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Katie Carlin

© 2003


The familiar ring of my cell phone interrupted a conversation I was having with my friend, Lori, on our drive back to our hometown. I apologized, reached into the backseat, checked my caller I.D., rolled my eyes, and declared, "My mother."  I picked up and inquired, "Yes, mother?" (I always call her mother when she annoys me).  You see, I had already told her twice what time I would be leaving the Twin Cities, and true to plan, I left at that time.  "I'm in Woodbury," I responded to her redundant question.  "Woodbury," I repeated when she didn't quite hear me.  I allowed my voice to take on that 13-year-old-I can't-believe-you-are-in-my-room quality and ended with, "I'll be there in four hours."  Seemingly satisfied, my mom said she'd see me soon and, "I love you, don't pass any semis," to which I mumbled back the same, except the part about the semis. 

Not two hours later, my phone rang again, and of course, it was my mother.  "Jesus," I complained, "She always does this!  I swear she still hasn’t figured out what roaming charges are."  Knowing that screening the call would result in two hours of agony for my mother wondering what had happened to me and who she should call regarding cars in ditches, I picked up.  "Mom!  What do you need?  I'm roaming!"  Flustered by my annoyed tone she stammered, "Oh!  Um—I just thought I'd tell you not to eat dinner on the way.  I'm cooking salmon on the grill, and your dad and I are holding off dinner until you get here."  Here it came.  Surfacing.  Making me feel small.  My guilt.  "OK, mom," I gulped, changing my tone, "sounds good."  Too cheap to provide an ample explanation about roaming, I hung up and planned my apology upon my entrance home.  You see, my mom is the nicest person I know, and continually, I make her feel bad. 

* * *

"Mom?" I asked as we ran errands through my hometown, "Can you paint my toenails when we get home?  I can't seem to do it right, and I'm wearing open-toe sandals tonight."  My mom seemed relieved by the "offer."  Lately, she keeps trying to help me out: little checks in the mail, offers to pay for a wedding gift I'm buying for another friend getting married, help on my car repair expenses.  And I seldom accept, though I certainly could use some help financially.   

When we got home, she scurried back to her room and emerged not only with nail polish, but with the fixings for a full-on pedicure.  My mom has a way of going overboard, and I rolled my eyes out of habit, though delighted, and allowed her to pamper me.  "Up on the counter with your feet in the sink," she instructed, and I willingly obeyed.  She began by pouring me a glass of white wine and one for herself, for a lady never drinks alone.  We clinked glasses, took a sip, and she placed her glass near the sink.  With one hand, she scooped a healthy amount of exfoliating cream and, using her other hand to lift my foot out of the sink, went to work softening each foot in turn.  I watched her perfectly manicured hands as she worked the salty, oily substance over my toes.  It was the same set of hands that used to rub suntan lotion under the straps of my swimsuit as a child.  The same hands that tied bows in my hair every day before kindergarten.  Those hands sewed and cooked and blotted stains out of my favorite sweater.  I sat there as she rubbed my feet pink in the sink, and thought about those hands and how much mine were beginning to look like hers, my knuckles and the veins that have begun to show.

She finished the "exfoliating process" on both feet and eased them into a sink full of warm water for a "softening soak."  Her hands edged up my ankle, gently rinsing away the extra residue of cream that had crept up my leg. After drying each foot completely with a bathroom towel, including between the toes, she helped me choose a nice neutral tone and began painting.  My toenails are really small—the curse of small feet, I guess—and she inevitably goofed on my pinky toe.  "You're not so good at this," I teased.  "Shut up, bitch," she fired back to my surprise, and I about spit my wine across the counter.