniture. On the table, orange roses with wide-open faces.
She made tea in a dented silver pot and I sat on Mum’s lap. They gave me an old doll to play with; she had human hair and a puffy white dress.
We drank Russian Caravan tea and Kettie took Mum’s tight hand and unfolded it like a precious letter. She couldn’t read stories on a page, just in people’s palms.
They talked about my father in whispers, but I understood. They hush-hushed about me. I understood that, too. Kettie looked at my hands. Pressed my thumbs and fingertips. Her touch made me goosebumpy.
Then we shelled fresh peas and shared them with magpies.
That’s my only memory of meeting great-grandmother, Kettie.
I saw her again in sepia photos. She was swimming in a giant coat huddled into her father on a train platform. Two suitcases on the ground, too small to carry their lives in. They shouted refugee. I studied her hands in old pictures. Often, they were close. Holding each other like lovers. I wanted to touch them. Turn them.
When Mum plucked mine from my sides and showed me my heartline, union lines, travel line, fate line – the stars, crosses and rings – I felt kettie in my skin. We studied our palms many times, as some do night skies.
I only met Kettie once, but I know her in the stories I can tell you about your palms. Your fingertips and wrists. In the spaces between your ring and index fingers. In the landscape and constellations of your lines.
My great-grandmother said hands are stories rarely told properly. My grandmother and mother learned those stories. Now like precious heirlooms, they’ve become mine.