The smell of isopropyl alcohol reminds me of you, of the metal spinning beneath my fingers, twirling the clean, stainless steel posts. I wanted those earrings since the first time I saw the tiny ladybugs in Mrs. Stott’s ears. Mrs. Stott, black haired, pale skinned, red lipped like Snow White, if Snow White was a kindergarten teacher with ladybugs in her ears who wore white cotton polo shirts with collars and a teeny alligator where the pocket should have been. Then Mrs. Stott wore a white shirt with red polka dots and candy cane earrings, which clinched it for me. I was barely five and I told you that I wanted them. But only if you really want them, you said. You were thirty six, and decided we should do it together, the first time for both of us.
You drove me to the store and counted out the fives and ones. The girl working at the Ames jewelry counter placed two magic marker purple dots on me, one on each ear. With the first shot I jumped and cried. Or almost cried, wanted to cry. You asked me if I really wanted them, enough to do it again. I didn’t cry after the second shot. Instead I braced myself, anticipated the pain, and jumped just before she pulled the trigger.
We walked out smiling, you and I, newly pierced. I chose two pale green peridot studs, one only slightly crooked, because you mentioned that it’s nice to wear your birthstone, both ears smelling of alcohol. I can’t remember what stone you chose. Your birthstone is topaz, but I can imagine you selecting the pink sapphires over the brown topaz. You were always so beautiful to me. Your colors were golden and the soft swirl of pink inside a seashell.
Every night I cleaned those holes, as directed, holding the cotton ball softly over those little green gems until my ear crackled and stung, soaking up the delicate crust of newness that clung to the metal posts. I spun them once, twice, five or ten times, first one way, then the other, determined to do it right. All because I had to have those candy canes. Mrs. Stott made me want them, but they always make me think of you. I can still feel your hand holding mine. Ever since then I’ve been spinning, still trying to get it right.