Juliette Enne ~ This Most Daily and Basic of Rituals

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.