The hot water running over my skin was a tiny luxury I allowed myself each morning. Mascara stains smeared around my eyes and greasy foundation from the day before, washed away with the pale green cake of soap. I recall removing the soap from its wrapper, feeling nonplussed. Dad had bought it home in his grocery bags. The letters imprinted onto the oval surface spelt DETTOL. When I was young I remember using yellow Palmolive soap. It was a rectangular block which eventually dried and cracked open. Open splits like dried mud in the sun.
My father could have been an obsessive hand washer. If he allowed it to take over. “Pat the dog”, he encouraged as he held us up by the waist, hanging over the mauve hand basin. Many times during my childhood, Mum recited the story of my brother being chased by Dad who was in a rare manic rage. Because my brother didn’t wash his hands before lunch. Mum told the first half of the story and my brother usually picked up the thread to complete the final startling scenario.
As he raced along the street and onto the vacant block of land, he turned back to see Dad in hot pursuit. Running through long grass he dared to glance over his shoulder to see the ever narrowing gap between them. How he came to have a rolled up newspaper in his hand I still do not know, however he used it to full advantage as Dad loomed ever closer. Whack! He hurled it straight between Dads legs.
“Dad went down like a bag of shit” my brother used to say, shaking his head and laughing. I saw a mixture of amusement and shame as he laughed, shaking his head from side to side. Head down, fingers stopping tears of laughter flowing. Blocking the shame. As if he himself could feel the pain he had inflicted. A memory of childhood still vivid after forty three years.
I lather the plain soap in my hands and rub it gently under my eyes to remove the stubborn dark stains. I used to buy Estee Lauder skin care products. After I became a single mother I scaled down to Dove liquid moisturising cleanser. Dreading the day at the supermarket when I had to renew my supply. It cost close to ten dollars. Cleaning products, dishwasher tablets. They all combined to make the checkout a tension filled experience. I always felt I was on a TV game show. Loading the most necessary items onto the moving black conveyer belt. Withholding medium priority items before allowing them to scoot off toward the checkout operator. Watching the green digital numerals tallying up. ‘Unnecessary’ items remained in the trolley. Embarrassed, I would push the orphaned items off to the side. Hoping a shop assistant would not notice the abandoned trolley and make a public show by asking me if they were mine. Then I’d have to stammer “No, I’m not taking them now”. Thinking I must remember to bring my calculator next time.
And now this. DETTOL. Whatever it takes to do the job. I reluctantly turn off the hot and cold water taps and emerge from the shower onto sodden cold bathmats underfoot. Everything in this sliver of a bathroom is dripping wet. The blue tiles drip. White gyprock walls are covered with a fine damp condensation. The tiny mesh ventilation screen is clogged with dust and grime allowing no steam to escape.
I slide the timber door across, allowing the warm misty steam to dance its ghostly way out into the bedroom. Spiraling upward. Causing small vibrations to occur in the intricate spider webs which string their way from light globe to ceiling. From ceiling to wall.
I reach for the damp towel hung over the upright handle of the vacuum cleaner. Unappetising. Wet before I start. It does the job I reason. Where we sleep was once a bedroom. Over the years it has become the spare room that exists in some people’s houses. The room people are loathe to enter. The one we direct any odd items we haven’t yet decided what to do with. The spare room. That’s where we’ve been sleeping since February. A trial period living back at my parents’ house. After twenty years away, bar a one year stint after a break up, I’ve returned with my two young children. To the house I grew up in.
I walk across the narrow strip of green carpet. Bending down to dry my legs. My mother’s legs. I’ve seen my mother naked many times lately. For forty four years I never once saw her naked. I had witnessed her pouring herself into hot nylon stockings in forty degree heat. Red faced and harassed, getting ready to take us out somewhere.
The first time I had to shower Mum was a sobering experience. Mum summed my feelings up in one sentence…
“I bet you never thought you’d have to do this for your mother!” No, I never imagined I would, but now it was part of our lives. Assisting Mum to pull up her absorbent pants and help her with her nightie. Trick her into taking her medication. Tucking her into bed. Going through bedtime routines as I would with my children. I’d seen Mum walking naked from the shower so many times that now, as I moved from shower to the bedroom, I felt as if I was morphing into Mums body. I guess I was destined to undergo some sort of metamorphosis. It’s still strange when you’re actually aware of it happening. Some things we want to inherit. Other things we prefer to hope we miss out on. Accepting only the good parts of our parents. Hope and pray that their reality won’t soon become ours.
As I dry myself I am aware of Mum in another part of the house, emerging from her shower. I felt guilty in the shower knowing that Mum may have been showering at the same time. Sitting on her plastic shower chair while the gloved carer gently ran warm water over her resigned body. Had I deprived her of adequate water pressure? Had her shower been warm enough? I hope so. My mother, my future? I hope not.
August 2009

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