Editor’s Note from Janice Leagra: I asked Victoria if she had any pieces to submit because I am drawn to the honesty and tenderness in her work. She writes openly of emotional topics, such as the one featured here today, crafting sentiment without sentimentality.
She tries to hide her fingers’ decline so I’m not a witness, but the din gives it away. Pang. A percussion of shattered glass. Occasional booms. Or a bowl falls and there is no fissure, but it spins in a circular quake, making the edges echo with the wooden floor until gravity halts the rotation. What follows is the sound of my mother’s tongue slapping against her front teeth. Tsk. Then mierda. The bangs call out to me, and when I arrive to the part of the house where she is, I don’t say anything but scoop and place what fell back to its designated spot. If there’s a cluster of broken pieces, I embrace them the way she and I’d gather fireflies in our palms years ago—careful not to hurt a living creature then, careful not to hurt me now—and then dispose.
The thuds make me wonder when our bodies were most in sync. Maybe it was when I was twenty-one and she was forty. We walked around malls and parks seemingly as sisters, best friends, cousins. People would interrupt us with Wait, wait, did you just say Mom? As in… this is your mother? Back then I was young enough not to think of her as aging right in front of me, and she was young enough that the role of caretaker could only apply to her. But now, the natural shift is palpable, and some days I feel like our roles swap or as if time dilutes the threshold between mother and daughter. I care for her throughout her forties when the lump scares in her breasts leave us questioning the future. I search for the medicine that will alleviate the pain in her knuckles and slightly deviated fingers, suggesting herbal remedies, tips from coworkers. All that I can understand is that something’s wrong when I grasp her hands, the skin still soft but the tendons hardened as if there were barbed bone healing after a fracture.
Sometimes she tells me that she’s in pain, but I don’t know what this means — because pointing and wincing is not the same as living it. The pain comes in the winter mostly, when the cold makes her femurs weigh as if they were shafts of metal. She’s a nanny and personal trainer, lean, with tight arms and a strong core. But my mother is fifty and afraid of how her bones, especially her fingers, will continue to morph in the years and decades to come. She can grab weights because they are thick, but the holds on pots and pans twist in a way that if her concentration strays, they slip from her hands, her bones’ decay exemplified by sound. This is why she hardly bakes unaccompanied.
One day I ask her if she would like to bake a pie, something that neither of us have ever endeavored to do. Something that will require the use of our hands. Baking has always been a tedious endeavor that I avoid. The waiting for the flour to cool and the chemistry of the ingredients to unite, for me, is a bore. But together we help each other, her presence makes the steps enjoyable, and I do all the tasks that may pain her hands. We gossip as I peel apples and slice them into the shape of a waxing crescent moon. We have no rolling pin, and instead she cleans an empty wine bottle and dries the glass before we take turns flattening the dough. Then gently, her fingers loop into the openings of scissors to make the strips for the maze that will become the pie covering. We tap our phones to skim through photos of the pattern, the lattice too difficult, and we leave easy crisscrossed lines of dough, because after all, this is our first pie. Our laughs become stronger when we attempt to make the edge of pie crust weave up and down like the crest of a wave, and what’s left is the proof of our initial effort and then a squiggly line as evidence of our surrender. And as she turns on the oven—no smashes on the floor yet—what frightens me the most is not the possibility of cutting my fingers on glass or the pang of pots that make my skeleton jolt, it’s knowing that I don’t know when there’ll be silence. It’s that I never want the silence to come.
I’ll keep on telling her, Let’s bake a blueberry pie. How about strawberry? I want our hands to work together to make noise, move our limbs while we chat and create something among the clatter, feel the heat of the oven warm our limbs as I insert our joint effort into the heat and she hovers over me. Then to linger over the kitchen sink with flour up to our wrists, waiting for the rush of tepid water to wash all the work from our knuckles under a stream. To glance at her fingers, naked of all the rings she’d wear because she’s too afraid her tendons will grow thick like wood does in the heat of summer, leaving no space for the circles to be freed. I want to hold the moment, hold her hands, and hope it’ll last far longer than how the smell of cinnamon-gushed apple permeates all the rooms of the house.
Victoria Buitron is a writer and translator with an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Fairfield University. Her prose has been featured or is upcoming in Barren Magazine, Bending Genres, Lost Balloon, and other literary magazines. She is the 2021 Fairfield Book Prize winner and her debut memoir-in-essays, A Body Across Two Hemispheres, will be available in Spring 2022 by Woodhall Press.