“this was not the first time I’d been face-to-face with my mother’s genitalia”



from the I Hate It When This Happens To Me Department:  
"I had become my mother’s official enema-giver"

Using my fingers, I felt along the wall to switch off the buzzing halo. I knelt once more to my task, and with the dripping sponge in hand, I hovered at the edge of my mother’s underwear.

I peeled down her old-fashioned panties. They came away in my hands, the elastic shot through on both legs. I had grown used to the smell of her by now, a sort of fecal-mothball combo, with a sprinkle here and there of talc.

In order to remove her underpants, I ripped them open, and her body jiggled just a bit. I thought of the bronze statues that artists cast to resemble people doing everyday things. A bronze golfer to meet you on the green. A bronze couple to share a bench with you in a city park. Two bronze children playing leapfrog in a field. It had become a cottage industry. Middle-Aged Woman Ripping Underpants off Dead Mother. It seemed perfect to me. One could commission it for a schoolyard, where students ran from the building after working all morning with numbers and words. They could climb on the two of us at recess or drown flies in the dew that pooled in my mother’s eyes.

And there it was, the hole that had given birth to me. The cleft that had compelled the mystery of my father’s love for forty years.

This was not the first time I’d been face-to-face with my mother’s genitalia. In the last decade, I had become my mother’s official enema-giver. She would lie down, in a position not dissimilar to the one she now held, and after massaging her thighs and reassuring her that it would not hurt, I would open her legs. Working quickly, I would execute the doctor’s orders and then descend the stairs alone, walking like a robot to the refrigerator, where I scarfed down leftover cubes of lime Jell-O and stared out the window into the backyard.

I placed the sponge back in the aqua-green sick bowl and rose from the floor. I drained the old water out and refilled it with fresh hot water, squirting in more soap. Then I took the kitchen scissors down from the magnetized knife rack above the sink and knelt again to my work.

The green night-light above the stove and the light of the moon coming through the window were my only companions. With the scissors, I sliced my mother’s skirt from hem to waist. I laid it open on either side of her. I began, ever so gently, to bathe her hips and belly, her thighs and the virtually hairless cleft. I dipped the cloth and sponge repeatedly into the scalding soapy water and stopped over and over again to change it, wishing for the bathtub in the work shed, for a place we could lie together, as if I were a child again and she was stepping in behind me in the tub.

Finally, when I had removed all evidence of her accident and retrieved a fresh sponge from where they were kept above the fridge, I unbuttoned my mother’s loose cotton shirt. I sliced away the straps of her old putty-colored bra. I squeezed out clean water from the sponge onto her breastbone.

Without the bra supporting it, my mother’s remaining breast had fallen so far to the side that her nipple almost grazed the floor. Her mastectomy scar, once a dark slash, was now barely a wrinkled whisper of flesh. “I know you suffered,” I said, and after kissing the fingertips of my hand, I traced them along her scar.

—from Alice Sebold‘s The Almost Moon (2007)