The Final Fruits
by Kimaya Diggs
Today is January 7, 2022. My mother has been dead for two hundred and forty-three days. I’ve had plenty of things in my refrigerator for longer. Ketchup, for example. A bottle of kombucha that got lost in the back corner of the bottom shelf. Polaroid film. Hot sauce.
There are still things from my mother in the refrigerator. Things that I could dust for her fingerprints. Things that she left her house and went to the store for. Things that she paid money for, thinking of me. Things that she presented to me at my apartment. Things that we ate or drank together until she had to go home.
I could open the fridge and take any of these things out. Hold them in my hands. Eat them, drink them, let them nourish me, and live another day sustained by those calories. And I dread the day when they are gone.
This is what’s left:
A quart container of turmeric “with curcumin and black pepper extract for better absorption.” She gave this to me when my psoriasis flared, my back was killing me, and my face was a pimply landscape. “Something is not right inside,” she told me. “The inflammation is evident in all your systems, and turmeric could help.”
She was right. My joints were hot and achy, my neck was out of whack, I couldn’t get any sleep, and I was itchy, everywhere, all the time. Her most recent cancer scans had taken place ten days before and still hadn’t told me what the results were. And the longer I waited, the more I lost my courage. Last we’d heard, her liver was ravaged with enough lesions that it was futile to count them. As a lay person, I didn’t know if that meant there were dozens, or hundreds. Or thousands. What I did know, was that one of the lesions was over four centimeters long.
How long is the average liver? I searched one night at 4:22 am. My face itched; I clawed at it with ragged, bitten nails. And waited.
A canister of whipped cream, which she brought to my house for my dog, Quincy. He was her temporary surrogate grandchild, and ultimately, the only grand-creature she would meet during her life.
As grand-dog, Quincy was spoiled beyond belief. His welcome-home present was a handmade fleece blanket. She sent pictures of him to her friends on WhatsApp. And once, when we were over for brunch, she made him a pancake in the shape of the letter Q. She held it up in front of him, and said, as if to a human baby, “Q! This is the letter Q. Q goes with U, and makes a quah sound. Like Quincy, see? Good boy, that’s your letter!” And then she fed him six more pancakes behind my back.
On Valentine’s Day, she made him a card, signed Mama Pancake, with a drawing of a whipped cream can labeled “WC.” The whipped cream she left for him in the fridge is no good at this point. It hasn’t been edible for quite a long time, so I threw it away today, in fact, but I cried, too. There is no one to eat it, anyone. Quincy has been dead for exactly one month.
A slim plastic bottle of “Proven Old Amish Formula.” Or, as my mother called it, “cramp juice.” It’s a pungent concoction of ginger juice, garlic juice, and apple cider vinegar mixed in what is supposedly the perfect ratio to stop leg and foot cramps within thirty seconds.
When I am stressed, especially from work, I stop eating. As my blood sodium levels get out of whack, I get leg cramps. So did my mom, but from a combination of daily radiation therapy and ashwaghandha supplements from her naturopath. So she knew that cramp juice really worked.
A flat, fish-shaped bottle of limoncello from her trip to Italy in May 2019. It’s a lovely bottle with a long, slender neck. She wrapped it in plastic bags and pashmina scarves and flew it back for me as a gift from her first big trip in years. The last big trip of her life. My husband doesn’t drink any more, and I can’t drink it all myself, plus it’s shoved into the back corner of the fridge where it’s often forgotten, so it’s still half-full.
A bottle of Floradix vegan iron supplement syrup that she gave me seven years ago. I suffered from low iron as soon as I started menstruating. It only went back to normal when my IUD stopped my period. But before that, it was hard to find an iron supplement that I could tolerate.
My mother worked hard to find something that would work for me. Organic supplements, powder capsules, softgels…I couldn’t keep any of it down. I even spent six thousand dollars on intravenous iron infusions that got me up to proper levels just in time for my next period, at which point, my levels plummeted again. One might think that my doctors would have connected my low iron to my period at that point, but no. It was only when I got a menstrual cup with volume markings at twenty-two years old and decided to Google “volume of the average period” that I discovered to my horror that I was shedding eleven times the average volume of blood (here, I hear my mother’s voice interject—It’s not blood, it’s endometrial lining!).
My period started when I was twelve, a brown, diamond-shaped stain on the blue gusset of my underwear. I rummaged under the bathroom sink and unwrapped one of each product I found—two types of tampons, a massive pad, and a panty liner. Daunted, I rolled up some toilet paper, and stuffed it in my undies. I crumpled the menstrual products into a ball and shoved them behind the steam radiator. That night, she sat beside me on my bed.
“Sweetie, if you’re curious about period stuff, you can ask me.” I was immediately defensive and enraged. To this day, I don’t know what my mother did to deserve a child like me. I was deeply distrusting and secretive apropos of literally nothing. I flushed with immense shame and rolled away from her in my bed.
