“Hey,” Saffron gasps.
The studio falls away, the colours are back, the rainbow. Deaf and dazzled, Saffron can only stand and look at nothing, look at the colours.
It’s a shock, but not as big this time. It’s scary, but not as much this time. And the shock, the fear, they last just a moment or two, before Saffron relaxes and enjoys the lightshow.
She would tell Ruben about it, but he must see it as well, she can feel his presence and then his light fingers as he slips off her shoes one at a time.
There goes my trainers, Saffron thinks dimly, and then her dungarees and underwear and then she feels the top pulled over her head and she’s left with nothing, just rainbows, but it’s plenty and Saffron is better at seeing the colours this time, as if her eyesight is fixed and she can look through the whole rainbow.
She feels the tightest smile on her lips, her whole face feels tight as she imagines a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. She could buy everything she ever wanted.
She knows exactly what she would buy. They’re here now, in her mind, filling her vision and crowding out the rainbow. A group of unicorns. If she could hear, if her ears weren’t ringing, she would ask them, how much? Even though unicorns are just for pretend, she can still buy a horse, or maybe a pony, and Lyle can take her to the stables so she can have her riding lesson, and Lyle will look after the money, she’ll just hold it sometimes, gold coins in her hands, gripped so hard they become hot in her fist. Because money buys all of this, sparkles and unicorns and ponies with Daddy…
Saffron’s vision clears. She’s back in the room.
“Happy?” Ruben asks. He’s right there. This time, it’s a real question.
Saffron nods. She’s a happy girl. Still, her face warms as she thinks of mistaking Lyle for her father. That was pretend, that was silly.
She’s such a silly girl. She giggles.
“Silly girl,” Ruben says with a smile, which only makes Saffron giggle again.
“Ready for more pictures?”
Saffron blurts out,, “I haven’t got any-”
Clothes. But she does. She looks down to find she’s in a powder blue nightdress.
“I don’t got no shoes,” she says, covering her mistake.
“You don’t need shoes inside,” Ruben says.
Of course she doesn’t. She curls her toes into the soft carpet.
“I know you’re an Ariel fan,” Ruben says, pointing to the red-haired mermaid on the front.
Saffron smiles faintly, touching the design with a chubby finger. Her tummy is a little big. Did she have a lot for breakfast? It’s hard to remember what she did or didn’t eat when she’s wearing such a lovely nightdress. How many times did she watch that film? She can almost feel the butter on her fingers from popcorn, from how many times to the cinema with her father, from a worn-out VHS tape, the scuffed case on her bedroom bookcase alongside All Dogs Go To Heaven and Home Alone.
Yes, she loves Ariel. “It’s pyjamas,” she says. Pyjamas, not lingerie. There’s nothing sexy about this outfit, with its round neck and plain short sleeves. It stops just below her knees, it is shapeless. Not sexy, but why should it be?
“Clever girl,” Ruben says and Saffron nods. She’s so clever, so clever and silly at the same time. “You’re dad’s still not here,” he says, “So now you’re staying up past your bedtime.” He winks at her. “Daddy’ll be here very soon, though and you can give him a big hug.”
Saffron nods. She’ll give Daddy such a big hug. The idea is delightful and Saffron feels butterflies of anticipation in her stomach.
Ruben taps his camera. “But first we need to take our photos.”
Saffron nods again. Of course, that’s her job. She’s a model. She touches her hair with a pleased expression. Such curly hair. She likes getting her picture taken.
“Do you want me to bounce?” She looks fondly at the couch. Bouncing is fun. Bouncing for Daddy.
Ruben rubs his chin. “That sounds magic, but I’d love it if you could sing a song for me.”
Saffron stares at the photographer and then laughs through her fingers.
Ruben smiles back at her. “What’s so funny?”
“You can’t hear a song in a photo!”
