Hands of Women
Haddie cranked up Women Rise as she got busy in her make-believe lab. Nancy needed more salve for her arthritis, and she promised she’d have it today. Her other project would simply have to wait — Nancy’s joints wouldn’t.
Walking into her pantry, Haddie thought how most sane people used their small spaces off the kitchen for food, not dried herbs and plants. Her sources of medicine dangled from strings wrapped around hooks from the ceiling, swaying like women accused of witchcraft during the Salem hangings in the late 1600s. Haddie thought she could have been one of them.
As she gathered what she needed, she kept forgetting one thing or another, her mind clearly elsewhere: it was on Tina’s message she received last night.
Retiring to bed early, Haddie didn’t see it until morning, hardly believing her movement had begun. She had three more women she was having conversations with, but she wanted more — many more. While Haddie dropped the dried herbs into a pot, her mind raced, wondering how Tina carried out her mission. Did it matter? She guessed not, but it was safer to cut off communication, both she and Tina erasing the dialogue from their messenger boxes.
It took Haddie a couple of hours to finish her potions, the salve not quite yet set when she pressed the lids on, knowing it wouldn’t take long. Leaving her kitchen a mess, she walked across the street and knocked on Nancy’s door, Haddie able to hear her television from where she stood. That would drive me nuts, Haddie thought, preferring music to television any day.
Nancy opened the door with curlers in her hair, her cheeks stained with too much blush, and smelling like one of the rose bushes from her backyard. “Haddie, come in, come in,” she said, moving back to let her pass.
“What’s the occasion? You’re all gussied up.” Haddie’s gaze shot straight to the top of Nancy’s head.
Nancy reached up and patted a curler, a look of surprise popping on her face. “Oh dear, I nearly forgot these things were in my hair.” She giggled as she moved toward the bathroom, instructing Haddie to follow. Haddie placed the ointments on Nancy’s coffee table, next to the remote controls for the TV, before trailing after her.
Nodding to the closed toilet seat for Haddie to sit, Nancy tugged the rollers from her hair, tossing them into a wicker basket. “Guess who I’m having lunch with?” Nancy sang each word while her stubby eyelashes fluttered like a schoolgirl.
“Did you finally break him? Mr. Cameron?”
“Mark. No more Mr. Cameron,” she said, running a brush lightly through her set curls, her fingers aiding in the style. “He’s taking me to Charlie’s — on the bay.” She turned to Haddie when she was finished. “Well? How do I look?”
Haddie stood and smiled at her neighbor, placing her thumbs on Nancy’s cheeks so she could gently blend the peachy shade into her mature skin. Standing back, she said, “Perfect. You look beautiful. Mark’s not going to know what hit him.” Haddie giggled inside, wondering if she meant that literally. Nancy was a gem and whoever spent time with her would discover her “diamond in the rough” treasures.
“I’m kinda nervous — it’s been a long time since…” Nancy’s words trailed off, leaving Haddie to wonder if she was thinking about her late husband. Haddie couldn’t fathom the idea of not having Sam around every day; he was her best friend. Nancy putting herself back out there caused great admiration from Haddie, knowing it probably wasn’t easy.
“Don’t think of it as a date, simply two friends having lunch,” Haddie told her.
Nancy smiled and nodded. “You’re right. I will.”
The two ladies left the bathroom, moving back into the room with the blaring television. Nancy finally picked up the remote and turned it off, the room suddenly mute. “Oh, you brought more magic,” she said, noticing Haddie’s tins. “Thank you — I was almost out.”
Haddie hugged her neighbor and reached for the doorknob.
“I’m gonna head out, but I want to hear all about your lunch, okay?”
Haddie shot across the street, anxious to create, but also to get back on the computer, hoping to solidify more reinforcements for her cause — a lady from Mississippi had been chatting with her on messenger. Haddie had a good feeling about her, but hadn’t gone there yet, sensing her reluctance to openly talk about what had happened to her. Somehow, Haddie knew it was big.
