At the same time, Bob and Emily reached for the only remaining talking Elmo on the shelf in the toy store. Emily reached for his red hand while Bob grabbed his red foot. “Shit,” Bob said, looking down at Emily. Tonight was his nephew’s birthday party. His sister asked him to pick up the toy three days ago. She called last night to make sure he’d pulled through, and he assured her that Elmo was sitting beside him on the sofa as they spoke. Bob was always late to family parties, throwing $20 in a card instead of picking out a gift, showing up without the casserole or dessert that everyone else carried in like a goddamned trophy. When he spoke to Christy the night before, he was in fact swaying outside a bar, a bottle of wine in and smoking a cigarette.
“Listen. It’s my nephew’s birthday tonight, and this is all he wants,” Bob pleaded, holding onto Elmo’s shaggy red toes. Emily patted Elmo’s arm. She was eight years old. She had on a red knit hat with earmuffs attached, the strings untied and trailing. Her fine brown bangs were cut high and straight across her forehead in the way of little girls, and her cheeks were red with the snap of winter. She looked up at him, and her blue irises seemed to spin under the fluorescent overhead lights. He said, “Look. What’s your name? Wait,” he waved his hand near her face, and she backed up. “Never mind. Don’t tell me your name. Don’t tell strangers your name. Listen, I’m in a hurry and I need to get this guy for my nephew. Maybe your mom can take you to another store to get one?” Emily twirled the red string from her hat around her finger. “Mom isn’t here,” she began. “She went to Acme in the summer to buy peaches and didn’t come home. Daddy says she got lost.” She pulled at the string with her fat mittened hands. “Jesus Christ. Fine. It’s yours.” Bob let go of Elmo and shoved his hands in the pockets of his overcoat so that he didn’t hit the shelf in frustration. With his hands still in his pockets, he lifted them from his sides and his coat spread open like a set of wings. He spun on his left foot and walked out with no Elmo, no casserole, and no bottle of wine. The shiny leather toes of her maryjanes cracked as she reached up to grab Elmo. “Sucker,” she mouthed, and went off in search of her mom and brother.