IN PERFECT MEASURE
By Hedeia


John beat me home that night.  Before I could curse that wrench in my plans, I got an enthusiastic kiss in the hallway that almost made me forget what my day had been like.

I was getting enjoyably distracted when he pulled away and licked his lips with a slightly puzzled look, then took my face between his hands and cast an interested eye at my mouth.

“Tris? Are you…wearing lipstick?”

That was it.

In a perfectly measured reaction I flung down my case, turned on my heel, and stomped to our bedroom.  Working myself up to the appropriate level of sulk, I flopped face-up on the bed and scowled at the ceiling, waiting for John to come in.

…and waiting.

A good four minutes had passed before, slightly uncertain and not a little insulted, I wandered out the living room in search of my beloved.  I found him at the kitchen counter, working some kind of complex chopping pattern on a head of lettuce in an annoyingly unhurried fashion. 

I leaned against the door jamb and gave the back of his head a hurt look.

He turned to smile at me, gesturing at a kitchen chair. “Do you want to tell me what that was about?”

Well. Obviously not.  I had however learned the hard way that that was not considered a polite response.

“I meant to get lemon,” I said finally, sullenly.  Then, to my surprise, I burst into tears, digging my fingers into where my head ached.

John, true to form, didn’t even look bewildered as he snapped his fingers in the direction of the chair and pulled out the one opposite for himself.  He took my hand.

“Tell me.”

Arg. I rolled my eyes, and sniffed hard, aware that I looked like a four-year-old after a red Popsicle on a summer day. 

“I went to get an Italian ice”—I paused for a moment, catching my breath—“AFTER lunch, and I got cherry by accident, and I wouldn’t usually because it stains your mouth like this but I didn’t have any other change.”

“Ah.” A look of understanding crossed his face. “How’s the damage?” 

I leaned closer and stuck my tongue out.

“Extensive, I see.”

I nodded, rubbing at my eyes. 

John frowned.  “What’s the matter?”

“Nothing,” I said immediately, dropping my hands and then catching his as he reached for my face.  “Uh…my eyes itch.”

He disentangled my fingers gently and caught my face in his hands for the second time that night, tipping it up slightly to look at my eyes.

“They’re a little red,” he concurred. “And where are your lenses?”

Arg. “The refrigerator was too cold,” I started. 

John shook his head. “Tris. Start from the beginning.”

Well. Since he asked…


-    -    -   


…I’d been running late that morning and John was looming everywhere I needed to be, looking highly disapproving in that way he does when he is faced with the fact that the rest of the world, unlike him, does not always run on to-the-second precision timing.

By my second swat of the morning it began to seem that he was losing patience. I threw my files together hastily and dashed into the bathroom to grab my contacts. 

Which weren’t there.

I stared into the empty medicine cabinet for inspiration.  This was NOT looking good.

“Tris, I’m waiting!”

Yes John. I KNOW John.

Where had I left them last night? I searched my short-term memory, or my very short-term memory as John likes to call it.  They weren’t in the bathroom.  They weren’t on my night table.  They weren’t even in my sock drawer, a hiding place they occasionally enjoyed.  What had I been doing just before I took them out…just after…

Ah.

I swung out of the bathroom. 

In the kitchen I yanked open the refrigerator and located the half-finished water bottle I’d stashed there last night.  And next to it, small and blue and cheerful looking, was my contact case.

Thank you, optometry gods.

With unusually good timing I pocketed it just as John rounded the corner with breakfast gleaming in his eye.  Despite numerous good qualities, John is positively neurotic when it comes to putting everything back where it belongs, and he tended to like my contacts stored somewhere nearer the bathroom counter.

Marveling at my good luck, I sidled past him, kissing him on the way for good measure, and ducked into the bathroom to take care of business.  I hissed as I dipped my finger into the cool saline.  Hm.  A bit cold. 

I paused for a moment.  Eye care is one of John’s other pet issues.  He grudgingly puts up with my contacts, on the condition that I care for them responsibly.  I pushed out of my mind quickly what John might think of refrigerated lenses.