“Oh,” Ruben replies. He gives an amused nod. “Fair point. But I often ask my pretty ladies to sing, it makes the best photos.” He smiles. “Do you know any songs?”
Saffron hesitates, torn. She isn’t a singer, hasn’t done that since primary school, before she realised she had things all wrong and left that chubby, pale girl behind.
Except, isn’t that chubby, curly-haired girl right here? She touches her hair tries to concentrate.
The idea, the passing time, it sits oddly in her head. She looks down at her fingers, turning the idea over and tries to make sense of it. She’s close, she’s on the verge of a discovery that will surely send her running from the studio when Ruben says, “You can pretend you’re in a music video.”
“Huh?” Saffron says crossly, her train of thought derailed.
Ruben nods. “You could be like a pop star.”
Saffron bites her lip.
“Like Taylor Swift.”
“Taylor Swift,” echoes Saffron with a whisper.
“Hey, I know,” Ruben says. “What does Ariel sing about…” He looks up at the ceiling as if looking for Divine inspiration, and then he hums a few bars and says, “I wanna be where the people are…”
He pauses, raises an eyebrow at Saffron.
It’s not Taylor Swift, but somehow it feels safer. Standing in her Ariel nightdress, Saffron can’t resist. “I wanna see them dancing,” she whispers shyly.
“That’s right, Saffy!” Ruben says. “Clever girl.”
Saffron’s face feels warm, she twists her fingers and her toes are curled back into the carpet, like a bird hanging onto a fragile branch.
Dancing. If she moves, will all of this feel better, or will it all fall apart? It’s like a dream, the sweetest of fantasies, this handsome young man devoting all this attention to her, wanting to take her picture, wanting to show her off.
She sings the lines softly and then, her confidence building (Ruben’s smile widens, he nods in the most reassuring of ways) she sings more clearly, her hands clasped in front of her, she looks like a choirgirl practicing before bedtime.
Practicing for her dad? No, he’s in the waiting room. No, silly, that’s Lyle, that’s her friend. Can he hear her singing? Saffron raises her chin and sings more loudly, clear as a bell, she hasn’t sounded this good, this pure, in such a long time.
“Dance for me, Saffy. You don’t have to stand still like that. This song’s all about dancing.”
Saffron thinks for a moment and then she giggles. Of course it is!
“Flipping your fins,” she sings, “You don’t get too far.” She flaps her arms a little and when Ruben gives her another nod, she does it more energetically.
The movement makes it hard to sing but she keeps going, flapping her arms up and down and earning equally energetic praise from Ruben.
“That’s it, Saffy! What a good little mermaid you are!”
“Uh-huh,” Saffron agrees, pausing long enough to declare, “It’s my fav’rite film, I watched it a million times!”
“That’s a lot!” Ruben agrees. “Keep singing and dancing, sweetie.”
Saffron flaps her arms again and sings, “Legs are req…reck…reh..” What’s the word? She can’t quite produce it for some reason. She takes a deep breath and sings the rest of the line instead. “Jumping, dancing.” Inspired, she jumps up and down, bouncing on her bare feet.
“There you go,” Ruben sings back to her. “What a bouncy girl!”
“And now spin, a lovely spin so I can see your hair dance as well!”
Saffron has a moment to giggle about dancing hair and then she does as she’s told, she’s being such a good girl, she spins around and now the lines from the song are gone in the excitement, the room spinning around here, there’s Ruben, there’s the couch, there are the lights, so bright, even prettier as she turns on her toes. She just sings the same phrase, she repeats and spins, “Jumping, dancing, jumping, dancing!”
“And now, freeze!” Ruben commands, his camera in his hands, looking straight at her and it’s like a game from a long time ago, it’s a game from right now, and even though Saffron isn’t at a birthday party, she knows what to do, she’s so clever and she’s back to being a statue, breathing so heavily, so hot even in her light nightgown, and it’s easy because she’s a clever girl, but it’s not because she wobbles, she veers from side to side, arms stretched out wide for support.
