glbtq: the online encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer culture

Kelly Pilgrim

Some mothers eat their young. Mine scalded me with hot water, and called it an accident. I'm showering her now, as she sits on a plastic, slip proof seat.

The temptation is great.

"Is that too hot for you mum?", running the water over my wrist and then down her slumped back. The water pools at the base of her spine, leaking through holes in the chair. She's leaning forward with rounded shoulders, her ample breasts rolling about on her stomach. I'm in the shower recess, standing over her. I've taken my shoes off and brace my toes into the tiles. The water spits at the floor, then bounces up to wet the cuffs of my pants. I focus on the red emergency button at eye height. Not much good if you've fallen.

There's a gas heater in the bathroom of our old house. My mother always lights it for me with a match, taken from a box with a picture of Lucille Ball smiling on the front. When lighting it, she holds down a little red button until the flame click, click, clicks to burning, and then she leaves the room. The water is hot, really hot, but my body shivers, almost to blistering. A blue-lit landscape. I measure my growth by how far my body stretches against the length of the bath.

Up until two years ago, she dyed her hair black, but now, I lean over her silver head, bottle in hand. Sometimes, she'll go a week without showering, other times she forgets she showered yesterday and demands another one today. . The nurses only come to shower her every two days, but when I visit she'll ask me instead.

"Do you want your hair washed?" I squeeze out the last remaining shampoo, and slop it on. Her thinning hair feeds its way through my fingers.

I am 6 years old, and I'm wearing a pink, drop-waisted dress. She tells me how pretty I am. She parts my hair in the middle, and brushes it firmly. I never wear the dress out of the house. She says it's for special times only.

I'm named after my sister, Jessie, who died at birth. Once every month, my mother and I visit her grave. We place flowers in the vase. She kneels by the gravestone and slowly traces her finger over the lettering. Mother carries a photograph of Jessie in her purse. She carries a picture of my dead sister. If I talk she slaps me on the back of the legs and tells me to shut up. A cemetery is no place for noise.

I ask her to stand up briefly while I dry her off. Her knuckles whiten as she holds tight to the railing. She sits again, exhausted. I put her socks on first because she hates for her feet to be cold. She doesn't offer any help and I struggle to stretch the material over her toes and then her heels. She doesn't care what she looks like anymore, but I like her to look smart. I believe this reflects well on me.

When the Mormons come to the door, I'm wearing the dress. They tell my mother she has a lovely daughter. She squeezes my hand so tight I could cry, and drags me behind her skirt. I peek through the folds of cloth, smiling at our guests, but mother pulls me back. Some mothers eat their young. Mine hid me away, storing me for the future.

I select black linen slacks and a red sweater from her wardrobe, which contrasts nicely with her fair complexion. She manages to place her own incontinence pad in her underpants, and then pulls on her slacks clumsily. She raises her arms above her head and I slide the sweater over her body like a sheath. I help her into the wheelchair and push her down to the local shopping centre for coffee. The staff know us well; every Saturday this is our routine. She has hers in a mug, with extra milk, so as not to burn her mouth. We don't talk much. Instead, we watch people go by. We do look alike, and I can see people glancing over in our direction, and maybe thinking, what a caring child.

On Sunday mornings, I get up early and run down the stairs to make my mother breakfast. She always has a fried egg and bacon, on two pieces of toast, and a cup of tea. I find it difficult to time the cooking of each item and normally something gets burnt. Each time, she yells at me for 'cooking like a boy.' Every Sunday I try harder not to burn her food.

After buying fresh carnations and shampoo, we walk back to the nursing home. The carers are happy to see me as usual, and fill me in on my mother's progress. How many times she pressed the buzzer in the middle of the night this week, and the numerous refusals to shower. They seem to like her though -- they talk about her like she's a child, a naughty, cheeky child. I know a different woman.

Baby Jessie was born prematurely, with her lungs not properly formed. This is why she died. Mother keeps her death certificate in the top drawer next to her bed. Jessie was the baby she had longed for. I wasn't planned. My father left shortly after I was born. There were no more children after me.

I sit in the chair next to her bed, half-watching the news on television. She asks me when I am getting married. She asks me this every time I visit. I turn to her, the answer is always the same. "One day mum." The truth is, I'm married to my mother.

I am 10, and in trouble. I've ripped my trousers on the tree. "Jessie wouldn't have been so boisterous," she screams. Underneath the torn trousers, my leg bleeds. The material sticks to the wound. She runs into her room, and slams the door. She stays there until dark. I think I might put on my special dress for her because she says nice things to me then. I slide down the cupboard door onto the lino floor with my knees to my chin. The clock in the next room ticks loudly.

Some mothers eat their young. Mine is developing dementia, some days are worse than others. This is what the carers say today when she refers to me as her beautiful daughter.

They ask me if I have any sisters, or am I her only son.

©1997-2002 Blithe House Quarterly / All Rights Reserved