Hand in hand, the man and the little girl walk down the aisle of shoes.
"See any you like?" he asks, staring down at the part in her hair.
The little girl bites her fingernail and shakes her head. Still holding hands, they continue through the store as the little girl stares up at the mountains of shoes that align the valley-like aisles. She surveys the wide selection of sneakers and sandals and flip-flops, Nikes, Adidas, and Converse. The shoes all sit in boxes like caged animals at a dog pound, hoping to be picked.
After a couple laps around the store, the girl pulls her finger out of her mouth and points upward at a pair of pink Converse.
"Those!— Those!— Those!" she says, hopping up and down.
The man smiles and releases the little girl's hand. "Nice choice," he says, grabbing the box off the shelf. "I used to have a pair of Chuck Taylors when I was a kid, too."
The girl cocks her head to the side. "Who's Chuck Taylor?"
"That's the guy who created these shoes."
"A guy created pink shoes?"
Chuckling, the man shakes his head. He ruffles the little girl's hair and says, "You crack me up, babe."
The little girl smooths her hair back down as the man checks inside the shoe's tongue.
Because the shoes are too big, the man and the little girl walk up to the counter and ask for a smaller size. The pimpled employee nods his head and says "Sure thing" before taking the box and disappearing into the back of the store.
"Let's go sit down," says the man, wrapping his large, sausage-like fingers around the little girl's small and dainty hand. He leads her to a cushioned seat in the middle of one of the aisles, lifts her up onto his lap and says, "You're gonna look really cute in those pink Converse." She smirks, kisses his stubbled cheek, and then begins giggling. The man blushes and looks around the store. "Not in public," he whispers.
The pimpled employee soon returns with a new box tucked beneath his arm. He kneels down before the seat and opens the box, revealing a smaller version of the same pink Converse. The little girl kicks off one of her dirt-stained sneakers as the pimpled employee removes the wadded up paper from inside the shoe.
"So," says the employee, glancing up at the little girl as he slides the shoe onto her foot, "have you started back to school yet?"
The little girl shakes her head, and the man whose lap she's sitting on clears his throat and readjusts himself so that the little girl is sitting closer to his knee rather than his crotch.
"We start back next week," she says.
"Oh." The employee smiles and nods as he begins to lace her shoe. "Well, that's cool. I start back next week, too."
Now that the shoe is on the little girl's foot, the employee feels for her toe to make sure that the shoe is big enough. "It feel alright?" he asks. "It's not too tight or anything, is it?"
The little girl bites her bottom lip and shakes her head. After a couple seconds, she says, "Hey, mister, can I ask you a question?"
With a smile, the employee says, "Sure, cutie-pie. Anything you want."
"What's wrong with your face?" she blurts. "Did mosquitoes bite you or something?"
The employee's pimples grow even redder as he blushes and looks down at the floor.
As the man whose lap she's sitting on tries to refrain his laughter, the little girl continues: "I got mosquito bit real bad this one time and all these little red bumps popped up on my skin and they were always itching real bad and stuff but mommy told me not to scratch them 'cause that'd just make them even worser. And then my mommy ended up putting this cream stuff on them and they got all better and stopped itching and after a couple days they went away. And then there was this other time—"
The man pats the little girl softly on the back and says, "That's enough, babe. Go check out your shoes in the mirror and see if you like them."
The little girl does as the man says. She hops down off his lap and begins modeling her new pink Converse in the mirror.
"I guess we'll be buying these," says the man, as he watches the little girl walk and hop and skip up and down the aisle. The red-faced employee grabs the empty box and walks to the counter without ever looking up. The man follows.
Once the shoes are paid for, the man drops the little girl's old pair of sneakers into the bag with the empty box and receipt. Staring at the counter, the pimpled employee gives out a barely audible, yet mandatory, "You and your daughter have a good day."
Immediately the little girl erupts into giggles. The man silences her by putting his finger to his lips. "Thanks. You too."
The man and the little girl then leave the store, re-entering the chaotic mall atmosphere. As they walk through the food court, the little girl tugs on the man's hand, begging for a cone of ice cream. The man shakes his head, but the little girl insists.
"I'll tell my mommy what we do!" she says. With that, the man quickly obliges.
A couple minutes later they walk out into the parking lot. Once the little girl spots the man's old rusted truck, she immediately lets go of his grasp and races toward the passenger's side door. It's locked, so she stands there, one hand on her cone of melting ice cream, the other on the door handle, waiting for the man to catch up.
