Twenty-five years after I helped to wash my father for the first and final time, I help steady Mum onto the stool, measure things in my mind, steadily lift her blackened legs up, over and into the bath. She keeps her gaze forward and rearranges a flank of grey, once-black hair, pinning it back behind her ear, only for it to fall back immediately, like a curtain between her eyes and mine. I place soap and sponge within her reach. Before giving a quarter-turn to the valve on the wall, I angle the shower into the area in front of her feet. The water jets down and is up to temperature almost as soon as my hand is there to test it. I tilt the head back towards her. I give a soft push to the bathroom door, to send it back towards where the latch and plate should meet and shut. It falls just short and four small fingers show around the side of the door. Mum greets her granddaughter and smiles.
Children, who are so receptive to learning, and yet better still at teaching, often dislodge or refresh those things lost or forgotten from one’s own childhood. They resist making the explanation of simple things difficult. They accept things without a need to question and they question those things which don’t seem acceptable. My daughter allowed me to see that there was no reason for closing the door and not letting her join us.
From under the sink, my daughter pulls her ‘stander’. She steps onto it and turns to me to declare that she is almost the same height as Nanny. She laughs at her own surprised statement. Mum finds my eyes to share in the same laugh. She has now fixed her hair back behind her ear. My daughter seizes the sponge and her grandmother squeezes soap from the bottle onto it. She floats the yellow block over the brow of her thigh, the limb above and then onto tiptoes to lather her shoulder. I want to call to my wife, to witness this magical thing that her daughter is doing; this gift to both her father and her father’s mother. But it’s all too magnetic to think beyond this room. She holds out the sponge and I squeeze more soap onto it, despite it already being caked in mousse. But, again, there is simply no reason to refuse her.
I turn to the sink; lift the tap and flush the net of froth from my arms; reach for the towel; wrap a hand inside and send it slowly over the opposite arm, and then repeat with the other hand tending to the remaining arm. And then I turn further, find the white tiled corner, the white like the white from all those years previous, and press the towel into my face and hold it there. And close my eyes, and both remember and forget.
With eyes dry, I find them both again. There are bubbles in their hair. Against the blonde-brown of my daughter and the black-grey of her grandmother.