BY DAN BARBERCHECK
It was a little too blustery on the bench outside the big box store. The little girl’s hair kept blowing across her eyes as she struggled with the toy’s impenetrable packaging. He suppressed an urge to brush the hair aside for her, accepting the futility of the gesture.
“Here, let me help,” he said, reaching instead for the plastic bubble pack with the doll inside. She surprised him and let him take it.
Cars lined up awaiting parking spots on the lot just in front of them. He could feel the dull stares of their passengers as he wrestled with the wires binding the doll to her plastic shell.
“Why do we have to open it now?” the girl asked.
“Because I want you to open it with me.”
“Why couldn’t you wrap it and bring it tomorrow?”
“Because I can’t be with you tomorrow.”
“You know why not.”
As she pondered this he realized there could be no good reason to a five year old; no good reason for him not to be with her on Christmas. And it would be impossible to explain to her or to any of the shoppers passing by, with their rushed glances and half smiles, why a man and a young daughter are opening her gift outside Wal-Mart.
“I love it,” she said. “But it’s not American Girl. Mommy said Santa might bring an American Girl.”
“That’s nice. Maybe they can play together.”
For the first time he smelled the exhaust fumes and noticed the redness of her cheeks. The girl traced circles with her feet dangling from the bench.
“I’m cold. Can we go sit in the truck?”
“Of course.” He gathered up the packaging, looking for a trash can.
The girl clutched the doll and the Salvation Army bell faded as they navigated the busy parking lot.
“Come home,” she said, head down in the wind.
He looked to the side, off toward the interstate ramp, eyes wet, flexing the hand he had broken beating on the door, the door with the brand new dead bolt lock.