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PRIOR TO RETURNING THE ADOPTION
BY BLAKE BUTLER
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When he was finally alone, with the children returned to their rightful owners, the clowns gone home after  squeegeeing the thick putty make-up from their faces, his wife asleep in the lower half of their bunk bed, Stanley Marmaduke let his entire body slip into a rubbery pile, his appendages and organs smeared to a blob of pulp on the floor, and he surveyed the war-zone left behind in the wake of his daughter Molasses' forty-eight hour birthday party: balloons hung near the ceiling, losing their buoyancy, beginning to pucker. Crumbs and clumps of cake mishmashed into the dining room carpet. Tails from the donkey game left tacked in a chaotic web along the walls. While shredded bits of the corpse of a piñata covered all, both upstairs and down. 

But what a party it had been. Sixty-seven initially over-energetic toddlers forced to stay awake against their will for two straight days without rest. The kids had been put through a wild gamut of games and activities that would make even the most athletic of adults collapse. Coconut bowling, ballroom dancing, spin-the-bottle, deer hunting, mummification, dumpster diving, Name-That-Sitcom-Theme-Song: the list of entertainments stretched for reams. Even a stripper with neon booby-tassels had been brought in, who, as luck would have it, freelanced as a face-paint artist, so every one of the kids got to have his or her complexion besmirched, colored over entirely with their choice of twenty-four lively tones and shades. For extra stimulation, the lovely red punch had been spiked generously with vodka, and tabs of acid had been burrowed into the cupcakes. 

The exhausted Stanley peeled his damp socks off his feet, letting them breathe for the first time in what felt like an eternity, cracking the joints of his hairy toes. He tugged open a beer and stared at the dirty ceiling, thankful it was all over, and that Molasses' fourth grand celebration of birth had been such an unforgettable one. She would undoubtedly continue to thank him for weeks to come, in between sessions of riding her new mechanical giraffe around the backyard. Her love for him would finally begin to blossom, now that he had depleted his entire life's savings in her honor. He could tell by the way her face had glowed so brightly that it lit up the entire block when she saw the gift, as dark and unmoving as their neighborhood was at 3AM, the scheduled time for present-giving. 

Hed worried that perhaps the neighbor's gift of a complete set of Ginsu knives might outshine his in her eyes, what with her keenness for a good sharp blade, but shed totally forgotten about everything else once the giraffe came awkwardly cavorting out from its hole in the earth, the one he had dug and covered over with a sheet that looked like grass, all for dramatic effect. Sure, Mrs. Dittswain had gone into cardiac arrest as a result, which was a bit disheartening for the kids, what with the shrill ambulance sirens and men in emergency medical suits who rushed to pick her up, but in the end it had all been worth it. It was most definitely a gift to be honored in the Gift-Giving Hall of Fame, and she was worth every single moment of preparation it had taken, the gallons of unforgiving sweat, the ten-thousand dollars shelled out for party-favors. Yes sir, she was worth it all. 

"Daddies?" 

Her voice broke the hymen of his silent collapse, as she squirreled into the room, stirring him up back to full attention, ready for anything.

"Yes, Molasses?"

"The doggies won't stop chewing on Tony's knees. Will you come make them stop it? They're mean."

The Doctor looked intensely at his daughter, in his best of imitation of what he had seen the sitcom dads do when their children said something ridiculous. She was still wearing her party outfit, the tight leather purple pants and matching halter top, stuffed with socks. 

"My how they get old quick," hed thought when she made her first appearance in the get up. "How quickly they feel inadequate and want to be in magazines."

But now, in the breaking light of the third consecutive dawn he had seen without sleep, the get-up seemed so appropriate, so well-suited for the big girl on her special day. She even looked a bit like someone he had dated in college, he thought.

"Molasses, dear," Stanley said, taking his daughter's hand in his much larger one. "That's just the acid, sweetie. Go lay down for a bit and it will all be goney-woney when you wake up." He lovingly patted her on the arm as one might do a prize horse the day before the Kentucky Derby.

Her lips became a warped line as she gazed back at him lovingly, half-smiling, half-nauseous. "Okay daddies." 

"Oh and sweetie?" 

She froze in mid-march walking away, leaving her right foot dangling shakily in the air. 

"Tell your Daddy you love him."

Her body hung in place for a minute, like the single wavering frame of a work-out video on pause. He took a sip of beer, which he had until now not noticed was disgustingly warm. He tried to avoid noticing the way it tasted, so much like piss might. Together they waited in silence.

"Never mind, sweetheart. Goodnight." His mumble cut the invisible cord that held her frozen in position and she trotted into other rooms, avoiding a collision with the edge of the doorframe by the oh-so-slightest fraction of a hair. 

Stanley chugged the rest of the beer, wincing at its bitter jolt to his system, and climbed up into his bunk, pausing for a moment to set his Bozo the Clown alarm clock for nine in the morning, so that hed be able to make it back to the Klunkville Adoption Agency bright and early, just in time to get first pick of the new recruits, hoping that maybe this time hed be a better judge of character, and hed find a little girl just a bit more willing to love her father.

[Forever after at http://eyeshot.net/adoption.html

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