Is she going to fall, flat on her face? It wouldn’t matter, she almost wants to so Ruben can rescue her, but no, she’s not a silly baby, and she manages to keep her balance, giggling and gasping for breath.
“I did it!” she calls to Ruben, her face so warm and flushed.
“Good girl,” Ruben says. He walks over to her and crouches down. “Look at those rosy cheeks!” He reaches out with his finger and says playfully, ” I just wanna pinch ’em!”
Saffron wants to touch her face as well. Is she rosy? She’s open-mouthed in wonder, a finger poking her round cheek, and Ruben laughs.
“Perfect,” he says, scooting back and lifting the camera. “Watch the birdie.”
There’s no birdie. Just lots of rainbows. And of course, unicorns.
Saffron can’t see, she can’t hear, but she can feel Ruben there, he pulls off her nightgown and brushes her hair, he dresses her in something new.
Saffron doesn’t care about the outfit. She has much bigger things to think about. She has the pretty colours. She has the unicorns, who are greater in number, jostling each other for her attention. They want to be chosen by her, they want to be her very special ponies.
Saffron reaches out, giggling, reaching into the rainbow darkness. She chooses a pony and the rest melt back into the rainbow, she wants a brush so she can make the pony’s mane all pretty, even prettier than it is now, and she wants to cover the pony with kisses, pretty pony, maybe Daddy knows where the brush is, Daddy knows everything, and her vision and hearing returns in time for Saffron to say, “Weh’s my pony bwush, daddy?”
She blushes, just a little. Daddy’s not here. It’s Ruben, smiling and so handsome. He turns her gently around and buttons up the front of her dress.
“I brushed your hair, sweetie, you’re all pretty again after your dancing.”
Silly Ruben. “I wanna…” Saffron begins. But the pony is gone. The pony was just pretend. She pouts and then down at sees the blue and white material. Her smile returns What a pretty dress, it has little red things on the skirt. Daddy knows what they are. She looks around the studio.
“Where’s my daddy?” she asks. She frowns at her voice, she sounds so high-pitched, so squeaky.
Ruben smoothes out the skirt. “He’s coming soon. You were practicing your dance, remember? So you can show Daddy when he gets here?”
Saffron puts a finger to her lips and concentrates. Her memories are disorganized, as if someone’s put them in a box and shaken it up and down. It feels so messy in her head. But she can take Ruben’s story about Daddy, she can put that idea there and it feel solid and reliable in her head.
She sees the couch. Bounce on it for Daddy! A wonderful idea and she runs over.
“Hey,” Ruben protests, “You need your shoes and socks, silly.”
Saffron stops and looks at her bare feet. No bouncing in your shoes. She looks back at Ruben and grins. She knows the rules, she’s allowed to bounce and then she stands at the couch, puts her hands on the seat cushion and hesitates. She’ll have to climb up. The couch is huge, it is Mount Couch. How did it get so big?
“Come back so I can finish your outfit,” Ruben calls. “Ready to be a pretty little sailor girl for Daddy?”
Saffron turns, distracted by the idea. But then she pats the couch. “It’s wrong,” she says emphatically.
“What do you mean?”
“Oh,” Ruben replies. He nods. “I can tell you why.” He makes a beckoning gesture with his index finger and Saffron trots back over to him.
He pats the ground and she sits down beside him.
“Good girl,” Ruben says. He points at the couch. “Now, look. The couch is small.”
Saffron stares at the couch and then at Ruben. She puts a finger to her mouth. That doesn’t make any-
“It doesn’t look big anymore,” Ruben says. “It looks small.”
His voice reminds her of the bright light from his camera, it makes her want to believe every word.
She nods slowly. “Small.”
“And look at these shoes,” says Ruben, showing her a pair of shiny black bar shoes. Saffron’s eyes widen. They must be the prettiest shoes she’s ever seen. She touches them, she touches the shininess. “My shoes?” she asks softly, hopefully.
