By Ashley Lister
On the little finger of my left hand there is a callus. It sits on the centre phalange, above the knuckle but beneath the nail bed. There is a similar callus on the same spot on the ring finger of my left hand.
Not surprisingly, I have often wondered where these calluses come from. I’m a writer. When I’m not writing I’m teaching. When I’m not writing or teaching I’m either reading or reviewing. What I’m not doing is anything manual that would cause calluses.
I have soft and unmanly hands. I don’t use moisturisers. But I do so little physical work that my hands don’t get the opportunity to acquire calluses and, usually, when they do occur, I can pinpoint them to a single, specific event.
Like the blister and (very) temporary callus I experienced last year after screwing on a new door handle. (That is, I had a screwdriver and some cross-headed screws, and I attached a new handle to the door. It wasn’t anything rude or vulgar where I was involved in the sexual act of screwing whilst balancing on a door handle. That was another incident and didn’t result in any calluses).
It took me an hour to learn how to use the screwdriver. By the end of that hour, I had a blister the size of a golf ball in the palm of my right hand. Over two days the blister became a callus. By the end of the week the callus had disappeared and the palm of my hand was as soft and smooth as always.
And, like the callus that developed in the heel of my hand after I’d spent a day sawing planks of wood for a building project on which my wife was working. Again, it took me a while to learn how to use the saw. It took even longer to plough my way through the wood. And by the end of that day my right hand had been ripped open by the gruelling friction from a rough hewn saw handle buffeting against tender, soft skin. That particular wound took a week to heal. It took a further fortnight before the callus had softened and the heel of my thumb resembled its usual gentle pink hue.
But the calluses on my little finger and my ring finger are different. They’re knobbles of hard flesh that are there for no immediately apparent reason. They have matching aberrations on the underside of each finger: circular calluses that sit on the inner crease of each finger’s upper knuckle.
I’ve tried to smooth these calluses away with nail files, emery boards and sandpaper. These approaches have worked with limited degrees of success – sometimes keeping the calluses away for periods as long as a week: most times keeping them at bay for a couple of days.
I haven’t bothered the doctor with them. They don’t itch. They aren’t a strange colour. They don’t look particularly unsightly or threatening. So I have no need to visit a doctor with the condition. Besides, I don’t like visiting doctors and I’m pragmatic enough to believe that a doctor’s time is sacrosanct. Why bother troubling a doctor with my calluses when it’s merely a trivial and minor cosmetic matter? Surely a doctor would be better off treating someone with a serious illness rather than looking at two inconsequential anomalies on my left hand?
And it’s not like I use my left hand for anything important. I’ll occasionally hold cigarettes in my left hand if my right hand is occupied with a mug of coffee. I’ll rest my left hand on the steering wheel whilst I’m driving but that’s only because there doesn’t seem anywhere else appropriate to place the damned thing. In short: my left hand is far less versatile and dexterous than its opposing limb at the end of my right wrist. All the more important tasks in my daily routine are usually carried out by my right hand.
Which makes the curiosity of these calluses even more puzzling. Since I do so little with left hand, I can’t understand why they should be there in the first place.
But I shouldn’t be writing here about the calluses on the ring and little finger of my left hand. I should be writing about my writing habits. And I’ll get on with that now.
As soon as the computer screen shows my work, I sit back in my typing chair and begin to read the previous day’s work. Whilst I’m reading, because I gave up biting my fingernails a long time ago, I invariably find myself chewing on the upper knuckles of the ring finger and the little finger on my left hand…