The cupboard was finally bare, and Old Mother Hubbard had no plans to refill it.
"Ahem," she sneered at me from above her nose. "This is MY story ...
"And I just want to revel in the clean lines of my closet before you go ahead and tell it," she huffed and puffed with design-show flair.
It was quite a sight.
As she sat in the pretty, pre-teen room sifting through the remnants of her pre-pubescent life, I was gearing up for a post-teen apocalypse and assembling boxes to contain the remains. Though we had long-ago repainted the peptic-pink of her little-girl walls with two coats a tropical turquoise -- We pronounce the shade of bluish green tur-kwazzzzz to make ourselves laugh. .... "We bought our Tur-Kwazzzzz from Tar-Jhaaay. Ah-ha-ha-ha." -- she hadn't outgrown her belongings.
Every bit and piece we had pushed to the middle of the room and covered with a paint-speckled tarp found its way back into her life once the color had dried. And though I knew this reordering would be for a limited time only, the baby dolls perched silently on their old shelves, and plastic people with flocked fauna continued to congregate in their plastic houses. Each evening when I came to kiss her goodnight, they would have moved like magic. A rabbit under the bed. A doll at the desk. Miniature clothes hanging on drawer pulls and door knobs.
"Let's clean this up in the morning," I'd say, using what I thought of as The Royal "Us."
Only the threat of keeping her from being Belle Ball, would get the plebeian "She" to tidying.
A clean house is low on my priorities, too. I usually wait to nag until minutes before any nobles arrive.
So I had barely noticed how, slowly, over time, these trinkets started to disappear. Her door is always closed now, a barrier to the cats as we had agreed but also to prying eyes that might be none-too-excited about the scatter rug she's made out of her stash of barely-worn clothes.
I tried to remain calm with each offering she leveled with an outstretched hand. It was her job to sort, my job to pack. Slowly her abode would be emptied of coloring books, scented pencils and the big-eyed stuffed animals she had collected in droves. Tinctures and glittery tints she could apply to her face in the off-school hours are taking their place.
Until all that are left are the picture books.
As I began stowing the books, she's snatched one back.
"Oh ... I remember this. It was my favorite!"
Another favorite and a third made their way back to the shelf.
But in between, she would hand me volumes she no longer wanted (or needed) and I would have to decide: trash or treasure? With each book I would sigh. Every other breath, heavy on its release. I couldn't stop holding my breath.
For as long as she can remember, and no matter where we lived, she always had a library in her closet. A little nook that fit shelves of colorful books, and when she was small enough, a comfortable chair where she could lounge, swinging her legs in repose with an early reader.
Now she wanted to fill it with clothes.
Most of the collection I obtained during lunch breaks on payday at a book outlet on Fourth Street during the nine months she was baking. I read to her from Dr. Suess, and bell hooks, and Mother Goose as she gently kicked inside.
The petite platinum-haired woman at the counter would look up and smile as I came in every fortnight looking for pretty pictures and poetic prose I could use to narrate our lives: Goodnight Moon, ABCs, and One Two Threes, Mama Always Comes Home, My First Day of School, Felix Feels Better ...
I liked to watch her delicate fingers move as she searched for the penciled-in prices and re-form the stack.
I rarely spent more than an hour's worth of work.
She didn't seem to mind.
"Sleepy Pendoodle," my girl said with a snort, starling me out of my memories and handing me a dusty pink colored picture book with dreamy watercolor illustrations. "That's a silly title."
The binding made that satisfying crackling sound when I opened it as if it were stretching its spine after having been awoken from a long rest.
My eyes began to sting as I turned the pages. I felt the swish of a sleepy puppy, and a little girl with mismatched socks and sticking-out braids who would try to awaken him.
"Why did you get that book?" She asked after I had read it aloud one last time and slid the slim volume into the box.
"She was an unusual and lovely character," I answered. "She reminded me of you."
She was silent as her slender fingers reached into the bin and extracted "Pendoodle."
"I think I can find room for just one more thing."