Today I am a caretaker. I have to be careful now that my son is watching. You live what you learn, they say, so I’m extra gentle. I need to make sure he learns how to treat me when I’m old and exploding.
I narrate my motions:
“I’m opening the drapes now so she can see and feel the warm sunlight. Keep the sheers closed though, because you don’t want her get blinded if she opens her eyes.”
“See how softly I’m speaking? It lets her know I’m here in a way that feels like a voice hug. It spreads a calm inside of her.”
“Pull the wheelie-tray table over to the foot of the bed. Make sure it has everything you need and all of it is unwrapped and sterilized.”
“Now, pull the covers back slowly. All the way. One even motion. Pretend you’re uncovering a pond of sleeping frogs.”
My mother lies sleeping through all of this, or lies quiet and away in whatever bottomless place she’s resting in.
It’s hard to tell without measuring if her leg is larger than it was yesterday, even so, I know that it is. It’s growing faster than a seedling, but just as undetectable. If I had a stop-motion camera filming it, I could play it back and see it swelling.
I lift her nightgown up over her knees. My son shifts on the bed, sits up. He knows the important part is about to come.
“Hand me the long scissors,” I say, and he does.
“Slide it between the bandage and her skin. Be very, very careful. Pretend her leg is a water balloon filled with lava.”
I cut the bandage from shin to toe.
“Now I lift her leg up by the ankle. Her heel’s in my palm. See?”
As I lift, the bandage sort of slides off and flaps open. It’s the color and weight of an overused Kleenex. There is a bottom of a river smell. My son holds his nose and squinches his face. I do my best to not react. I rub the water that is coming from my eyes on my sleeve.
“If you whistle, it might help,” I tell him. “With the smell,” I add. Somebody told me this helps when cutting onions. I’m not sure if it helps an eight year old with the smell of his grandmother’s exploding leg, but at the least it would be distraction.
Fascinated, he gives several earnest pursed blows that emit nothing remotely musical.
“I don’t know how to,” he confesses, wistfully.
“Well, guess that’s something we can work on shortly, then, can’t we?”
He nods and smiles. I scoop the used dressing and place it in a plastic grocery bag, drop it on the floor.
I let him watch me wash, clean and apply medicine to her leg. I hum while I work. In my head the hum is a song that has words. “Do you see, my son, how I am washing every bit of this disgusting leg? Are you hearing my carefree humming? Is it painting a picture of composure? Look at how I dab the meaty broccoli-like bulbs that are pushing their way through her now purple-brown skin. I am not even biting my lip or squinting my eyes. I am actively touching their yellowy-red spongy surfaces with these cotton balls covered in medicine. Can you feel the obscene heat of this expanding leg? Like it is an overheating radiator? Look at how I am not disgusted with my own mother and her leg that is expanding and splitting apart at the speed of life. Look at what love is. Can you see, my son, that love is ruining three mattress pads with your mother’s leg leakings? That love is humming while touching things you want to run away from? Are you learning, my son? Will our positions be shifted one far away day? Will you be the one humming while parts of me explode? Will you have taught your son to whistle?”