"Did you see how fast I ran?" she says, as the man takes the keys out of his pocket and unlocks the door. "I'm like a Powerpuff Girl!"
Grinning, the man climbs into his truck. He tosses the bag onto the floorboard and then turns the key in the ignition. The engine wheezes to life and they pull out of the parking lot and onto the main road. Meanwhile, in between licks of ice cream, the little girl continues to brag about her new pink Converse.
The man doesn't say anything until they're on a rural road, sitting at a stop sign. That's when he looks over at the little girl and says, "You've got a bit of ice cream on your face. Right there by your lip."
The little girl wipes the wrong side of her mouth, and the man says, "Here, I'll get it." He leans over the seat and sticks out his tongue. As he licks the blot of ice cream off the little girl's face, she turns her head to meet his mouth. They sit there kissing for several seconds— big lips and little lips, old tongue and young. Drool drips down from their chins.
Suddenly the car behind them blows the horn and the man sits up immediately. He wipes the saliva from his mouth and presses the accelerator without checking for oncoming traffic. The girl is giggling; the man is blushing.
"I hope they didn't see us," he says.
The little girl laughs harder. "Why not, daddy?"
"Oh, cut it out. That father-daughter business gives me the creeps."
She scoots closer. "What, daddy?" Her little hand reaches between the man's legs and grabs his crotch. The truck swerves across the double yellow line.
"Whoa, girl! You're gonna make us wreck!" The little girl releases her grip, and the man looks at her from the corner of his eye. A smile creeps across his face. "You know, I was thinking . . . Since I bought you a new pair of shoes and all, maybe you should give me something in return."
Her giggles fade. "B-b-but I ain't got no money! How can I—"
"Baby, baby, I'm just playing with you." The man chuckles. "Though I do know one thing you can give me."
The little girl looks up from her ice-cream. Her little eyebrows rise.
"Here, let me see that." The man reaches over and grabs the ice-cream cone from the little girl's sticky grasp. He uses his knee to steer the steering wheel as he unzips his fly and pulls out his penis. There's still a tiny bit of ice-cream deep down in the center of the half-gnawed cone, so the man turns the cone upside down— "Holy shit, that's cold!"— and allows the leftover ice-cream to drip down onto his purple (and now brown) head.
After he removes the cone, the man looks over at the little girl, winks, and says, "Dig in!"
The little girl claps her hands and squeals in delight. She licks her little lips and says, "Mmm, yummy!" just before leaning over the seat and opening her mouth, wider, wider . . .
A few minutes later they pull into a driveway. The little girl sits up and wipes the semen (or "vanilla ice-cream" as she calls it) from her mouth with the back of her hand. The man makes a joke about "double scoops" and the little girl laughs. They sit there talking for a few more minutes until a blonde-haired woman walks out of the adjacent house. As soon as she spots the woman, the little girl screams, "Mommy!" and jumps out of the truck and races into the next yard. The woman kneels down on the sidewalk so that the little girl can run directly into her embrace.
Slowly, the man climbs out of his truck. With a smile he listens to the little girl tell her mother about how many times she had to walk around the store before finding those specific shoes and about the guy who worked at the shoe store who had these weird mosquito bites all over his face and how she needs to go back to the mall so she can give him some of that cream stuff that will make his bumps go away.
The man approaches the little girl and her mom. He hands the bag to the woman and says, "The box and the receipt's in there. Her old shoes, too."
"Oh, thank you so much," says the woman, rising to her feet and smiling. "How much do I owe you?"
The man waves her off. "Oh, no, you don't owe me anything. My treat."
The woman puts her hands on her hips as she shakes her head. "I swear, you are the greatest neighbor ever."
The little girl tugs on her mother's pant leg. "Hey, mommy, guess what? Somebody thought he was my daddy again!"
The woman laughs; and the man says, "You know, I actually like to kid her about being my little girlfriend. It's kind of our running joke."
"Aw, how cute," says the woman, smiling down at her daughter. Suddenly the woman's face lights up. "Oh, I almost forgot—" She looks at the man. "I was gonna ask if you could keep her for me this weekend. I've gotta fly out to a meeting Friday, and I figured she'd much rather stay with you than some ol' babysitter."
The man's gaze drops to the little girl, who stands in the grass, admiring her new pink shoes. As she looks up at him and smiles, the man can see a tiny hint of white in the corner of her mouth.
A grin stretches across his face, wider, wider. "Ma'am," he says, "I'd absolutely love to!"