"Lauren, you ate all the strawberries! Moooommmmm -- she ate the strawberries without saving any for me!" According to Mia's voice, this is an impossibly remedied offense. Lauren runs, bare feet slapping on the floor, to find me where I'm resting. She looks ready to defend or argue or just use the whiny voice of the irreproachably blameless. I cut her off at the pass.
"Sweetie, there are more berries on the kitchen counter. Just grab a couple and rinse them off."
More slapping feet. No whining voice. Mommy rests.
But the baby cries, so I jog down the hallway and up the stairs and into the darkened nursery and replace the pacifier and the baby quiets. On the retraced steps by the bathroom door, I pause at the sound of running water to peek through the cracked door. Lauren is perched on the edge of the bathroom counter, swirling her hands in the sink. She is singing softly, the water is running, and the drain is stoppered.
There is no way I can walk past this room, I think, as she turns to me with a smile on her face. I imagine her to be hiding something from me -- a filled sink means tomfoolery. A filled sink means buffoonery. A filled sink means a task of housecleanery, with mama as slave.
"Lauren, what...?" I smell sweet hibiscus, or the closest approximation possible by a soap dispenser, and the sink water is covered in foamy bubbles. Lauren's hand swishes through the suds, swirling figure-eights. The sink's built-in overflow hole is about to be overflown; I stop the water.
"Hey! Mama, I need that water!"
"I see that, but it was getting too high. What are you doing in here -- did you finish your movie?"
"No, I...but you said...and I'm just...I'm washing the berries, see?"
And yes, bobbing under the bubbles, I see them now. Soapy red berries are spinning in the sink, marinating in antibacterial iridescence. It's a shame, I think, because our strawberries are almost gone and we're in the middle of an ice-storm, and we can't just skate out to the grocery store for more. The bobbing berries are tainted and perfumed now.
But she twists her lips hopefully and I see the glint of the globe lights over the mirror reflecting in her wide blue eyes. She swirls the berries and I see it better, the scrim of residue swept away from my party-pooper eyes. Red berries swimming in a bath of foam, sweetness in a champagne eddy.
It's no good. I lose my will to correct -- the one that has seen me through so many dreary days. It slips down the drain as she rinses the berries in fresh water. She's pulled the green stems off one by one, pride apparent in each pluck.
She dries the strawberries on the bathroom towel, but it's impossible to remove their new soapy shine, and I think it's not necessary after all, because at that moment, Lauren is smiling and proud and so full of joy that neither the sweetness of the berries nor their new, floral scent can overcome her magnificence.
Lauren hasn't washed the fruit, she's annointed it. She's conferred her blessing upon the strawberries and made them instead into something glorious. It's possible only in childhood, and only for a few years at that; the magic dissipates as we get taller and more boring.
But I see it.
I want to tell her that I see it, but she wouldn't understand, and I'd just be a sobbing mother(deplorable) by the end of my speech. I swoop her down from the counter and kiss her forehead instead. It's an anointing of my own, and no less magnificently bestowed.
She runs again, feet slapping again, bringing a bowlful of berries to her sister.
And I see it all.