“They are if they fit,” Ruben says. He puts one beside her feet. “What do you reckon? Are they small enough?”
Saffron stares at the shoe and wriggles her toes with excitement. “Uh-huh!”
“Clever girl,” Ruben says brightly, cuddling her. “I knew you’d get it!”
“Gonna weh shoes,” Saffron says, nodding her head energetically.
“Socks first,” says Ruben, and he reveals a pair of frilly ankle socks. He smiles at her. “You’re gonna look so sweet for daddy.”
Saffron begins to smile as Ruben’s statement tingles in her head, but then she frowns.
The socks are frilly anklets, they are infantile. Saffron imagines just wearing them will change her gait, leave her toddling. She feels a tickle of fear as she is suddenly sure she’s wearing a nappy.
She pulls up the skirt of her dress and frowns.
No nappy, but definitely not ordinary knickers like before.
“Who’s that?” Ruben asks, pointing at the figure decorating Saffron’s thick underwear. Saffron doesn’t even blush at Ruben seeing her pants.
She smiles and says, “Ariel.” For a moment she’s distracted by her favourite princess, before snapping out of it. “Pull-ups are for babies.”
“No, sweetie. Babies wear nappies. Big girls wear pull-ups so they can go potty.” Ruben nods with authority. “Everyone knows that.”
Saffron shakes her head; she’s not stupid. “For babies!”
She grips the side of the pull-ups and pushes them down to her ankles before stepping out. She runs over to the couch, waiting to hear Ruben tell her off.
Will Ruben be angry? Is she crossing a line? He seems so eager for her to wear that stupid pull-up and those frilly socks. Saffron pouts. Does he want her to look like a baby? Maybe he’s not as nice as she thought.
Ruben stays seated on the ground by the clothes rack. He doesn’t seem angry.
The bouncy couch. Saffron tries to climb up but it’s too big, she huffs with frustration and then she pushes again, it’s not a big couch, Ruben explained all that, and she climbs determinedly, her fingers digging into the cushion. With a great effort she finally succeeds and she turns around, bouncing lightly on the cushion and grins proudly at Ruben. “Gonna bounce,” she announces.
“Hey, Saffy, your daddy will be home soon. Does your daddy like kisses?”
Saffron frowns. Maybe.
Ruben laughs. “Do you kiss Daddy?”
Her frown deepens. A kiss on the cheek, it was a reward, wasn’t it, when he got the money from the house. What was that called?
“Wittle kiss,” Saffron says. She purses her lips.
“Just a little one? You better give him a big kiss when he gets here.”
Saffron nods. “‘Cause I’m a big girl.” The idea seems important and she feels reassured.
She remains standing on the couch, twisting her hips, feeling her skirt brush against her thighs, remind her; she isn’t completely dressed.. Is this allowed? She looks down at her feet. No shoes, it’s okay. She bounces, the lightest of movements, her hands reaching in front of her. If she falls, she’d better fall backwards.
“Speaking of kisses,” Ruben says, crawling over to the toy chest, “You ever kissed a frog?”
Saffron giggles and shakes her head.
Ruben reaches past the toy boat and fishes out a plush green toy frog. “Wanna try?”
Saffron shakes her head. “Yucky! Frogs are icky.”
Ruben looks surprised and he gives the frog a kiss. “Huh. Tastes like strawberries.”
The words tingle in Saffron’s head. She can imagine it, the sweet taste, and even though she knows Ruben is teasing her, another part of Saffron believes him.
Still, she protests. “Not store-berries, yucky,” she insists, crossing her arms.
“Ah, come on,” Ruben says, “Give it a try.” He tosses the frog gently towards the couch her direction and Saffron squeal and jumps back, falling back onto the couch cushions.
Ruben goes to the couch and looks down at her. “What’s wrong, honey? I remember a story where a girl kisses a frog and it turned into a prince.” He waggles the frog between his fingers. “Maybe you’re a princess and you’re going to find true love.”
