Nanna has a blue bruise across the left side of her face. It is draining now, there are splotches of purple on her neck. On her head an egg-shaped lump, still no scab. Three broken ribs, a fractured shoulder. If we do not speak, she will sit in her chair at the kitchen table all day.
“Would you like to shower?”
“I think that would be good.”
Today it is our turn– how come? It is what seems to make the most sense to all of us. The walker is close and we place it in front of Nanna like we are putting her in a cage. It is hard to help her up alone, we do not know where to put our hands. If we do not move with gentle certainty, she will not be able to rise, she will slip back into the chair and who knows if she will come up again. Our youngest sister is best at this, tall and young and good at making herself strong lest, otherwise she disappear, be forgotten, left behind. Nanna holds the walker to the stairs.
“Look up when you walk,” the nurse told her.
“Humans are the only animals to look up when they move,” we tell her.
“No, birds,” says Nanna.
We are going up the stairs now. It must, somewhere, be thrilling for her, to feel so keenly the possibility that she may not make it to the last step, to the door of the bathroom she has been using for nine decades. We are afraid we will not be able to carry her through this most daily and basic of rituals. But she is sturdier than we think and already we are peeling her nightgown over her head, careful of the left side, must go right arm first.
Now Nanna is standing naked and she points to the chair:
“That should be in the shower so I can sit.”
We pull back the curtain and the rod falls.
“At least it didn’t fall on my head,” she says. It used to hurt our feelings, her dry teasing.
Nanna waits, leaning against her sink. She has one arm draped across her body. Covering not her breasts or her pubic area, but the thickness of her middle. As though this is where she carries her shame, or maybe it is her most sacred place, or maybe it is only the easiest way to hold her fractured body. Now the rod is up, chair is set.
“Okay!” she says, “Ready!”
Without help she places herself, turns the handle of the shower and cranes her bruised face to the cascade. Her body is spangled with sunspots. As the water hits her chest we think, that is what our body will look like one day. It is amazing. To be able, for a moment, to see the future. She holds her hands out as if for alms and we know that she is asking for soap. We pump it into her hands– the softest, wrinkliest, veiniest hands we have ever seen– once she took us to the doctor and held our hand stepping over a pile of snow–
We cup our hands to the streaming water and let it go. Warm water spills across her speckles. Now we are remembering a baby’s belly lapping in a sink. It cannot have been ours– we would be too young for memories if it were, it must have been a sister’s. The soap smelled the same as this one, the one our hands are rubbing across Nanna’s shoulders and which her hands are rubbing in circles around her breasts and belly. Is it enough that we are washing her back, now her feet, that once her cut has scabbed, one of our sisters will wash her silver hair?
“Okay!” she says. With a towel we pat her feet dry, and she laughs: “It’s like I am God.”
It’s true. We are bowed before her. We do not want her to slip. We want her to go down. To sit in the December sun. When her ribs heal, to go for a walk.
Juliette Enne is a writer and a translator from the U.S. She is currently based in Palermo, Sicily.