Votive

by
September 2020, no. 424

Votive

by
September 2020, no. 424

The ritual begins by filling a plastic basin with warm water. It is carried from the bathroom to the bedroom. It is placed firstly on a stool, then on to the floor. Soap and a flannel cloud the water. My hands bathe the woman who has removed her nightie. She sits with a sense of calm and pained skin’s need for pleasure. It is like bathing a tired child. I lift her arms, we speak quietly of shared things. This true intimacy is purifying. We have forgotten the things that have strained and estranged us. These mornings our bond is primitive. These days are bordered by routine. I am preparing her for death. I am pleasing her prickling skin. I dry her. I treat her skin with lotions and oils. Liver cancer has swollen her body into a state of pregnancy, distension, emaciation. Life is bursting from the dark soil of March. I have travelled from Autumn to Spring, from Sydney to Northern Scotland to bathe her. The liver was once thought to exude love and courage. The ritual ends with a fresh nightie, accommodating pillows, a flowered quilt. She rests. Other mornings we, a nurse and I, walk her to the bathroom. She removes her nightie and walks naked through the house, we are fully clothed, unholy. Her physical weakness rushes her. We battle to steady her, keep the syringe driver (morphine) untangled, unstrained, and keep up with her, our reaching hands and arms taking her weight. Her swollen legs and feet grip her. I have prepared the bath for her, run warm water beneath her bath seat. We shift her across it until she is centred. We turn her, lift and lower her feet into the pleasure of the warm water. She visibly relaxes. I push my hand between her thigh and the hinge that lifts as the seat is lowered, to spare her a pinch or a bruise. She can stand the sinking until it forces her to sit upright. We stop its descent. She sits, this morphed woman, alabaster grace perched on vinyl with her fingers in her ears, as I reverently wash her hair. I tip water over her head, down her back like a bowed-head statue. She is the praying figure in a fountain; a Gothic ideal, a Medieval Eve. The nurse and I are two of the Danaides, we perpetually pour water over this veiled woman. We are myth personified. We are trying to fill a sieve with water.

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