Saffron screws up her face. “Don’t want twoo love.”
Ruben sits down beside her, and Saffron is amazed once more at his size. The couch is small, the shoes are a perfect fit. But at the same time…
Ruben cuddles her and strokes her back. “You want to be a princess for daddy.”
The idea tingles in her head, it tingles like the camera flash, but it doesn’t take. She shakes her head impatiently and her hair flaps from side to side in bunches. She touches it with her fingers, finds ribbons that have arranged her bouncing curls into pigtails. And she wonders for a moment, Do the ribbons match my dress?
Daddy can tell her, she needs to see Daddy, and the feeling begins to mount, that only Daddy can fix this, that Ruben is all smiles but he’s trying to trick her, somehow, to distract her, make her silly and giggly so she’ll wear pull-ups like a baby and then what?
The stroking feels nice but she pulls away, scoots to the far end of the couch and she narrows her eyes at Ruben. “Don’t wanna be pwincess. Big girl.”
Ruben laughs softly. “What a grumpy face!” I better take a picture so you can show Daddy what a cross little girl you are.”
He lifts up the camera. “Watch the birdie.”
No rainbows, no unicorns.
Just hearing the words about the birdie makes Saffron screw her eyes tightly shut and cover her face with her hands.
Ruben sighs. “Not the picture I was hoping for. What’s wrong?”
“Don’t want what? Be a famous model?”
Saffron is tempted to peek between her fingers. Of course she wants that, she wants it more than anything, because they she’ll have…her pretty pony?
Ruben strokes her hair. “What do you want, sweetheart?”
And Saffron understands that Ruben will promise her anything. He’ll promise her ponies and rainbows and anything she asks for, but she’ll have to put on the socks and shoes, and she’ll definitely have to put on the thick underwear. She looks down at her dress, the skirt bunched up from her scramble on the couch. She pulls it down. Why is she so white, why is she so chubby? She stretches out her legs and she can’t possibly deny it; it’s not the couch, it’s her.
She’s getting so small.
“What do you want?”
”I want my daddy.”
Saffron clambers off the couch and lands with a soft thump on the floor.
She’s getting so small and Ruben’s making it happen with his camera.
She runs to the door, she runs for Daddy.
She can’t reach the handle. She pushes on the door, crying out with frustration. She’s stuck in here.
“Need some help?”
Here comes Ruben. He’s going to force her to watch the birdie, the birdie that isn’t even real, it’s just sparkles and twinkles that make her stupid and babyish.
She flinches as Ruben reaches for her.
He’ll grab her, throw her over his shoulder, he’s huge, like an angry bear, and she opens her mouth wide to scream, she’ll scream the place down and then her daddy will save her.
She looks with wide eyes as Ruben reaches above her head and opens the door.
“Good time for a break,” he says softly. He crouches beside her and points into the waiting room. “Look,” he says, “Go and see Daddy.”
Saffron can hear the camera behind her as she runs past sets of legs that don’t belong to Daddy.
He’s where she left him a few minutes (a few years?) before, and he looks up from his Kindle and gives her the biggest smile.
“What a pretty sailor dress!” He waves above her head, and Saffron turns to see Ruben gesture back before closing the studio door.
She looks up at Lyle. His smile wavers a little. “You’ve got bare feet, Saffron…Saffy. Are you in the middle of a change?”
Saffron pats his knee impatiently and finally Daddy gets the message. He smiles, his face relaxing and he picks her up and she swings onto his lap, her arms tight around his neck.
Lyle laughs. “Good to see you too!” He kisses her forehead. “Missed you.”
He pats her bottom and says, “Hey, where’s your pull-ups, Saffy?”
Saffy grimaces at the mention of the babyish underwear. “Don’t wanna wear ’em.”
