She asks if there’s a human inside, who scrubs the dishes and puts them back as they came in. I laugh, kiss her on her forehead, dipping my nose into her thinning hair.
I smear creamy lotion on my mother’s calloused palms, white settles in the trench of her lifeline. Years of washing dishes for restaurants, to send me to school, to buy books and uniforms after Pa died. Her back curved over dhobi ghats, wringing out towels and sheets. Her long face against the fabric on the clothesline, siphoning damp relief. Now, next to the sink where she has rinsed her life, a dishwasher is draining erasure into the creases on her forehead. During the day, she sticks her finger in the turrets of silverware holders, presses the soap pellets on her wash-annulled palms, their scent embroidered into her shadow. After dinner, her rosary-shaped eyes wait until the red LED of the machine turns off, expecting someone to walk out drenched in water, laced in froth.
“I haven’t embraced the porcelain in days,” she complains, her eyes dull with boredom. “My limbs are sore from underuse.”
“Ma, I have it all so you can rest now!” I plunge my gloved hands into the greasy dishwater in the sink, a mechanical whirring of the motor starting in the background.
“I wake up at night,” my mother says, “and grow sad about the world. It’s dying because there’s too much smartness and not enough touch.”
I shake my head and hear the mushy hurt of her guts–deep breaths, snotted air, a washcloth-cringed wetness split between us.
“It’s a curse not to use your gift to serve. Besides what do you do your entire life if not clean? First, the skin for good health, then the tongue with silence, and last, the mind with compassion,” my mother says.
I don’t know what to say, so I interlace my fingers in hers. They don’t fit as they once did. There are gaps from which the light escapes.
Tara Isabel Zambrano is a writer of color and the author of the full-length flash collection, Death, Desire, and Other Destinations, from Okay Donkey Press. Her work has appeared or is upcoming in Copper Nickel, West Branch, and Post Road. She lives in Texas and is the Fiction Editor for Waxwing Literary Journal.