I mean, I could wear my glasses. Problem solved.

But…John would ask why and then he would want to get into a discussion about caring for my lenses. Likely it would not be a particularly comfortable discussion.  And I did have to sit at work all day.

I glanced warily at the lenses floating innocuously in solution.

Well, it couldn’t be worse than wearing them in a cold rain, could it? I scooped them out and plastered them into my eyes without much finesse.  Positively…refreshing.  I blinked uncomfortably around the stiff chill.

“Tris!”

“Coming, coming.” I rubbed at my eyes once and managed to down toast and juice without arousing suspicion.  Unless John decided to kiss me good-bye on the eyeball, I reasoned, I was in the clear.

We finished breakfast, rode the subway most of the way to work together, and I didn’t think of it again until I was walking the last few blocks to the office, enjoying the late summer sunshine.

Until a sharp pain suddenly ripped through one eye.

I stopped in my tracks and my hands flew automatically to cover my eye.  It stung horribly and a tear rolled unbidden down my cheek as I tried to pry the lid open.  Argh, argh, and worse.

I ducked into a doorway for some space, hands cupped around my eyes, jostling several people.  Gritting my teeth I stuck my finger into my eye to pull out my lens.  Nothing except OW and more tears, the sheer response of my eyes to whatever was assaulting them.  I steeled myself and tried one more time, this time managing to peel out the lens.

I gasped for breath, rubbing furiously at the eye I’d just de-lensed.  It HURT.  I held the offending contact up to the light and saw with a sinking understanding that it had ripped down the middle.  I poked it tentatively and it split in half. 

I leaned against the brick building façade and just breathed for a few minutes while the pain lessened.  It couldn’t be too serious; it didn’t hurt too much now the lens was out, I reasoned.  Of course not HAVING a lens might be an issue.  I glanced up to see if I could read the nearest street sign. 

Piece of cake:  Io…Iox…I squinted hard…Ioxiiitou.

Hm.  Considering it was unlikely that the city council had overnight decided to give Lexington Avenue a more exotic flair, the irritating conclusion seemed to be that, well, my eyesight sucked.

And then there was the tricky other lens.  Did I take it out? Did I wait for it to rip?

If I took it out I would REALLY have some seeing issues.

If I left it in it might rip.

Stupid, stupid refrigerator.

Resignedly I pulled out the other one, tossed both lenses into the trash can on the corner, and walked – blurrily – the rest of the way to the office.


It’s not that I CAN’T see.  But when I went out for a copy of the News at lunch and realized after I paid, when I pulled it off the newsstand and got a good look, that it was actually Newsday, I was starting to sense a problem.

I squinted and rubbed my way through the afternoon, trying to get work done but wishing I had sunglasses for the glare off my computer monitor. 

The Italian ice I tried to console myself with mid-afternoon was a flop as well.  I stood on line assuming I’d plucked my usual lemon from the freezer, only to discover on my way back to the office that it was in fact cherry.  Too frustrated to take it back I sulkily slurped slushy bright-red ice.

I was getting a decided headache as evening approached.  I threw in the towel before five, unusual for me, but I did want to get home before John.

I held the subway strap with one hand and rubbed at my eye with the other, trying not to wince on what I knew would be John’s reaction to such a germy procedure.  And technically, I was supposed to keep a spare pair of glasses on me…in case of something like this.

But really. Who could have predicted this?  I was clearly in the right, doing my best in an unfortunate situation.

I amused myself by misreading the blurry Poetry in Motion. 

And I coached myself on the way into the apartment: it was hardly serious.  If there were anything SO wrong with my eye it would have kept hurting, instead of just the occasional twinge.  And it would have been redder than slightly bloodshot.  Clearly it was fine.

I turned my key in the lock…

-    -     -

“…and that’s when you opened the door,” I finished, putting a hand up to rub my eye. 

“I see.” John caught my hand before it could reach my eye and pulled me to my feet. “Go and wash your hands.”

I moved toward the sink warily, reaching for the itching left eye—

“and DON’T touch that eye.”