“Well, you can’t run around half-naked, silly,” replies Lyle. And then he gives a nod of understanding. “Do you need to use the potty, sweetie?” Lyle asks. “Is that why you took off your pull-ups?”
“Then you’d better get your undies back on,” Lyle says, “before everyone sees your little bum-bum.”
Saffron blushes hotly at Lyle’s words and the sound of gentle laughter from the adults around her. Most of them are with children of various ages, a lot of them bigger than her.
Even a little girl sucking her thumb and hugging a teddy bear is bigger. Saffy watches shyly as the little girl’s father smiles at Lyle and says, “My baby girl was always making her nappy disappear at that age. It’s so precious when they do that.”
“I go big girl toilet now, Daddy.” the child says with a proud jut of her chin.
But isn’t that true for Saffron? She can use the toilet like a big girl too! She’s sure of it. Can’t she?
“Are you being good for Ruben?” Lyle asks, reminding her of a much more pressing issue.
Saffron whispers her reply hotly in his ear. “He’s bad,” she says. “Gotta bad cam-ruh and it’s making me…” She hugs his neck harder. “Wittle.”
Lyle leans back and looks into Saffron’s face. “But Ruben’s came highly recommended!” He indicates the other people with a wave of his hand. “Look how busy he is.” He gives her a serious look. “We’re lucky to be here, this could be your big break, sweetie.”
Saffron shakes her head and pouts. “He wants me be baby,” she whispers.
She looks directly into his face, peers at his eyes. Are they a little darker? How funny, how strange and Saffron dismisses the idea impatiently. She has bigger things to worry about.
She pats Lyle’s shoulders. “Imma big girl!”
Lyle looks confused and then he nods. “Oh, I get it.” He turns her around on his lap and reaches into his bag. “I’ve got just what you need.”
Saffron watches with a mixture of frustration and confusion as Lyle pokes a straw into a juice box and puts it in her chubby hands.
“Wanna go!” She’s tempted to drop the drink onto the floor, and if she wasn’t such a good girl, she would do just that.
“You must be thirsty,” Lyle insists.
Saffron looks to a baby holding a bottle and sucking thirstily. She feels tears prick at her eyes. “Don’t want juice,” she says. “Want min-wall water.”
Lyle laughs. ” You have to use a straw so you don’t stain your lips, remember? Come on, you have to stay hydrated.”
Saffron sighs and relents. She’s so thirsty after her dancing, her bouncing. It’s been such a busy morning. She sucks on the juice box and sure enough, she feels better, especially with Daddy stroking her hair.
She puts the empty juice box in Lyle’s hands.
“Okay,” says Lyle. He swaps the empty container for a cheese string. “Now eat something, you sound a little cross.”
Saffron hardens her jaw as she watches Lyle pull open the wrapper. She’s not cross, she’s angry! Ruben is playing a bad trick on her!
Still, she is hungry and she reaches greedily for the opened cheese string.
“Uh-uh,” Lyle says. “Don’t get your hands messy. Daddy will feed it to you,” Lyle says, and Saffron wrinkles her nose, and why are the other grown-ups all looking and smiling at them, why are they such nosey-parkers?
“Notta bay-bee,” Saffron says sulkily.
“I know darling, it’s because you’re being a fashion model today, remember, in your pretty clothes, and we don’t want to get you or your pretty dresses messy, do we?”
Saffron shakes her head. “Big giwl,” she says softly.
“I know, Saffy, you’re such a big girl,” Daddy says, and Saffron smiles with relief.
It’s not babyish, it’s being a model, and Saffron lets Lyle feed her the cheese, only occasionally forgetting not to touch the cheese-string.
“There,” Lyle says with satisfaction. “That should keep you going for a little while.” He puts the wrapper in his bag. “Daddy can take you to McDonald’s after the pictures, sweetie, special treat, since you’ve been so good. You want some nuggets?”
