July 28, 2016 | for my father
Fifteen minutes. Then finally, “Sorry, we’re closed.” Fourteen minutes. The end of the workday was taking its time.
Still slick with oil from its former owner’s fingers, the toy rested on its side across the table. The painted-on smile was perfectly shaped. He couldn’t wait to surprise his daughter with the find, if he did end up getting to keep it. She would be overjoyed. Each Happy Meal she had opened in the past few weeks had ended in a pout and his heart deflating a little. He could’ve gone to the cashiers to just ask for the toy she wanted, but his embarrassment held him back. He couldn’t say the name of the princess right, and “purple dress, purple” got him nowhere the last time.
But they might come back for it. They left their table not long ago, bellies full and mouths still chattering away. At least, if it was his daughter who had lost her toy, he definitely would.
Ten minutes. His favorite song out of the long and always unchanged soft rock soundtrack to the restaurant started playing. He let out a full yawn, sound and all, now that the place was cleared of all but the staff.
Maybe he could just take it now and pack it away with his things. If the family came back for it, they would understand. They would think that another kid took it, or that it had gotten bussed away with the rest of their uneaten food.
He reached for the plastic doll and righted it up onto its feet, then took out a napkin from his waiter’s apron pouch to wipe off the oil. Much better, and ready for his daughter to play with.
He rubbed his sore shoulders and neck and rolled up his sleeve to cover an oil stain his wife was sure to tsk at. Being open on a holiday meant more customers, but it also meant more heavy trays of food to run back and forth. Technically people could still walk in and order food to-go, but he was pretty sure he was done for the day. He would simply refuse. He only had energy left for the drive home.
He pictured his daughter’s face peeking through the window of the back door. She would be so happy with the toy. The thought that her joy might come at the expense of another child’s crossed his mind, but it didn’t stay.
The door chime stopped his daydreaming. His head jerked back up, and he craned his neck to see whether it was one of the people from the toy’s table. It wasn’t one of the flood of faces from today, and the person left when they were told it was too late to order even to-go. He let out a breath that he didn’t realize he was holding.
“Where did you get this, daddy?” She grabbed it out of his open hand with the eager force of a delighted child. Immediately she started twirling it in the air, choreographing dances and spinning stories in her head that he could only wonder what they were about.
He smiled wide and said, “It was meant for you, so I found it.”
That was all she needed to know.