Sunday, December 30, 2018


"I owe my life to dental hygeine!" Batman to Robin, circa 1968.


E@L takes his mum to the bathroom so she can brush her teeth.

She is walking ahead but parks the four-wheeler in the bathroom doorway with the front wheels leading in and blocks herself. E@L has to coax her come back out again, to turn the four-wheeler around and to reverse back to the doorway. She can then turn slowly around, clockwise, step away from the four-wheeler, hopefully not leaving her left foot behind as she twists. It was her right hip that was replaced 10 years ago and that one works fine. Slowly, dreadfullly slowly, like every other action, she scuffles her foot around and straightens it to her body. With her right hand she reaches to the door frame by the bench and then leans forward to move her right foot up ahead. Her left hand can come off the pusher now, and can move to the door-frame too, and then her right hand can go to the bench.

She is the end of the bench actually, where her right hand is holding a lot of her weight as she stoops, and so long as her feet are not overlapping she can remove her left hand from the door-frame. Her left foot is still turning, her right foot is coming forward again, and yes, her right hand now slides to the corner of the bench, and she can eventually place her left hand next to it. She is inside the door, standing at the bench's corner, and only has to shuffle a little to her right and around to get to the front of the bench in order to access the sink properly and to do her teeth.

She turns and looks at E@L with upraised inner ends of her eyebrows. "Are you looking after me?"

"Helping you brush your teeth, mum."

"Who's looking after me?" Concerned eyes in deeply-creased face, so many years of weather and of more concerns, a young widow's concerns amongst others.

"We're all here, your beautiful children, all forty-eight of us."*

She scoffs and smiles. "Phff. I only have two children."

"More than enough!" E@L says.

"I'll say!" She gives a little laugh.

She shuffles further to the front of the bench and E@L stands by the doorway at the end.

"Here's your brush."

He hands her the brush, which has a grey unmarked, plain stick-like handle made of a material he is unsure of and doubts he's ever seen before. Its shape is very old-fashioned: there is a slight waist to it, but otherwise it's straight up and down, no fancy curves, rubber inserts or indentations, nor any attempt at fitting to the form of a user's hand. It looks like it might have been made of pumice stone in ancient times, but it is soft in the hand, and smooth. And anyway, the head looks normal.

Mum turns on the cold water tap, transfers the brush to her right hand, turns it to face up, and, to E@L's slight surprise, begins to rub the bristles of the brush into the nozzle of the faucet, back and forth in the running water, scraping the bristles across the inside of the tap's orifice.

E@L has never noticed her do this. Or has he? Perhaps he didn't take it in, but this day there is a slight shimmering of deja-vu about the act. Has he ever even watched her brush her teeth before?

It strikes him as a habit she must have acquired long ago. Why? Perhaps, as the youngest in a family of seven kids who were so poor they would share a brush, she had to scrape brother and sister cooties from it? No, Granddad was never that poor. Or maybe she had to take it to school and use it after whatever lunch at St Brendens Convent School the nuns would provide. Or did they bring their own lunch, her sisters and brothers, Grandma having made several sets of sandwiches for those of her children still at school with the bread she had baked the weekend before. Mum (although she was not called mum at the time), after folding back the grease-proof sandwich paper to be re-used next day, would still have to retreive the brush from within her leather satchel that had her name hand-printed in gold ink on the flap just below the handle, and maybe the brush could get contaminated in there, unless it was wrapped in a clean handkerchief? She used live only two onion-farmed paddocks away fom the school: E@L wonders if she went home for lunch?

She is leaning in low over the sink, her stoop more pronounced, and she takes her half-plate out from her mouth and, with it in her left hand, rinses it in the running water. She then scrubs the false teeth with the wet brush. E@L holds a tube of toothpaste and says,

"Here, put some toothpaste on it."

She nods, and holds the brush out for him to squeeze a small dollop onto it. But she only uses the paste for the teeth remaining in her mouth, her real teeth. She scrubs for twenty seconds at most, rinses the brush, places it back in its porcelain cup, which is where E@L's conventional Oral-B brush is also residing for this "holiday", although with a traveller's protective hood clipped over its head. He no longer bring his electric brush - it is so bulky and the battery dies so quickly. She leans in further still and with her now free right hand scoops some water into her mouth, sloshes it around and spits it out, one or two darkish spots of dinner's roast pork alighting in the sink.

E@L passes her a clean hand-towel and she wipes her face. She raises her left hand and covers her mouth as she puts her teeth back in and, uncovering her mouth suddenly like an exaggerated kiss, gives her son a big smile.

"Thank you for looking after me," she says deliberately, and winks at


* Some might say don't be ambigious or facetitious when caring for elderly people with progressive dementia, but mum still has many moments when the dementia lets her wicked sense of humour bubble out from under that forgetfulness and lostness, and the Sundowners Syndrome added with her long-standing anxiety (what she calls The Fear). When that receptivity to cheekiness goes away, it will mean someting. Exactly what, we'll find out.

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