It had been a rough shift. One fecal impaction I had to remove manually. One brave cancer patient who apologized each time she needed to vomit. One eighty-two year old man with diarrhea who mistook the visitor's chair in his room for a toilet. And the most challenging patient of the day: an outspoken woman who'd just had gallbladder surgery who studied me while I checked her temperature and casually remarked that I could "be so much prettier"  if I tried.

She was no supermodel herself, but to be fair, she was in her late seventies and looked ten years younger. I gave an awkward laugh as if to dismiss her comment and left the room.

I know at thirty-two I will never look better than I do right now. But I learned long ago that it doesn't make sense to wear make-up or do my hair for work. Being a nurse is not exactly a glamour job. I'm lucky if I can make it home without smelling like vomit, poop, or gangrenous flesh. And Jack doesn't care. He's never said he wished I wore more make-up. In fact, he tells me I look great when I'm in baggy jeans and a t-shirt, without even a smear of lipstick.

But for the rest of the day I couldn't shake the comment. I felt like that woman had pulled my pants down and I was having trouble getting them back up.

So, on my way home from the hospital I stopped at the department store and headed straight for the make-up department. The tall, impossibly thin saleswoman with the slicked back ponytail and bright red lips approached me as I studied the assortment of pencils, powders, lipsticks, and creams laid out on the glass countertop. She invited me into her cushy black chair and offered to make me over. I relaxed into the seat and as she fussed over me with brushes and fingertips and her keen eye, I felt buoyed by her words. It turned out I wasn't such a lost cause after all. I had good cheekbones and well shaped eyebrows and pretty green eyes. And when she finished her magic and handed me a mirror, all I could do was raise my fingers to my cheek and say, "Wow."

I bought it all. The more penetrating wrinkle cream. The smoother concealer. The longer-lasting mascara. The shinier lip gloss. This was my arsenal against the insensitive word.

I knew Jack wouldn't be happy with what I'd spent. Construction work had been slow. But he'd have to love the results.

He was watching T.V. in the den when I got home so I yelled, "Hi" and snuck upstairs. I shed my blue polyester uniform, put on my best pair of jeans and a tight white turtleneck, released my hair from its ponytail, then rechecked my make-up in the mirror. What a difference.

I bounced down the stairs and into the den and gave Jack a kiss on the top of his head.

"Hi there," I said, a big smile on my face. 

"How was your day?" he asked me without taking his eyes off the T.V.

I stepped in front of him. "Not too bad."

He smiled at me. "That's good." Then he looked around me to see the screen.

I moved into his line of sight again and flicked my hair over my shoulder. I looked him in the eye.

He returned my gaze. "What do you want to do for dinner? We've got frozen pizza. Or I could grill burgers."

"Do you notice anything different about me?" I put my hand on my hip and posed.

His eyes scanned my body. "You got your hair cut?"


"You lost weight?"

"No."  I exhaled. "You're obviously guessing. You know I haven't lost weight." I looked up at the ceiling. "Why do I even try? Get your own dinner. I'm going out." 

As I marched out of the room I heard him ask, "What did I do?" but I didn't stop to answer him.

My best friend Paula agreed to meet me at the local sushi place. When she arrived she hugged me and gave me the once over. "You look great. New make-up?"

I ordered her a glass of wine and told her all about my day. Paula had gotten divorced last year, after a nine-month marriage, and I'd spent many nights listening to her and offering support, so I didn't feel too bad about dominating the night.

'Yeah, guys are pretty much scum," she said when I finished. "Sooner or later, they all disappoint you."

I cocked my head. "I'm not sure I'd call it disappointment. I just wanted him to notice."

She took a gulp from her glass. "Call it what you want. They all fall short." She pulled out a small mirror from her purse and reapplied her lipstick. "Hey, I have an idea. Why don't you go with me to the new club on Babcock?  You'd love it."

Even though I had the next day off, I told her I had an early shift in the morning. We said our good-byes in the parking lot and I headed home.

Jack was asleep on the couch where I'd left him. A plate piled with cold pizza crusts sat on the coffee table. I bent down and smoothed a lock of hair back from his forehead. My finger caught on something. A small bandage above his eyebrow.

I put my hand to my mouth. His biopsy. I'd completely forgotten. He'd had a suspicious mole removed earlier today. He'd acted like it was nothing but I know he was concerned.

I squeezed in next to him and shook him gently. He blinked a few times, looking slightly disoriented, then sat up and ran his hand through his hair.

"What time is it?" he asked, reaching down to pick up his shoes under the coffee table.

I touched his arm. "Wait," I said. "First I want to ask you a question."

Kit Lamont enjoys writing fiction after spending most of her career in the decidedly non-fictional worlds of marketing, advertising, and motherhood. For  several years she wrote a column in the local newspaper where she would muse
about the daily challenges of motherhood and life, and lament the fact that she  was never going to master either of them.
She is currently working on her first novel.

As a volunteer in a hospital, I have developed a great respect and admiration for the work nurses do. Because the nature of patient care is unpredictable and the stakes are so high I often wonder if they go home at the end of their shifts exhausted, both mentally and physically. I wrote this story as a result of envisioning how one insensitive comment from a patient might impact the rest of one nurse's day and how that might affect those around her.




Copyright 2009