Dennis and I are playing in the park in Wade Avenue. The trees are
bare and the air is cold. Mum has dressed me in a pair of overalls in
a heavy woollen fabric to keep me warm. The pants chafe my legs
pleasantly. The overalls have a chequered pattern in reds and greens.
We run across the park to its middle where the playground equipment
awaits. Our breath comes out in clouds.
We run to the see-saw, play for a while, then to the swings, then to
the roundabout. This is a heavy timber affair, a circular platform set
on some invisible centre so as to rotate with children aboard. There
are metal handrails that you hold on to while the roundabout goes in
circles that never end, so long as someone is pushing. When Dad pushes
you spin very fast and you need to hold the rail or you’ll fall off
onto the sand.
Today Dennis and I and Christopher Payne and his older sister are
riding the roundabout. There are no grownups so we have to push as we
ride. You hold the rail with both hands and you run in circles in the
deepening groove dug by pushers’ feet. My hot breath clouds are coming
faster, the roundabout is whirling, my head is spinning, the big kids
are too fast, the rail is almost yanking me off my feet as I leap
aboard at the last minute and taste the dizzy drug of motion.
Then, as we slow, it is off again and push, run and push, my breathing
a hard burning in my chest, racing, keeping up with the big ones, then
once aboard again, giddy, floating, trees and faces and shapes
blurring as they whiz around me.
The afternoon is darkening. Hot and happy to be accepted by the big
ones, I pay no mind.
Something is hot inside my overalls. Something is different: I can’t
feel the chafing. Instead there is a sensation that I half remember. I
understand what has happened but I don’t want to know it. I wait a
wordless moment, then get off and walk carefully away in the direction
of our home in Wade Avenue.
My walking is slow. Although I want to be away from here, away from
the other children, away from everyone, I do not hurry because I
cannot. I have to walk that slow, peculiar, wide-legged walk as my hot
legs send their messages of disgrace to my amazed mind.
The big children are calling out, calling my name, but I don’t turn
around. I hear Christopher’s voice and his sister’s. Loud questions.
Dennis says something in reply. Their voices say things that I cannot
make out as I keep walking. I hope, helplessly, that no-one follows. I
won’t be able to run away from them.
Here is Wade Avenue. The street lamps come on but they do not yet
penetrate the darkening. I am glad of the dark.
Mum comes to the door, the house bright behind her. I don’t know what
to do. I know what to say but I don’t want Mum or me or anyone to hear
the words. I stand and Mum is cuddling me gladly, now cuddling me
differently as she realizes, now helping me to the bathroom. Only when
we are inside that small room and the door is closed does she remove
her enveloping arms as she turns and runs a bath.
Somehow Mum has got me out of those loathsome overalls. They lie on
the floor, red and green and unbearable. After today I will never see
Mum lifts me into the bath, stands me with my back towards the tap as
she paddles warm water against my skin. Her hands are firm as she
applies soap and warm water to my bottom and my thighs. The hands go
everywhere they need to and I look out and not down. I look out,
across the narrow room, away from the overalls and succeed in seeing
Now Mum is sitting me down in the bath and I allow myself to see. The
bathwater is clean, I am clean, the soap smells nice, Mum’s hands are
on me, soft and present.
Has Mum spoken? Nothing has been said about my disgrace, nothing about
the check pants. Nothing spoken, all is known and understood. I am in
clean pyjamas, redeemed.
Do my hands remember? Does my skin recall the touch, the knowing care,
Forty years later, following stroke after stroke of havoc inside the
vessels of Mum’s brain, she and I are once again in the bathroom.
Stronger hands help to lower and to raise a weaker body. Skin to skin,
they clean here, dry there, restore Mum to order and presentability.
From time to time over seventeen years this joy comes my way. It is a
job that calls for concentration but I never have to worry about
dignity. Mum has her dignity. It is inseparable from her.
Copyright howard goldenberg, 24 june 2009.