Of course, stopping the van meant various individuals stirred and needed trips to the bathroom. When it was finally my turn to rush through the freezing whether in my thin, Southern clothes, the three-year-old also needed to go. I scooped her up and we hustled into the gas station. She was all sweet and sleepy and disoriented.
She and I finished our business and approached the sink area. There were about five basins and I paused when I didn't see soap anywhere. At last, I spied dispensers on the walls at boths ends of the counter. As I reached toward the closest wall, I noticed two dispensers. One was closer to the outside of the counter and bigger. I decided it was obviously installed later as some sort of greater convenience for the customer.
I pushed the lever and got a palmful of soap. Cote held her hand up as I swiped some of the soap onto her hand. She knows the drill. We do this all the time. I rubbed my hands together and then stopped.
I looked down at my hands, finally registering the gray color and the bizarrely gritty feel. In my hesitation, I glimpsed Cote's tiny, innocent face looking, for all the world, like Cindy Lou Who catching the Grinch stuffing the Christmas tree up the chimney. She tentatively slid her palms together, jaw clenched against the confusing, abrasive sensory input. Her head tilted ever so slightly as she pulled them back apart and gazed at the liquid concrete I had put in her hands. In silence, she pondered what must have become of this once familiar ritual of hand-washing.
I slowly tore my view from the messy-haired preschooler and back to the soap dispenser which read, "Super Cherry heavy duty hand cleanser." I looked back at her and commented matter-of-factly, "Oh, I don't think our hands were quite dirty enough for this kind of soap."
I rinsed my hands for a seemingly ridiculous amount of time to remove the sludge and dried them with paper towels while Cote just dutifully waited, hands slightly apart elevated above her waist. I scraped the paste from her hands under the never-hot water. She dried and placed the paper towel in the bin. Like so many other times, she turned and placed her tiny hand in mine and we walked out of the bathroom in a travel weary, pumice-assaulted daze.
The spell broke when we entered the gas station store. Her little, freckled pixie face tilted to look up at me. "Mommy," she said, "that was weird."