Shanna, a therapist, goes down on one knee next to her client. “Hey sweetie, I see you’re playing with some toys. Is there a story behind your game? Why don’t you tell me a story?”
The little girl looks up to the therapist with shining eyes. She smiles. She always seems to smile. “Okay. Diddy Pop is a happy little dog. He wags his tail. He likes to eat treats. Camantha is Diddy Pop’s mommy. Diddy Pop could be a naughty dog sometimes. One time he barked too loud. Camantha slapped him until he cried. Diddy Pop died that one time. But Doctor Potato made him better. Camantha said she was sorry, but she still hits Diddy Pop if he barks too loud or too much. Diddy Pop still wags his tail. He stays happy. He doesn’t know any better.“
“So, do you think it’s right that Camantha slaps Diddy Pop? How’s that make you feel, sweetie?”
The little girl does not look up to the adult. She stares at her toys. She makes the little girl doll, the one called Camantha, slap a little stuffed puppy. The stuffed puppy’s ears fly forward with the force of the impact. Camantha’s tangled yellow braids fly in violent circles as the little hand thrashes the toy around. The doll bumps into the stuffed puppy again and again and again, each time a little harder than the time before.
Shanna goes from a kneeling position down to a sitting position. She looks over the toys and into the little girl’s face. The little girl doesn’t look up. She smiles, lost in her game. “Did you hear me?” the therapist asks.
The little girl nods. “Yes. Diddy Pop is a bad doggie.”
“What makes him so bad?”
“He’s loud. Camantha doesn’t like it when he’s loud.”
“Are you loud?”
“Does your mother like it when you’re loud?”
The little girl does not answer.
“Did you hear me, sweetie?”
The little girl puts down her toys and looks up at the therapist. A slant of sunlight comes through the window. Her brown eyes shimmer in the light. The little girl smiles. She squishes up her face so that one eye looks smaller than the other. “I’m not stupid, you know.”
“Oh, I know. I know, sweetie.”
“Don’t call me sweetie. I don’t like it. It makes me think you’re talking to me like I’m a dummy. I’m not.”
“I never said you were. I’d never say that.”
“Not with words. But actions are louder. That’s what Daddy says.”
“Daddy?” The therapist scratches her head. “You see your daddy often?”
“Can you excuse me a moment?”
The little girl shrugs.
The therapist walks out of her office and into the waiting room. She strides over to the little girl’s mother. “Can I ask a question?”
The mother is looking down at a cell phone, her thumbs are moving furiously on the touch screen.
The therapist waits a moment. She grows impatient. “Excuse me, Mrs. Carlisle, I have a question.”
Mrs. Carlisle raises one finger.
“Our time is almost up. Chelsea just said something interesting. She said she sees her father every day. My admission paperwork shows you listed as single with nothing listed about a father. Is this a boyfriend or an ex or something?”
Mrs. Carlisle looks up. “That’s impossible.” Her eyes are bloodshot. Her face is too pale. The therapist sees tiny blue veins outlined in Mrs. Carlisle’s face. The tiny blue veins spread out like miniscule river deltas.
“I know this may be a personal question. It might be unimportant and stuff, but would you like to come back to my office and discuss this?” The therapist looks around the waiting room and sees other parents looking at her and Mrs. Carlisle. She wants to respect Mrs. Carlisle’s privacy, and worries she said too much in public already.
“No. I’d rather stay out here.” Mrs. Carlisle holds up her phone. “I’m in the middle of something here.”
The therapist hides the exasperation she feels. She controls the tone of her voice, her breathing. “Well, who is this Daddy that she says she sees every day?’
“You got me. There’s no dad. I’ve no idea who the father even is. Maybe some dude in Panama City, but I’ve never really worried about it. There’s no guy in my house, that’s for sure. Well there is sometimes, but I don’t like to let them get too attached, and usually only when Chelsea’s over at my mom’s for the night. I have no idea what she’s talking about. You’re the therapist, right? Why don’t you ask the little princess, okay?” She holds the phone up and blocks the therapist from her sight.
The therapist wants to grab this woman by the shoulders and scream at her in the face. Instead, the therapist apologizes for disturbing Ms. Carlisle. Ms. Carlisle does not acknowledge the apology.
The therapist returns to the room. Chelsea isn’t there.
The toys are on the floor. They are standing in place. The stuffed puppy begins to bark and wag its fluffy tail. The yellow braids of the little girl doll fly around as the dolly begins slapping the puppy. The barking turns into pained yelps. The little girl doll keeps slapping. Soon the puppy is nothing but torn fabric and fluff. Tufts of the fluff float up and fall down slowly. The doll turns her head towards the therapist. The button eyes gleam in the slant of sunlight coming through the window.
The therapist walks towards the doll. It crumples to the floor as if lifeless, as it should be. The therapist looks out the window and sees Chelsea in the clouds. The child’s hair is on fire and she carries a flaming sword. The sword’s name is TRUTH.
The therapist reaches out the open window and falls three stories. The concrete stops everything.