“I think I started my period,” I whispered.
“What?” she asked. Oh, I was furious at having to repeat myself, especially in the bedroom I shared with my sisters.
“I think my period. Started.” I growled, wishing I could will myself to die.
I pressed my eyes shut, hard. Then she slid her arms under me and held me tightly to her chest. She was considerate enough of my angst to not kiss my forehead.
“Why do you think that?” She asked.
I burned with mortification. It was the hinge of the infinite tension between us. We both kept secrets from each other, and it hurt, like a splinter. Even now, I can conjure up this exact feeling, my body hot and rigid, my face blank with directionless rage, nails digging into my palms. Trust me. I took a breath.
“Because. I saw. Blood.”
I wanted someone else, I wanted the mother from the YA books that would give me a red rose and tell me I was a woman and could finally get my ears pierced and go to the mall with my friends. The mom who would leave a beautiful basket by my bed filled with chocolate and every tampon and pad under the sun and a handwritten card telling me how wonderful it was watching me blossom.
Maybe she did that. Maybe she wrote the card, said the words, made the basket. But my indignant embarrassment makes the memory of that night nothing but an angry red blur. This is part of the tragedy of losing a mother young. We never got to laugh about that night.
Within two years, I was using seventy-two pads per cycle. Well, more than that, because to sleep for a few hours without a leak, I had to double up, or even triple up on pads, and then double up on underwear to keep the pads close to my body.
“Kimi, you’re using way too many pads,” my mother sighed one day. “I know it’s not comfy when it’s damp, but you really have to wear them for longer. Two or three a day. Maybe four.” I panicked
“I can’t do that! I literally can’t do that! I’ll literally be covered in blood! Do you want me to be covered in blood?” I yelled. She pinched the bridge of her nose again.
“Okay, if you’re having to use that many pads, there might be something that’s not normal. Show me your next pad before you throw it away.”
Oh, hell no. I was not showing my mother my used pad. Because I was a secret-keeper and she always wanted to know too much. Didn’t she trust me? How could I not be normal? How dare she ask me to show her my bloody pad (Mom here – it’s actually uterine lining, not simply blood!).
How I wish she could tell me what she remembers from the night when I told her I’d gotten my period, the night when I lay like an angry log in bed, full of weird tweenage rage.
She carried a lifetime of our secrets straight to her beautiful grave. And I’m left digging through my memories in order to get to know her.
A swingtop bottle of homemade limoncello, tied at the neck with a raspberry-colored satin eyelet ribbon. My sister Makeda went on the trip to Italy with her in 2019, when my previously non-drinker of a mother had started drinking at sixty. She liked the sweet stuff—prosecco, shandies, and limoncello. For Christmas, Makeda gave our mom a make-your-own-limoncello kit. She wrapped the pieces separately—bottles, vodka, sugar, and lemons.
The morning of what would be her last Christmas, she sat in an easy chair with cute little cowlicks of freshly-grown post-chemo hair springing up all over her head like grass. She was in brilliant spirits, and physically comfortable for the first time in a long time—her foot neuropathy wasn’t too bad, and she was bundled up in cozy clothes—sweatpants from my college bookstore, and a fleece-lined blue-and-white flannel from Costco, of course.
Makeda handed her a gift to open. Mama was a theatrical gift-opener—she had the best surprise-face of all time, and she always stood up to hug you. She did her usual schtick, holding the package up to her ear and shaking it.
“Is it a puppy? It sounds like a puppy!”
She ripped the paper open, revealing a yellow net bag of lemons. Then, in a moment I will never forget for as long as I live, her face erupted in that beautiful smile and she gasped.
“Lemons! Oh, thank you so much! These will be so perfect for my tea! Thank you, lovie-girl!” And she stood up, crossed the living room on unsteady legs and hugged my sister with genuine gratitude.
Later, we all laughed at how overjoyed she was to receive lemons—before she’d opened the other parts of the gift and learned that it was a make-your-own-limoncello kit. We laughed at the absurdity of it all and we laughed because her joy was our joy and when we laughed together, it multiplied.
Three months later, she arrived at my apartment with a slim bottle full of brilliant golden liquid that put the store-bought Italian limoncello to shame. It was pungent and tangy and strong. It looked like the glow of summer. The glow of her face when she sat amidst the Christmas bounty she had labored over and unwrapped a simple bag of lemons.
It is half-empty in my refrigerator and every time I look at it, I am torn between drinking it and saving it forever. Her hands squeezed those lemons, measured that sugar, tied that ribbon in a jaunty bow. If I drink it, it will warm my chest, make my fingers tingle and my taste buds dance, and, for a moment, I will have everything I ever wanted.