Yes John. Anything you say John.

I washed my hands—yes John, with soap—and suffered John peering into the affected eye with a penlight.  “You could have gotten an abrasion. Or worse.  You’re lucky. How much does it hurt?”

“Not much,” I assured him.

He fixed me with a firm look.

“Honestly!”

I ducked out of his hands.

“It’s FINE, leave it!”

John nodded serenely toward the living room.  “Would you like to go inside and discuss that?”

Ugh.  Mutely I submitted to the rest of the treatment, which included his dragging me into the bathroom for an eyewash and numerous dangerous glares.

I wriggled away from the saline cup.  “That’s going to HURT!”

“It hurts already, doesn’t it?”

“Only a little!”

But his back was against the door and I wasn’t going anywhere.

Briefly I considered wrapping myself in the shower curtain, but it seemed flimsy protection.  He caught my hand and pulled me close again.

“JOHN!”

“Now, Tris.  Or we can start talking about the kind of care you are expected to take when dealing with your contacts.”

I shut my mouth.

Finally he sat me on the toilet lid, cool compress on my eye, and ran a hand through my hair.  I leaned my head against his hip to encourage more stroking, and he obliged, one hand covering the cloth against my face.

I relaxed a little as John’s hand found its way to my neck, gently rubbing away some traces of the headache.  He took the compress off my eye and tipped my head up.  “Okay?”

I nodded.  He ruffled my hair and swiped the cloth gently across my mouth, taking off some of the excess Italian ice residue.

Then he opened the bathroom door and gestured me out.  I had a sense of where this was headed and to say the least I was not terribly excited.

“But nothing happened,” I protested as I somehow found myself sitting on the edge of the bed, John looking rather tall and a little too decisive above me. 

“Tris.”

“I’m usually so careful!” I reminded him.  “I just forgot where I put the lenses.”

“Tris, you put them in the refrigerator.”

Yes I know.

“And the lens ripped in your eye. Do you know how dangerous that is?”

“I didn’t know it was going to rip!”

“That’s not what I asked. Do you know how dangerous that is?”

Argh. I hate when he gets picky.  “Yes, I know, but—”

“You wear contacts under certain conditions, don’t you?”

I nodded slowly.

“What are those conditions?”

“That I take good care of them.”

“For example….”

I sighed.  “Throw them out after two weeks.  Rewet them if I need to.  Don’t put them anywhere too hot or cold,” I mumbled.

“And a refrigerator?”

“Too cold but I DIDN’T put it there on purpose!”

“Stand up.”

“What?”

“You heard me. Up.”

There was something in that tone that pulled me up straight.

“Where are the rest of your lenses?”

“Uh…in the drawer…” I said.

“Go get them.”

Warily I sidestepped him and pulled the boxes out of my dresser drawer.  Three contacts left for each eye.  Six weeks of wear.  Plus the ones I’d thrown out today which were only four days along, damn it.

He held out a hand.  I opened my mouth to protest and thought better of it, dropping the boxes into his hand with only a minimum of scowling.

“John, I NEED those.”

“You most certainly don’t.  You have two perfectly good pairs of glasses—one of which, I might add, you should have had with you today.  Isn’t that right?”

I nodded, ashamed.  I MEANT to carry them with me, I really did.

“I’m sorry.”

“That’s good to know but not very helpful to your eye, is it?  If you’d abraded it or done more serious damage you’d certainly be sorry and in a lot of pain and all due to carelessness.”

My eyes stung and not because of the ripped contact.

“I’ll be really careful,” I promised unsteadily. “I’ll take my glasses wherever I go.”

“I should hope so,” John said evenly, “because you’re going to be wearing them a great deal.”

“Why can’t I wear my contacts? I’ll be more careful, I said!” 

“And I said no,” he responded.  “I’ve also said in the past that you will take your glasses with you just in case and that you will keep track of where your lenses are when you take them out.  That means washing your hands and removing them carefully at the sink, not prying them out with grubby fingers during the ten o’clock news,” he pointed out.

