I stopped at McDonald's partway through my training walk today, as I typically do if I'm going to be out for more than a couple of hours. It's a decent place to take a short break, they have a/c, clean restrooms, and $1 large drinks with unlimited refills.
Saturdays it's usually pretty busy so I cram myself into the smallest spot, a tiny table at a long booth seat that runs nearly across the room. There are other tables along the bench seat, but I make sure I take the small one, because hell, I'm by myself and don't need an entire booth. I sit there and glare at the lone customers staking claim to the booths that are essentially 6-tops.
Today, though, it wasn't crowded at all, though I still sat at the tiny table. I must have looked like hell, because more than one person glanced at me and damn near recoiled...dripping sweat, coated in a thick layer of sunscreen, and redfaced, I'm sure I was absolutely beautiful and they just couldn't help themselves avoid my stunning self.
Or maybe they were worried I was going to keep over dead, and they didn't want to be near me when it happened.
As I sat there and sucked down my cheap drink, I noticed a little girl, maybe 5 years old, at a nearby table; while her dad finished his lunch, she played quietly with her knock-off Barbie doll, making it spin and dance across the table top. She did it quietly, and I entertained the idea that Daddy had told her to be quiet while he ate, but he didn't look like he'd spent the day being irritated by a loud little kid, so I also entertained the idea that she was just making her doll dance to the music in her head.
It was certainly energetic music. That doll spun quickly, did dips and splits and backbends over fries and a half-eaten burger, and flew effortlessly over Dad's drink.
She was lost in her own little world, and happy as hell about it.
Dad finished his burger and she was still making her doll dance; I braced myself for the 5 year old whining that was likely to happen when he said it was time to go, put the doll away and clean the table up. But instead of being done and ready to go, Dad turned in his seat and leaned forward, elbows on knees, looked right at the doll and said, "You're a very good dancer. Are you a professional?"
His daughter didn't miss a beat, and in a pretend-falsetto replied, "No, I just love to dance! Do you want to help me dance?"
He reached out and took the doll from his little girl, and guided it--although not as gracefully--across the table, over the unfinished burger and fries, until she reached out in a fit of giggles and grabbed it from him.
It occurred to me in one of those odd flashes: this was nothing out of the ordinary for them. He wasn't weekend dad trying too hard to turn an I-can't-cook-for-crap visit to McD's into something fun. It was all too familiar to him, routine, comfortable, and something he loved.
To his little girl it was just Daddy being Daddy. Nothing all that special.
For now, anyway.
When they left, I watched them go; she was poking at his leg with the doll's feet and laughing as if it was the funniest thing she had ever thought of doing, and his hand was resting comfortably, protectively, on her head as he guided her toward the car. I got up to refill my drink and then head outside to change my socks and check for blisters, and I wondered if she would ever remember those moments, if twenty years from now she would have a flash of Daddy making her doll dance, and how absolutely wonderful and extraordinary that really was...all the moreso because it didn't seem to be special at all.