Saffron finds herself smiling at the idea, Daddy’s hands are around her waist, she feels so safe and secure, even a little sleepy, but then she frowns and hisses urgently at him. “Don’t want more pick-churs!” She pats at his face. How could Daddy have forgotten something so important? “Ruben got bad cam-ruh!”
Lyle shrugs. “But sweetie, you look fine to me, I don’t see what-”
“The fash,” whispers Saffron. “Fash makes me wittle, don’t want baby and don’t want plups, I’m a big girl and-” She takes a breath, but it doesn’t help, it just makes her get ready to cry out, her emotions preparing to take flight in a full-blooded tantrum.
“Hey, hey,” Lyle replies, and he’s rocking her a little and now her arms are back around his neck and he holds her. “It’s okay, Saffy, Daddy’s got you, and Daddy knows just what to do.” He pats her bottom and Saffron relaxes in his arms.
Ruben is adjusting the overhead lamps and taking test shots when Saffron and Lyle enter the studio.
He looks over and smiles. “Welcome back!”
Lyle had offered to carry Saffron but she had insisted on walking. She continues to walk, approaching Ruben and looking up at him with a fierce expression that looks more adorable than she could possibly imagine.
“Got my daddy,” she says defiantly.
“Great!” Ruben says. “I didn’t get any shots with Saffy in the sailor dress.”
Lyle squeezes Saffron’s hand and says, “Saffy won’t need a pull-up, and I think the socks are a little young for her. Okay to go with bare feet?
Ruben shrugs. “I’ll give it a try.”
“And we’re wondering if we could do some photos together. Like a daddy-daughter thing?”
Saffron smiles defiantly – Daddy to the rescue! – and is a little deflated when Ruben gives another shrug. “Was about to suggest that myself. Okay, on the couch, Daddy, let’s have Saffy on your knee.”
Saffron is content to sit on Lyle’s lap, his arms holding her securely. Nothing bad can happen now, and even if it does, Daddy will fix it. She’s relaxed enough even to smile at Ruben when he makes the request.
“Magic,” he says. And then, “Watch the birdie.”
Saffron has just enough time to complain to her father, “Dere no birdie.”
Pretty pony. Saffron pats it with her tiny fingers. She can feel the animal’s warm breath on her skin. She should feed her pony like Daddy feeds her, feed her pony apples and then the idea loses its shape and Saffron wonders for a moment as the desire slides gently and easily from her mind, but she doesn’t worry, her head isn’t empty, the idea is replaced by something much better, it is replaced by the colours and Saffron forgets about her pony, the very concept is replaced by the rainbow, and Saffron smiles open-mouthed, she loves the colours even though she can no longer name them.
Words don’t matter. They’re not nearly as important as sensation, at the cool breeze as she’s undressed and then something thick and crinkly is fastened around her waist. Saffron wonders what it is, and then she forgets all about it as her arms and legs are threaded into something so fuzzy and soft, it’s even on the top of her head, she’s so cosy that she giggles delightedly at the colours, the pretty colours that make her feel so warm and fluffy.
“That’s great, that’s perfect.”
When the rainbow fades, nothing much has changed. She’s on Daddy’s lap and Ruben is crouching and making pictures.
Was she worried before? Was she cross? She looks down at her arms and legs, she’s all fuzzy and blue, she can’t see her fingers but she can wriggle them inside the mittens and the feeling makes her giggle.
“These will be perfect for the website, Lyle.”
Saffy looks around the studio, so many things to look at, so many sparkly lights, she looks up and then wrinkles her face at the lights, too bright, and she looks away and finds relief, gazing at the clothes rack. Lots of colours there, and she reaches out, she wants Daddy to take her to the pretty colours, and then Daddy bounces her on his lap, lovely bounces, and she babbles at Daddy and forgets all about the clothes.
She coos at her father. He’s protecting her, he’s keeping her safe, even though the funny picture man is nothing to worry about.
“Watch the birdie,” the funny man says.
