The girl came to his door with a doll in one hand. She wore thick black glasses. When she arrived on his front step, she was neither crying nor smiling but standing there as if she had been waiting for him a long time.

“Welcome home,” he said.

She walked brusquely past him and into the living room where she sat down.

“I’ll have the chocolate milk,” she said.

He looked over at the glass of chocolate milk on the table next to him.

“You’re a child.”


“And you need to grow your bones as they say on the television.”

“I don’t watch television.”

“And it would be rude of your father to have the last glass of chocolate milk.”

“Now, please, Father, the chocolate milk.”

“Yes, of course,” he said putting the glass of chocolate milk on the living room table next to her. “Do you want to watch television?”

“Shouldn’t you ask me about myself? Or talk about yourself? I have done this before, you know.”

“Of course.”

“I never knew my parents,” she said.  “But I knew my grandparents, who I called father and mother.”


“I grew up in Omaha, so I am used to the smell of cow manure. I have grown to enjoy this smell. Every morning, I would wake up to it and now that it is gone, I miss it severely.”


“And my grandparents died, so I went to a foster home. I moved in with a family who had eight children. Each child was named by the order they were born in but reversed. So the oldest child was number eight and so on.”

“And you were?”

“I was number zero. I was getting to that, you know. Don’t rush me. Please.”

“You were zero? I suppose we could go by that name…”

“But they told me, ‘We have no need for a number zero. In fact, we aren’t even sure zero is a real number or is really rather the absence of a number. A symbol rather than a number.’” She started to cry. “They said that I was the lack of a number the way black can be the absence of light, and at first they were okay with having me as zero, but the more they racked their brains around the concept of zero, the more it bothered them. And they said they couldn’t name me nine because I was too young and they couldn’t name me -1 because maybe that wasn’t a real number either. Not real as in theoretical terms but real…so they gave me up for adoption after I lived there a few months. The boys were just awful and the girls called me “No-Thing” which meant nothing and it was terrible.”

“How about this: I’ll call you by a new name.”

“What is it?”

“How about Clarence?”

She stood up straight and then relaxed her shoulders.

“That will do.”

“So it’s settled, then. Your new name is Clarence. I can’t see how there will be any problems arising from such a name. A good, solid name.”


“And I hope I’m not too rude. But I presume you like puppies?”

“I prefer cats, actually.”

“Well Clarence, we have a puppy here. Cats are simply too messy, with fur all over the place, you know.”

So the days passed effortlessly with Clarence and Derida. The dog was not allowed to sleep in Clarence’s room. She made it clear she did not “desire” the dog to be in her room. The dog often knocked Clarence to the ground when it got excited.

Perhaps we should sell the dog, thought Derida. But he was so infatuated with the way things should be that he did not let this thought bother him. He had a daughter named Clarence who was a bit odd but still a child. And she ate at the dinner table. And she was polite. And she hardly ever made a mess, and when she did, she cleaned it up.