At an anonymous and unclarified point in time (assume ancient history out of generosity) I was combing Girl two’s hair. It was the morning of a busy day. The kind of day with thirty things clambering for completion on the list and only room for twenty if absolutely nothing went wrong. Girl one was already waiting in the car – after a none too gentle chiding for the explosions of contraband I emptied from her backpack.
Girl two’s skin is fair. Her hair is fair. Even in the morning shadows I saw the black speck dart through her hair. My fingers moved with purpose while my brain began a calming meditation about the silly ways that dirt can seem alive sometimes.
Don’t move, I commanded.
Ow, yelped Girl two in surprise as I tore at some strands of hair in hot pursuit.
It can’t be helped. Don’t move, I said again.
Overnight guests were arriving in less than ten hours.
It was not a piece of dirt. It was not lice.
It was a flea. I think.
I think this because our house growing up had more than one flea invasion. I remember the worst time sitting and watching the carpet hop like popcorn. Our only carpet here is on the stairs. I inspected. No popcorn. Ditto for furniture.
What do fleas do? asked Girl two.
They make you itchy, I said.
I was itchy as soon as I got in bed last night, said Girl two.
It’s true, I realized. She’s been complaining of itches every night lately. How could this be happening today?
I grabbed a comb and a cat and inspected. No fleas. I took the kids to school.
Boy two looked at girl two, somber. “I promise I won’t tell anyone at school that you have fleas,’ he said.
“She does not have fleas! There was one flea. And it’s dead so she doesn’t have it anymore.”
I’m not sure that he believed me.
I got home and left a message for my husband to buy updated animal flea protection just in case. I checked the internet for signs and symptoms then resumed my search. Bedding clear. Mattresses clear. I found the wool blanket I added to Girl two’s bed last week with a small measure of relief. It would be a better reason to be itching than the unspeakable.
Meanwhile I’m itching. My head. My back. Even my fingers are itching. Wool blankets, winter dryness, these things we can manage. A flea invasion shortly before the guest arrival on the other hand . . .
I calm myself between mantras that it wasn’t actually a flea or that the flea market was a one man show.