I plunge my left hand into the twenty gallon bucket of short-grain rice. It’s not an actual pail, but a lidded Tupperware container I once stored Lay’s potato chips in, and the rice feels dusty, malleable, offering some pressure, as if my hand bathes in a giant stress ball. I breathe in the starchy scent, envision bread dough.
After I saw the rheumatologist three years ago, I bought several bags of rice at Albertsons and poured the contents into the Tupperware. When the grains first sifted and slid onto themselves they were alabaster white, but after three years, exposure to air and my body oils have withered and darkened some of them.
As I begin to move my fingers through the rice, I wonder if the new bone Dr. E, my orthopedic oncologist, created eight years ago in my right foot has aged like the rice (story is here). Since the tumor—a Giant Cell Reparative Granuloma—had eaten away the meat of the central bone of my foot, as well as one end piece, he had had to build a navicular bone from scratch, using bone harvested from my hipbone. I’ve seen pictures of Dr. E’s creation at each visit to him. X-ray and CT films clearly show me the bone. At first, it looked fresh as a new bag of rice. By the last visit, the bone had been fired in the kiln of time. It no longer changes. It’s as good as it is going to get.
Not long after I had mostly recovered from the surgery, I noticed my hands. It’s not often that I take the time to notice anything about myself. I certainly don’t shave my legs until the hairs on both calves war with each when I put my legs together. But I caught sight of my hands when I was washing dishes, and that glimpse gave me pause. They were starting to look like my mother’s. I could see the beginnings of the gnarled and knobby persimmon tree look of my mother’s arthritic fingers.
Dr. H, the rheumatologist, recommended that I fill a bucket with rice and perform hand exercises twice a day, using the rice. And so every day I do what I am now doing.
I grasp a small imaginary ball in my left palm–clenching and unclenching ten times. Then I pinch the ball between my fingers and my thumb another ten times. The third part is waving the hand upside down in the rice ten times. I switch hands and repeat. Then I perform the whole series one more time.
I tried to teach my mother to use the rice to exercise her hands, but her crooked hands are too weak and rigid. She can’t push the weight of the rice with her fingers. When I pull my right hand out of the bucket at the end, both hands tingle with energy. They buzz with joy at their own movement. If I keep working the rice every day, I hope to keep them just this way, as if I can ward off the aging of my fingers indefinitely.
I wiggle my fingers to feel their increased flexibility, a looseness I used to feel in every joint after jazz dance class. In that freedom, the endorphins used to diffuse throughout my body like shooting stars saturating a movie screen. This experience is only left as a memory because Dr. E says I can no longer dance or exercise on my feet because the re-created bone is fragile, formed by accident with bumps and crevices, even gaps. I imagine that it has aged like the dry rice hulls in my bucket. But I can’t see it hidden inside the bent and stiff foot. This foot can no longer arch in a soft leather dance shoe, but rests inside its magic shoe, the New Balance W992. This shoe and the orthotics the elves at Swiss Balance build keep the foot moving throughout the day. Inside, Dr. E’s creation holds the other foot bones in place as the spine does the limbs of the human body.
My left hand is the opposite extremity from this healed foot. The fingers connect to the palm, and framing the palm, the pads are firm and even. I’m not sure, but think that the fingers seem straighter than they did three years ago. I snap the lid on the rice bucket and shove it back into the cupboard. Then I walk to the computer and open up a blank page on Word. My fingers begin to move along the keyboard, marking the choreography I create for them.