A couple weeks ago at choir practice, our pianist Mrs. Carol gave me an orange symphony ticket for Cade. "The school may give him a ticket," I said.
"Then you use it," Mrs. Carol said, and in fact, Cade didn't end up needing a ticket because the clarinet choir in which he performs opened for the symphony. I would've liked to have gone but--upon learning of the symphony's plans to perform Disney music--decided I wanted Clementine to go even more. Since Cade wouldn't be available for Clementine the whole time, I arranged for her to sit with my friend Karen and her family.
I helped Clementine pick out clothes, scrubbed her head in the shower, and even put make-up on her. (Possibly the only bug flying around our yard, mid-January, had eaten Clementine alive to include her face. Of course.)
Charleigh was a bit pouty, but I promised her a special adventure, just the two of us. She and I walked Clementine to Karen just inside the high school and headed into town. Charleigh was quiet as a church mouse behind me in the minivan. Finally, I asked: "Are you okay back there, Charleigh?"
"Yeah," she said, "I'm just wondering when I'll get to see Clementine, again." She hesitated for a few seconds, then added: "But I'm glad to have special time alone with you, Mama." And I thought to myself: what in the world am I going to do with this child for almost two hours given that I can't really spend any money?
But I had six dollars and some change on a Dunkin' Donuts card, also a little more than a dollar in my wallet, which got us a box of Munchkins and a sweet tea from McDonald's. I considered going into Target after some laundry detergent but, on a whim, said: "I have an idea, Charleigh! Let's go to Ulta and smell the perfume!"
"What's Ulta?" she asked, then: "Is it far away? Can we smell all of it? All the perfume?" Inside the store, she admired the perfume bottles cautiously, her eyes wide as fifty-cent pieces. I showed her how to spray test strips at a little distance, then wave and sniff them. "How do you know how to do all this, Mama?" she asked, and I answered something about how I've been around for a good little while.
From the perfume section, Charleigh and I moved to the make-up section, where we tried all manner of products. We both left Ulta wearing foundation and lipstick. She was wearing bright purple eye shadow, to boot; I was sporting some mascara that froze my lashes, coal black, a full inch from my lids. "I want to tell Clementine everything," Charleigh said, waving a disposable mascara wand, "but will she think I'm bragging?"
"Probably not," I said. "She got to go to the symphony."
"I just wish we could've ridden an escalator," Charleigh sighed.
"We still have time to ride an escalator," I said and drove around to Sears, where we rode the escalator up to the bathroom. I noticed that Charleigh had six or seven perfumed test strips fanning out of a studded back pocket in her jeans. We rode the escalator back down and went to the high school to pick up the older kids.
"Oh Brandee," Karen texted. "Clementine loved it, her face was precious to watch."
A bit later, Charleigh asked: "Mama, can we do that again, the next time we have a special adventure, just the two of us?"
And who am I? Who is this person trapped in a fluffy body and pinched times? The perfume I liked best, tonight, smells like soap: like old-woman perfume, Cade said. There was no meanness in his words.
I am a woman who remembers buying expensive make-up and pricey, exotic-smelling perfume. A woman who remembers shopping at the mall. I am a woman who remembers turning heads. All of that is fading so quickly, though. Fading like the trace amounts of perfume on the test strips in Charleigh's back pocket. I would tell you that I'm sad, but mostly, I'm just tired.
I am a woman with friends. I am a woman with daughters, and the skin of their faces is taut, their pores nearly invisible.