In the end, my father did not send The Child an envelope full of cash; instead he wired cash up to her via “your local Wal-Mart.” I explained that there was no Wal-Mart near us, but my father insisted otherwise, bolstering his assertion with a link to the address on the Wal-Mart website.
I remained suspicious, but we went there one Saturday, and sure enough there was a Wal-Mart there, with some cash waiting for The Child at the service desk. The Child announces that there is something else I am wrong about – not only is there a Wal-Mart near us, but it’s a wonderful place. She bolsters her assertion by pointing to her newly-filled wallet.
I admit defeat and take her to the Mall. She needs to go shopping without me, she says, and so, after ensuring she has her cell phone and it is charged, I let her loose.
I wander through an electric car dealership and the Apple store and a cooking store, all of them selling things I don’t need or already have or can’t afford, and often all of the above.
I pretend I am not worried about The Child, on her own in the mall.
She texts me: What is the name of your brand of Christmas Village?
I tell her, and hope she is not buying an $80 collectible houses that you can get on ebay for $10 plus shipping.
She says Thanks! and not long after, texts again to ask if I am hungry yet.
Yes, I could die of starvation at any moment, I tell her.
Where are you? I’ll come find you! she says.
I tell her, the shoe store.
And I wait.
Fifteen minutes, then twenty. Then a panicked text: I am lost.
I find out where she is and tell her to stay there. A minute later, I find her, and catch just the tiniest glimpse of fear before she spots me and lights up.
Do you want to see what I bought? she says. I can’t wait to show you!
I want to be surprised by my gifts, I tell her.
Oh, she says. It’s not for you. It’s for The Dog!
She shows me a sack of dog-biscuit mix decorated with a little bone-shaped cookie cutter. She’s beaming.
We’ll make them for him on Christmas, I tell her.