When she got on the bus, I could see the angry bright red skin between her nose and upper lip from twenty feet away. As she changed into her leotard and tights for ballet, I realized her lips were so chapped they were hours away from splitting. Over a week of rubbing tissues against her little face over and over had taken its toll.
I smeared a little nasal gel on her nose, and immediately she begain shrieking that it burned. I searched all over the house for the good lip stuff and couldn't find anything. Beloved came home early from work and offered to take her to ballet for me, and I nearly jumped up and down at the anticipation of not having to go out in the freezing cold for three hours between the commute and the getting of dinners for the little ballerinas and the sitting on the hard bench in the parent waiting area for ballet. I didn't mind it when I was using the time to work on PARKER CLEAVES revisions, but now that it's out with beta readers, I don't want the benches anymore. She only has two weeks left of ballet, and even though she's danced since she was two, I'm ready for that chapter of our lives to be over, maybe as much as she is.
He left with her still howling about her nose. I drove to the grocery store and bought two tubs of Vaseline and two tubes of medicated Blistex. I drove back home and made myself a huge salad and a tuna sandwich and a tube of biscuits for her so she'd have breakfast in the morning. I burned the homemade croutons. I set off the smoke detector.
I sat on the couch and finished one book and immediately opened another. Chain reading, binge reading, because sometimes I just can't get enough of someone else's stories, and television has actors who can be bad actors and commercials and a million things that slow down the story. Sometimes reading is the only way to get the story directly in the IV and coursing through my body fast enough.
She came home and grabbed the purring cat off my lap. I looked at how tall she's grown and how old she looks except for the fiery patch under her nose. She took a shower and washed her hair, then I gave her the Vaseline and the Blistex and told her to put them on.
She came out of the bathroom to where I was sitting, still reading, propped on a pillow against the linen closet in the hall where I sit when she wants me near but I don't want to be in the bathroom with its heat and humidity and tile floors, and she kissed the tub of Vaseline.
"This is my new best friend," she said.
I laughed. "Why?"
"Because my nose hurt so bad and that other stuff just stung and I was worried about putting this on and I did, and it felt like a nice, warm blanket, and now my nose is comfy."
"Did you put the stuff on your lips?"
"Does it hurt?"
"No. It feels good, too."
Then she took her cough syrup with pretzel chasers and we read our books in her bed, and then she laid her wet head in the crook of my arm and the cat wound himself into the valley between our legs and we turned out the lights. I lay there reminding myself to be grateful that we are not as sick as we were, that the lump in my breast from last month turned out to be just a harmless cyst, that my husband is not traveling this week so it's not so hard to take care of myself, that this ballet business is almost over, that the truck that needs new struts and is over 200,000 miles has not died yet and will perhaps make it through the holidays into the new year when replacing it would be easier for us, that we made it so long before it really got cold.
I went over the list in my head as I listened to her breathing grow more even, though still snuffly. I reached the point when I have to decide if I'm going to get out of her bed and have an adult evening (which I always do) or just close my eyes and go to sleep hours earlier than I usually do and in the wrong bed.
I got up. I nearly always get up. And I felt almost deliriously happy about how well the Vaseline worked. There is real joy in helping to relieve someone's pain. It makes you feel less stuck.