Instead of the spring smell of gardenias rising from the flowerbed below
my parent’s bedroom the scent of charred flesh permeates everything. Dad and I help
Mom out of the tub. It’s been hard for her to walk. Her back is fully burned, scarred
down to the buttocks. She no longer hides her nakedness from me. She is completely
open and raw. She stands as my Dad gently towels her unharmed skin dry. I stand to
her side ready to catch her in case she loses her balance. She raises her arms as
he shifts the towel in front of her body. She brings down her arms gripping the towel
close to her sides. He doesn’t dare touch newly grafted skin on her back. It’s still
too tender too fresh and new, new skin learning to adhere to old muscles. Dad turns
to me. “Sweetheart, we’re low on the gauze. I think there’s a new box in the kitchen.”
I walk out of the bedroom heading downstairs. Next to the kitchen door is a large
box from hospital.
That day, Mom left us taking medical supplies to Gaza. Dad called her
soon after. Told her she needed to get out. An old friend of his in the Army, a higher
up, called my Dad out of respect. Said that there was to be an offensive assault.
He knew my mother was there and even though he did not like my mother’s work in the
Strip, he loved and respected my father. He picked up the phone when the orders came
through. She had had plenty of time to leave but she didn’t. She spent that precious
time warning her friends there to seek shelter. Somehow she managed to get out a message
before the cell phone signals were scrambled, “I’ll wait it out. I love you.”
Mom knew the sound of F-16s. We’d all heard them many times before. She
and the Palestinian woman, Fatima, were upstairs in the house trying to get Fatima’s
bed ridden father down the stairs. The only thing she remembered was moving to grab
the covering from the nearby chair to make a sling of some sort to carry the old man
down the stairs in. When the whistle came, she turned to Fatima and saw terror in
her eyes. The last thing she heard her say in Arabic was, “No time.”
Somehow Mom knew instinctively to curl up. Expose the back; protect the
inner organs, face and head. Hold the breath. She didn’t remember the impact or the
days that followed. Fatima’s husband returned to the rubble of his home looking for
his wife and father-in-law. He only found my mother, still curled up, unconscious,
barely breathing. The blast had somehow thrown her to the bottom of the staircase
the rubble that fell on her protected her from the worst impact of the blast. Through
his tears he lifted my mother from the rubble, carrying her the ten kilometers to
the border crossing waving the copies of her American and Israeli passports that she
always carried on her person.
Before the bomb, the only time she would let me get close to her was late
at night after she and Dad had been together. She would always leave him sleeping
and go to her studio. I would hear the soft padding of her feet going down the staircase,
the sound of the back door opening then closing. I’d wait fifteen or twenty minutes,
stop in the kitchen and make her a cup of tea.
Her hands skillfully molded the clay as the wheel turned. “You know you’ve
got school tomorrow,” she’d say not even looking up at me as I placed the tea by the
table next to her. She’d take a ribbon tool flipping her wrist over and under creating
a beautiful pattern as she spun the wheel. “How do you do that?” I’d ask. She’d gently
take my hand placing it on top her her’s. I’d close my eyes and feel the steady rhythm
of her hand and trying to follow.
The bombs brought my mother to me. When the flames burned her flesh it
burned away her fears of embracing me. Before, she was afraid that she might betray
me. Afraid that any sign of affection might tear down my walls leaving me vulnerable
to her. When I was born, she walked away leaving me in my father’s arms. She came
back to us when I was six months old. By then, I was my father’s little girl and her
guilt and fear made her keep her distance.
In the hospital after she refused the respirator and the drugs and when
she thought she was dying, she asked for me. She asked for me for days before I agreed
to come. When I did, I sat away from her afraid of her smell; fearful of the say she
writhed as if trying to escape her painful flesh. She wept, her words punctuated by
desperate, hurried breaths, “I didn’t know how to get it out of me. These things,
they run dark and deep. She was cruel, my mother. The woman I thought was my mother.
It had to have been awful for her, her husband’s bastard child living in her house.
I loved you. I knew the instant you were there. All that love than all that fear of
hurting you, like she’d hurt me. Couldn’t take the chance. But I loved you. I couldn’t
stay away. Couldn’t stay away. I thought if I held back, maybe…but I hurt you anyway.
I’m so sorry. It’s my burden. Not yours. You have to promise you’ll let me take this.
Please, it’s not yours. Not…” She passed out from the pain her breath slowing down
and became deeper.
I hear her breath now. Quick and deep. The gauze in my hand is light and
will feel good to her new skin. I hear my parents whispering, then the sound of a
deep kiss. I turn the corner and see my Dad, his arms gently around my Mom, careful
not to touch her new skin. His lips are pressed against her shoulder. She sees me
and playfully pushes him away. She says his name and smiles, “Abraham.”
She walks on her own to the bed, my father following close behind arms
raised ready to catch her in case she falls. I watch her not exhaling until she reaches
the bed. She bends forward carefully catching herself with her braced hands. She lifts
one knee then the other painfully crawling on top of the crisp sheets. Finally, she
rests on her stomach. The phone rings. Dad says, “That’s my conference call. I won’t
be long.” He leans over and kisses her on the forehead and walks out. I move to dab
away the sweat on her forehead.
I spread the long sheets of gauze over her new skin. She slowly lifts
one side of her body then the other so I can tuck the ends beneath her. I cover her
legs up to her thighs with a thick blanket, then one arm then the other. When finished,
I rest next to her. She lets me stroke her hair and face which are moist from the
exertion. Her breath is harried. “You ok, Mommie?”
“Um, hum. A little tired though. Think I’ll take a nap. You get your homework