We are at a shop, ducking in out of the rain, when Jessica spots a beautiful stuffed dragon that looks exactly like Douglas, except it is red and has gold wings. Douglas is turquoise with silver wings, and Jessica puts him beside me everyone morning so he can help me do my work.
“There is another Douglas,” she says, stopping, transfixed. She has always wished Douglas were hers, and I know what she is thinking.
“You can spend your allowance on him,” I say. By the time I was her age, I was spending my allowance on tobacco products.
She looks at Douglas for another moment, then seizes him and tucks him under her arm, which is how she holds anything she doesn’t want to drop.
She pays for him at the counter and lets the sales clerk drop him into a bag, peering over the counter as the clerk does so; people must be watched carefully because I guess you never know what they are going to do.
The clerk hands her the bag and Jessica gives her a relieved smile. She glances inside the bag to double-check, reminding me in that instant of her father, and we walk outside. She puts her sunglasses on and with them her sunglasses face, remote and unsmiling, unless someone (me) is taking a picture; then she smiles like a starlet who doesn’t want to be bothered by her fans but must be gracious when they insist on accosting her.
I refrain from commenting on how adorable I think she is and I say, “What’s your dragon’s name?”
“Really?” I say. “That’s the same as my dragon.”
She gives me the Teenage Look and when we get home she puts Douglas II on the red chair next to the bookcase where Douglas I lives.
“Is that good?”
“As long as the Ghirardelli bear isn’t afraid of dragons.” The Ghirardelli bear has lived on the red chair for several years.
“The bear doesn’t mind,” Jessica says. “He never minds.”
This is true. The Ghirardelli bear has lived through any number of temporary friends, dolls and animals and action figures who visit the red chair for a day or two before they are assigned their permanent home.
Jessica wanders off to put her shoes away.
I look at the chair, which is next to what I like to call The Corner of the Stuffed Bunnies, and the collection of stuffed bunnies is another story, and I look around my living room, and think that people who knew me when I was thirty would not conceive it was possible for me to be in possession of this many stuffed animals.
Jessica is the only thing in the world I am sentimental about, and I’m completely incapable of saying no to her about anything that doesn’t really matter, like nine million stuffed animals in my living room.
I suppose that in the morning Douglas II will also be joining me in my work, and for a moment how much I love my daughter overwhelms me, an almost physical pain, another thing no one would have believed of the me I once was, that I could possibly love anyone this much.
Jessica comes back into the room. “Do you think Douglas is glad to be off the shelf?” she asks.
“I would be if I were Douglas,” I say, and I look at all the bunnies and the Ghirardelli bear and Douglas I and Douglas II and I say, “I think he will love it here.”
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