The Berceuse, Woman Rocking a Cradle (1889) by Vincent Van Gogh

Tiny Baba

Baba was tiny. Not short—diminutive. So tiny she had to sit in a booster seat at the table. So tiny she had to hold my pinky as we walked, even in her five-inch platform Mary Janes. 

You could barely hear Baba, she was so tiny and far away. She would ask for a cup of tea and we would help her to the bathroom. She’d say, “Have you seen my slippers?” and we’d sit her down, drape a towel around her shoulders, and trim the wisps of hair ducktailing at her neck. As we strolled through the mall she’d call up to us: “Please slow down.” We’d say, “A gown, Baba? Wow! What’s the occasion?”

Near the end, she was even tinier than you are picturing, so tiny we could pack her in our suitcase to avoid paying her fare. We almost set up a hamster bottle in Baba’s kitchen—she could have drunk from it, if she’d wanted to. She didn’t. Who would? Then Mom had to put Baba in a cage, of sorts, anyway. Our bonsai Baba. Nobody was in a position to take the time off work to care for her. It’d be months, at least, possibly years until she died—that’s what we were all predicting. 

But it wasn’t years. It was a week. My uncle was the first person to arrive when she died. My fucking uncle! It was bizarre for him to show up like that, only after Baba was gone. He suggested we put Baba’s remains in a box he’d found snooping around her cage: a Sears gift box, flat and square, which used to hold a pair of Baba’s earrings. My mom cried and cried when she saw the box. It seemed unjust to her, plain, cheap. But the box was just the right size for Baba. No one could argue with that. 

Mom says she never really understood Baba. I don’t blame her. It was a challenge for all of us: you had to pretty much invert yourself, hands on the floor, just to look her in the eye. But my mom could totally wrap her mind around that box. That scared her. I couldn’t see myself inside the box yet, so I didn’t know how to console her. I think she wishes it had stayed a mystery, the size of Baba’s box. 

But I know my mom will never be a little old lady like Baba was. Mom’s always been taller than me, and that won’t change. Baba on the other hand, she was tiny all along—even tinier on her deathbed, practically swimming in the sheets!

When Mom used to stand at Baba’s bedside and stroke her forehead, it always looked like Baba was my mom’s little doll. When I calm my tall mother with a cold washcloth, when I put the juice straw to her mouth, it looks like I’m the doll babying the human being. It’s awful. It doesn’t look right.

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