I blushed.

“We’ll have plenty of time to work on that before you start wearing them again.”

“When can I?” I asked, panicked.

He glanced at the lenses in his hand and repeated my thought process of earlier.  “Three lenses, six weeks.”

“JOHN!”

“It’s not going to kill you,” he said firmly.  “But if you ever treat your eyes so shabbily again I might do the job myself.”

I reached to rub at my eye, then thought better of it and laced my fingers together.  I wanted to say it wasn’t fair.  But I remembered in a flash how frightened I’d felt that moment when the lens tore in my eye.  How could I have put REFRIGERATED lenses into my eye?  Tears welled up.

“Stop that.”  John pulled my head up and kissed my forehead.  I reached for him and he gave me a quick hug, then hoisted me to my feet.

With his usual speed and grace he slipped down to sit on the bed and I found myself between his knees in a most unpromising position. 

“John…”

He ignored me, plaintive as I was, and unbuttoned my slacks with his usual quick efficiency.  I blinked back tears as he turned me over his knees, shifting me easily into place and sliding my underwear out of the way.

The first slap was sharp and startled me as much as I knew it was coming.

“You WILL take good care of your eyes and every other part of you,” he lectured, his hand keeping a most unpleasant rhythm.

“I will!” I promised hastily. 

“You could have gotten into serious trouble with your lenses today.  That kind of decision-making is NOT what I expect from you. If you have a problem like that you call me.  You do NOT spend the day unable to see and work yourself into that sort of state by yourself.  Do you understand me?”

“YES!”

“These lenses are a responsibility, Tris.  Putting something in your eyes is serious business and you WILL take it seriously.”

“I promise,” I wailed.  In this task, as in the other areas of his life, John was unbelievably thorough.  My bottom stung so deeply I could barely remember the ache in my eye OR my head.

“And if you have a problem you TELL me, Tristram!  Did you stop to think that I could have brought you your glasses at work after the lens ripped? Or better yet if you had told me in the apartment, we could have dealt with it then and there.”

“But you would have spanked me!” I cried in frustration.

“And what am I doing now?  I don’t even want to think about you covering up mistakes to keep from getting into trouble, Tris; that is NOT you.  It’s only going to get you into further trouble and today it could have gotten you seriously hurt!”

“I’m sorry,” I sobbed.  There was nothing left to say and John for God’s sake wasn’t finished.

By the time his hand stopped falling I was ready to swear off all eye wear for life.  Hot, sore, and miserable, I lay over his lap and coughed for breath, sobs rising without will and catching in my throat in uncomfortable hiccups.  The ache returned to my head and thumped in time with the heated pulse behind me. 

“I was stupid,” I whimpered finally into the sheets, then yelped when John swatted me hard where it hurt already.

“We don’t name-call in this house,” he said firmly.  “It was a careless thing to do; YOU are not careless. And it’s finished now.”

I shook my head and buried my face closer into the bed.  “Yes,” he corrected. 

John pried me up gently and lifted me into his lap; I clutched his neck and pressed my forehead against him, trying to tame the ache in my temples.  Tears ran down my cheeks as he stroked my hair and my neck, then began to rub gently at my head.

Slowly the ache receded.  I snuggled closer in his arms as he continued to massage, my eyes starting to droop.

I was feeling more than a little better when he peeled me away carefully, tipping my head back for the umpteenth time that evening to look at my eyes.

“All right?”

I nodded shakily.  Actually my head felt a lot better and crazy as it sounds, the tears seemed to have finished the washing job on my eyes John had started.  My eyes felt nothing more than tired at this point.

John kissed my forehead, then gave me a hard hug and lifted me to my feet.  “Come on sweetheart.  Cheer up.”  He tapped my nose and cast a teasing glance.

“If you’re very good with the glasses I’ll even treat you to another cherry Italian ice.”

He ducked the pillow I hurled at his head but couldn’t avoid the bright red tongue I stuck out at him with enthusiastic fervor.


Like I said: a perfectly measured reaction.


END.
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