The sun hung in the mid afternoon sky. Clouds gently rolled by. The breeze kept it cool enough as we walked quietly, hand in hand, along the riverway. I looked at her and smiled. She looked back, her nose wrinkling up as she smiled back. Her hand felt so small in mine, but I knew it was bigger then the last time we got to do this. How long had it been?
She was growing up so fast.
I squeezed her hand as I got lost in thought, beginning to regret all those hours I worked. The conferences I went too, the long weekend business trips out of state. But, that was the nature of my business. If I didn’t stay on top of it all, some young buck would trample over me and I would be out of a job. Then what? How would I pay for all her dance classes or take care of her and her mother? What else could I do to offer her all that I didn’t have growing up? My justification made me feel better for my absences , my success became my rationalization for missing so much of her short life. I smiled at the thought of all that I had become. I looked up into the clear… blue..?That’s when I felt the first drop of rain. Where did this storm come from? I saw the sheets of water falling, heading straight toward Maggie and I. I looked around for shelter and saw a flashing open sign on a store front just a few hundred feet away. I picked her up in my arms, held her close and started to run.
I could hear her ‘weeee-ing’ as I ran. To her this was fun. I was just thinking about how much I didn’t want to get wet.
None the less, the rain got to us. Just fifty feet before we got to the door, the deluge drenched us both.
I scowled at the inaccuracy of the weatherman.
Maggie raised her hands up and reveled in the rain.
We finally making it into the shop.
Out of breath.
Heart beating in my ears.
Soaked through and through.
I set Maggie down and tried my best to not let my anger show. The shop was old, at least the contents of the shop were old. It smelled of moth balls and incense. The front half of the store had old furniture littering it, hodge podged in a shamble. The white price tags with dollar amounts fluttered in the wind coming through the front door.
The back half, darker, had shelves lined with curios and knick-knacks. The counter at the back was were the offensive incense smell was coming from. I could see the smoke rising out of a dragon’s nostrils and a fan attached to the wall was making sure the smell wafted through the store.
I reached down and took Maggie’s hand, an uneasy feeling creeping through me. Just as I started to turn to walk out I heard an elderly voice with a distinct Asian accent call to me from behind the counter.
“Afternoon, afternoon.” The disembodied voice spoke. I looked to see where the voice was coming from. A beaded curtain behind the counter parted and out walked the most atypical stereotype of an Asian merchant I have ever seen. “Come, come. Look around. See, you find something?” He continued to talk as he walked toward us. My hand gripped Maggie’s tighter.
He reached us, his hunched over form reaching out for my arm. “You see something you like?” He pulled us further into the store. He looked over at Maggie, her eyes wide with excitement at the prospect of the unknown. “She find something she like, yes?” He clucked a little at the end of the sentence and hobbled on, pulling us with him.
We passed the furniture, and were now among the shelves. Maggie squealed as with glee at all the odd treasures found on the dusty ledges. The old man beckoned us toward the counter and the smell of the incense grew stronger. “Oh, but for you.” He stopped, looking me in the eye, “For you, something special, yes?”
He released his grasp and walked around to the backside of the counter. “Something I have. Just right for you.” I watched as he bent over and pulled up an old antique box, intricate carvings etched into the top.
He ran his hands across the lid, then took a deep breath and opened the box. It could have been my imagination, but I could swear I heard a cry come from the box as he did. I braced myself, not sure of what was going to be inside. He slowly turned the box toward Maggie and I.
The red velvet interior looked old and nestled into it were two wooden dolls. He pushed the case forward. “For you. But, you choose only one.” I stared at him, blankly. “This one,” he pointed to the one on the left, it was very grime looking, the face carved with a deepness to it, not sad, but stoic, “will bring you wealth, never ending.” He looked over at the other one, it’s face had a calmness about it, not so deep, and the mouth turned upwards more like a smile. “This one, bring you happiness for life.” He pushed the box forward toward me a little more.
“Choose.” His voice was deadpan, flat, and commanding.
I blinked, and all my thoughts of success flooded my mind. I knew the choice, it was simple, money makes happiness, right? My hand started reaching for the doll on the left. I could feel a tugging at my arm, something there trying to get my attention. My mind stayed on the thoughts of the new cars, the new house, the ease of luxury. A tiny voice cried out in my head “daddy”, but who was it? I suppressed it with the idea of a yacht. Almost there, my choice almost done.
Then I saw it. A tiny hand reaching for the doll on the left. Faster then I could stop it. “I chose this one.” It was a girls voice, strong and clear. Her hand grabbed the doll. My fog lifting for a second, long enough to let my anger well up, long enough to see my life of glamour fade away, long enough to recognize my daughter’s voice.
I looked down, Maggie holding the doll. “I choose this one, daddy.” She held the doll close to her, it’s smile looking up at me.
Then I blinked.
And I heard a baby cry.
I blinked again.
This wasn’t right. Wasn’t I just in a shop?
The crying continues. The room comes into focus.
Beeping and talking.
My hand is still holding a hand, but this hand is bigger.
I look down.
It’s my wife, and she looks exhausted and beautiful. She is smiling and crying.
A nurse walks over, holding a blanket wrapped up.
She hands the blanket to my wife.
“Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, it’s a girl.”
My wife looks down at her, then up at me.
“I want to call her Maggie.”