Mom’s scar was puffy, lips sewn shut. Her pale belly waited beneath the quivering water, a silent monster lurking. With my sneakered feet curled beneath me on the bathmat, I put my chin on the edge of our cool yellow tub and looked at her. She was relaxed, eyes closed, head on the tile behind her, mouth open, slack. I poked my finger into the warm water, just barely touching the swollen line that stretched below her belly button and above her dark, sparse pubic hair.
“What’s that?” I gently moved my finger across it. It was purple in parts, and when the water’s surface, frantic from my slight movements, settled down, I could see the little dots where there had been stitches.
“A scar,” she said, not moving, eyes still closed. Her cheeks gently puffed with each breath, like she was sleeping.
“I know,” I said, quickly. I had scars, too. I was born cross-eyed, and had scars on my eyeballs, which had been taken out and stuck back in a couple of times. I also had one from an operation I had when I was four, because I woke up one morning and Mom said I looked like a bullfrog. She brought me to the hospital where they cut open my throat and took out a gland. Then they sewed it up again and put a big white bandage around my whole neck. I couldn’t turn my head; the bandage was big enough to rest my chin on. I had to wear it to school until the cut healed, leaving pale pink train tracks jerking across my throat.
Mom’s scar looked like it hurt, more raw than mine. “From what?” I asked, my whole hand still in the warm water. Mom sighed, the dough of her belly rising beneath my finger. She said nothing, and it hurt my feelings.
Usually, Mom was the only one who didn’t ignore me. When she was home, I was the center of attention. She’d pick me up for hugs; I’d sit on her lap while she paid the bills. I liked to give her long kisses on the lips, staring into her eyes and breathing out of my nose. She never pushed me away; even when she was talking to people, she’d just talk out of the corner of her mouth with my lips pressed against hers. At night, she’d tell me I was precious, and we’d snuggle in bed until we both fell asleep. The only time I didn’t love her more than anything in the world was when she made me take my asthma medication in yogurt instead of ice cream. And I loved her the most when it was just the two of us in the Jeep, running errands. Mom would drive through the streets of Mt. Kisco, her eyes searching in front of her before they turned to me. “Where are we?” she’d ask, in a worried voice.
“We’re lost!” I’d say, buckled into the passenger seat next to her, barely able to see out the windshield.
She’d just look to me, eyes wide, and bite her lip. “Where should we go?”
“Left!” I’d shout, and she’d follow my directions even though all I could see was the sky ahead, the traffic lights, the telephone lines. With my head pressed against the blue leather of my seat, I’d let her take me anywhere. We were together, safe.
The last stop on our route was always the carwash. As Mom paid, I rolled up my window, sealing us in just as the car slid forward. When blackness blocked out the afternoon, I unbuckled my seat belt and Mom pulled off her sunglasses. Eyes wide, she raised both hands as if she were in a hold-up, staring at the steering wheel that jerked about on its own, possessed. I squealed in the darkness as a wicked thunderstorm crashed all around us, gushing water onto the glass. After the windshield cleared, we could both see the rag monster dancing in the distance. I stood, leaning my butt against the back of my seat to get a better view of the sudsy tongues about to slobber all over us.
“Here it comes!” I yelled and, preparing for the climb onto Mom’s lap, dug the heels of my sneakers into my seat as usual. But on this day, instead of grabbing me by the waist and pulling me towards her, she grabbed onto the back of my pants.
With her right hand hooked around my rainbow belt, she nudged me toward the windshield with her fist, crying “Into the belly of the whale!” For a second I was confused, not understanding why she was pushing me away. Then, I leaned onto the dashboard and pressed my nose to the glass.