They approach my table with care and excitement. Two little girls, feeling adventurous and daring, allowed by their mothers to wander around the fair unsupervised. One is probably 7 or 8, a cute little girl with messily curly hair. The other is also cute and obviously older. She carries herself with a calm superiority that the littler girl readily acquiesces to - she's just thrilled to hang out with her friend today.
We're at the Holy Cross Sisters' annual fair, held indoors in large gym-like building that's detached from the Sisters' manor. The room hums with activity. Vendors chat with their customers, selling quilted table runners, hand-made puppets, and vintage jewelry. The sisters themselves ring the room, hawking the big sellers: tickets for baskets of goodies, tickets for the penny sale, and turns at the Wheel of Chance. Fair-goers throng around the tables of chance, their merry cries clashing with the tinkling sound of Christmas music.
I'm working the Avon table. It's laden with all kinds of little-girl bait: musical Christmas decorations, lip gloss, a rainbow of eye shadows, and all manner of glittery packages.
The two little girls drift towards the baskets of dollar items. They finger the lip balms and ask me about the flavors. They ooo and ahh when I explain that one is Holiday Berry and another is Celebration flavor. They look at each other significantly, then the little girl points to her older friend.
"Her birthday is Christmas."
"Is it?" I say. "So is mine."
The older girl smiled indulgently. "Well, it's December twenty-third, actually," she says.
"Pretty close," I say.
They ask again how much the lip balms are, then move on to the eye liners, asking me what they are, how you use them, how much they are. They finger the lipsticks and stand a little straighter as they think about how adult they would look if only they had the money. They linger on the gift baskets and try not to show how much they like the Dora the Explorer bath set. Then they come back to the lip balm.
"They're a dollar each?" the older girl asks and when I confirm, she turns to her friend. "Let's ask my Mom."
The littler girl beams. "I'll ask mine, too!"
When they return, the elder girl is flush with success and immediately plunges into the lip balm basket. Her friend holds back, looking soberly at the singing Christmas ornaments.
As I contract business with her friend, accepting her dollar and handing her a bag to put her purchase in, the littler girl speaks up.
"She gets to buy one," she says. "She has a dollar."
"Yes, she does," I say.
When it's obvious that I am not getting point, she emphasizes it. "She has a dollar. I don't."
I looked at her and her steady gaze held mine for a brief, but instructive interval. Her expression speaks volumes. Life was unfair, she was saying. Some people had dollars and others did not. It was a tragic, but inescapable part of the human experience, a burden that she was accustomed to shouldering with cheerful acceptance. But, her look plainly said, I had a chance to balance the scale, if I so chose.
"No dollar?" I asked.
She shook her head. "No. I don't have any money."
She wasn't pouting or saddened. She was simply stating the fact, confident that I would do the right thing.
When the two girls scampered off at their mothers' call, both were carrying lip balm and I was a dollar poorer. I'd been taken by a blue-eyed little girl with an sophisticated grasp of the adult guilt complex, but I comforted myself with the idea that, for a brief moment, I'd brought balance between the haves and the have-nots.
Surely that was worth the sticker price.