“Look, Saffy,” Daddy says brightly, he points, and Saffy shrieks with approval as she catches sight of the fuzzy yellow thing the picture man is holding above his head.
“Bud-duh!” Saffy babbles excitedly, waving clumsily with her arms, her eyes shining with delight, and it feels like a wish finally come true as she watches the birdie for real.
She shrieks with approval, reaching out with her fuzzy arms.
“Does fishy want the birdie?” Daddy asks, jiggling her on his lap.
Saffy turns her head at the sound of her father’s voice.
“You look so cute in your dolphin costume,” says Daddy. He strokes her arms and kisses her cheek.
“Bud-duh,” Saffy says, quietly this time, wanting to tell Daddy that she understands, she knows all about the birdie. And then she babbles at him, grinning and drooling as all remaining coherence leaves her mind, and there isn’t a trace of embarrassment at the saliva running down her chin and collecting in a puddle on the chest of her fuzzy onesie.
“You’re a little blue fishy, aren’t you,” Daddy replies, kissing her drooling lips. “My sweet Saffy.”
“Good job, little dolphin,” the picture man says and he crouches in front of Saffy, pats the fuzzy thing on her head and gives her the biggest, brightest smile before looking at Daddy and saying, “She’s perfect.” The man taps the camera and says, “I’ll get you a full set on a flash drive.”
Daddy gets up and Saffy is alone on the couch, all by herself until a fuzzy green toy, fuzzy like her, is put in her hands, and she stares at it and immediately puts a frogs leg in her mouth and sucks on it sleepily.
She sits with her toy as Daddy and the nice man talk, and she doesn’t worry, barely notices as makes her chunky thing gets all wet and warm and slippy, although doesn’t it feel nice, and her thoughts and feelings float sweetly along without logic or form and she has nothing left to do, and her eyes get extra-heavy.
“I’ll get the full set on a USB drive for you,” Ruben says.
Lyle gives him a thumbs-up. “Brilliant. I want to get some big prints on the living room wall.”
Ruben grins. “Got some great shots of her dancing before, you’ll love them, but you’ll want to keep those for a private album. She’s a…little bigger in those ones.” He smiles. “They’ll look great on the Parkdale website, though.”
“Can’t wait to see them.” Lyle shakes Ruben’s hand. “Thank you so much for this.”
“You’re welcome,” Ruben replies. “Saffy’s a little star. And hey, as a Parkdale resident, you’re welcome back with Saffy for more photos.” He grins. “Friends and family discount.”
“Ah,” Lyle says, “I’m all about saving money. He picks up Saffy. “Come on, sweet girl, time to get home.” He nuzzles her face and earns a sleepy smile in return. “Probably not going to be rich any time soon, Saffy, but I promise to spoil you all the same. All we need is food and love and cuddles. Just Daddy and Baby, isn’t that right?”
Saffy nods in delight at Lyle’s sing-song tone. She waves at the children and grown-ups in the waiting room drowsily, returning the smiles that come her way. Everyone likes her, everyone thinks she looks so cute in her fishy costume.
She doesn’t complain when Daddy lifts her up in front of them all to sniff her bottom.
“Uh oh. My little fishy made a big stinky!” Daddy announces and Saffy can hear the bigger children laugh. So she laughs as well. She’s got no reason to be embarrassed.
Ruben pats Lyle’s shoulder and gives Saffy’s fuzzy feet a final squeeze. “See you again sometime, Saffy, thanks for being such a good model.” He nods at Lyle. “You’ll want to take those contacts out while you’re at it.
Lyle smiles. “Will do. And I appreciate letting me borrow them.”
“Oh, believe me,” Ruben murmurs, “one of those camera flashes without protection and there’s no way you’re driving home.”
The two men laugh, and then Ruben is gone, back into the studio with the next family, and Lyle takes his baby girl into the family toilet so he can change her nappy and take her home.