Handling metal objects smears a raw, acrid smell on my hands. Counting change leaves the pungent residue on my fingers, as does fumbling with nails and screws. Every time I catch the scent, I am vividly reminded of the monkey bars, the engraved texture slightly rusted and tarnished from the hours in the elements and exposure to the delicate skin of children’s palms and fingers. You would think that in a competition of hardiness, the hopelessly tiny cells stretching over a child’s hands would easily yield to a substance that requires fire to forge. Curiously, this isn’t the case. Generations of children continue to swing along the bars, and the metal slowly, tiredly wears down. Even the battle wounds, the blisters and the pain of tearing apart layers of skin, does little to deter active tykes. Perhaps the novelty of being up in the air, with the wind fluttering past as the momentum carries us forward, elicits an addictive thrill that has us scrambling back up the ladder at one end to leap up onto the bars for another round. There is also the undeniable fact that from the vantage point of swinging from the bars (or even, sometimes, sitting on top of them, for those brave enough to heave themselves up and above), it is satisfying to be looking down upon the heads of adults, from a height of six feet rather than three or four.
Recently, a prolonged frenzy of creaming butter and sugar, whipping cream into stiff peaks, and beating cake batter using ladles and whisks of the old-fashioned sort left me with burning blisters on my right hand. I treated them gingerly as I washed up the dishes, then gazed at them with the curiosity of someone who hasn’t seen blisters in more than 15 years. Where, I wondered later, did that childhood persistence go, the don’t-quit-yet sentiment that had me on the monkey bars until my blisters burst and I was forced to wash my hands and try to keep a bandage on for the rest of the afternoon?