Haddie did, however, send out two other shipments yesterday, both packages identical except one headed for Louisiana while the other was en route to Illinois. Thinking about her conversation with the Louisiana woman, Beth, sent chills up Haddie’s spine. Did it matter who the men were that they targeted? Because Beth was about to administer the gel on her own father, revealing to Haddie that he sexually molested her for years as a child. Haddie had cried during their conversations, hardly believing how anyone could do that to a young child, let alone their own flesh and blood. She knew these people were sick — they had to be. But when they were unapologetic for their actions…well, she didn’t know what to do with that. Beth had finally mustered up the courage to confront her father — in the presence of her mother — and he only laughed in her face, telling her she needed help. She needed help. And since Beth’s mother had questioned him after that, he decided to put her in her place, drumming into her that disobedience wouldn’t be tolerated in his house.
Beth was beside herself, knowing her mother was paying for something Beth was attempting to deal with — to put behind her. She’d been in therapy for several years, finally finding her bravery and challenging her father to admit what he’d done. Instead, she had made matters worse for her unsuspecting mother, and she was having conflicting remorse from her actions.
Beth would receive her glove of vengeance in two or three days, Haddie already adding her to the HOW group.
The Illinois woman was Hannah, a strong, proud black woman. After chatting with her, Haddie knew she had every right to be. Her eighteen-year-old daughter was caught up in a relationship with a man who was controlling her every move: how she dressed, where she went, who she could converse with. Hannah was at her wit’s end, watching her once-spirited daughter go from bubbly and sunny to quiet and sullen — all because she was so in love with this controlling guy. He manipulated her every chance he could, and Hannah got nowhere with her daughter when she confronted her. Hannah was scared out of her mind that one day she’d return from work and her daughter would be gone — snatched away by that narcissist, never to be seen or heard from again. So, Hannah was taking the matter into her own hands. It was up to the strong to save the weak.
Hannah had been added to the HOW group as well, her weapon of choice — a dark-colored glove drifting through the postal system. Haddie made her way to her greenhouse, stopping just inside to wrap herself in protection. It was important to her to have plenty of the sap on hand, not wanting any delays in her shipments. She had high hopes that she’d sway more and more women to join her cause. So far, it had been easy. But what would happen when she spooked someone? She decided she’d cross that bridge if the occasion ever arose. For now, she hadn’t met any resistance, only hope of a solution to the deplorable actions of the men in their lives.
Flipping the switch for the overhead fans, Haddie knew she was unable to work in there for very long, the heat nearly unbearable, especially since she had to cover every square inch of her skin while near the manchineel limbs. Having lived in Florida her entire life, she had grown quite used to the soaring temperatures and humidity, but it still got to her in the dead of summer — the winter months was when she spent more time inside her nature preserve.
When she checked the branches in the water pool, she saw they were ready to be planted into soil. She had six good starts of the tree, but she didn’t have a lot of room to grow the deadly branches, the worry manifesting itself, causing Haddie uneasiness.
Sweat trickled down Haddie’s back as she quickly went to work with the transplanting, thankful that the goggles she wore kept the perspiration from slipping into her eyes. She poured the potting soil into spare planters that were lying around from earlier purchases, Haddie recycling every item she could. Patting down the soil, she gave each one a quick drink and shoved them near the back where they wouldn’t be noticeable from the view of the back deck, where she and Sam spent a lot of their time. Before leaving the oven-like atmosphere, Haddie grabbed a couple of the branches that weren’t plunged into the dirt, knowing she’d drain them of every ounce of sap she could — there was a dire need for her creation. Haddie felt it in her gut.
She would be ready, shipping relief to every woman who cried out for it.
Haddie had finally found her true calling, even if it were on the wrong side of the law. She had to help her fellow woman because not enough was being done in the world they lived in. Changes had to be made, one hand at a time.