Who cleans the wax out of your ears? My mom used to. She would make me lie next to her on the couch, head in her lap, one ear facing up, while she used the head of a safety pin to scrape the inside walls of my ear. Then she would pull out the pin with its clump of yellowish goo and drag it across the top of my hand, leaving the small spot of wax to rest there, intact. 

She would repeat this until my hand hosted a constellation of little clumps. Then it was time for my next ear. In the end, we had visual proof of how much she had taken out. It satisfied us both, the whole process. It is one of the greatest forms of intimacy I have ever known, and every time I do what I know doctors have been telling us not to do for eons, every time I stick something like a pin or a bobby pin or a q-tip in my ear I feel the absence of my mother, the absolute safety of having someone else in charge.

image provided by the author

image provided by the author

- Caroline Allen has been a lecturer at the College of Creative Studies at UC Santa Barbara for over 25 years. Her work has appeared in Solo Novo, Lumina, Mary, Spectrum, Into the Teeth of the Wind, and The Santa Barbara Independent, among others. She has work forthcoming in Juxtaprose and Forge. She is also a painter. Her website is carolineallenstudio.com.

How to Comb an Old Lady's Hair

            It changes with age, hair: thins, brittles, refines. This is what she says.  

            Use large-toothed combs. And patient fingers.

            Oiling the hair is important. Massage the scalp. Pay attention: oldladyskin grows silken, just like oldladyhair. Separate a clump. Loosen the knots with your fingers; run them through, quiver the strands apart, while pulling down with the comb. Sometimes she impedes by clasping your hand.

            Remember: Impatient hands are useless.

                                                                                              (from Life, on Old Indian Photos)

                                                                                             (from Life, on Old Indian Photos)

            Untangling hair takes time. Why waste it? Ask about her husband’s portrait which hangs so she can see him from her bed. Place your fingers—all ten—at the midpoint of her hairline, and scuttle them to the base of her skull parting her hair. Listen. Come sun, come rain, he stealth-waited by the pond where she went for water. Push the parted hair to either side twisting lightly to keep them divided. Brush one segment toward yourself and separate it into three as she laughs her way through their first wedding-night kiss. You’ve forgotten hair-ties. Do not worry about her impatience. She tells you where they are before resuming. He has been dead for decades; but her body still yearns for his. Blush when she touches your naked waist. Usually demurely hidden by your sari, it was bared when you crouched to get the hair-ties from a drawer. Begin the other braid and pretend you’re unembarrassed by her comment about your curviness.  

          Above all, do not worry about pulling her hair too hard. “Sometimes hurt is good,” she chuckles, “hasn’t your husband taught you that yet?”

- Shabnam Nadiya