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Victorian Steve, who was quite a cooling commodity out there in the endless desert, had stopped by sometime around morning snack and offered to build her a doll factory, and as he sat down to his tedious work, she put all her youthful energy into willing him into a trance in which he lost every last irritating itch of time. She was determined to have Victorian Steve to herself for a very long while. And it must have been hours now, she thought, as she tracked her guest’s progress from the corner of her eye: a sound yet delicate foundation, so sugary, it couldn’t help but give fruit to several storeys. This was an unheard of attention span for the normally scattered Victorian Steve.

All the adults, of course, were at the government building, at work, for all she knew, on some updated, even more ruthless, breed of bomb. Something, maybe, that so plumbed the depths of murderousness, it was almost pleasant. Like a tall, cool glass of waterthorn tea, only contaminated, of course. She wished she had some sort of refreshment to offer Victorian Steve. She sat in the small patch of shade at the foot of the lanai, and as she watched him, intently bent over the parts he’d spread across the outdoor carpet, her mouth shriveled to a sour little void. Where did such a feeling come from, she wondered. It wasn’t quite angry, but certainly wasn’t joyful either, considering the typically calming and coveted presence of Victorian Steve. She was too young, of course, to be aware of the low-frequency unease she currently felt. Separation anxiety was a term she was on the brink of discovering and identifying with.

The book she was in the midst of reading then was something required for every child in that arid region. It discussed the point during childhood at which one first individuates. In a vaguely melancholy tone, it bemoaned the loss of the communities of imaginary friends that occurs around this time. Such creatures begin to solidify into socially accepted archetypes: princesses (pink), pixies (slender), vampires (cloaked). The book referred her to a crisis line in case she found it difficult to navigate this change.

She looked, once again, at Victorian Steve, who seemed so much paler and pointier of tooth than he had in the past. Judging by his shifty eyes and the faint sweat he’d broken, which surrounded him now like a mist, his attention was starting to shift. Having just read what she did, this came as a relief. But although the return of such typical behavior was a comfort, beneath that comfort ran a terror. As Victorian Steve got up to leave, the doll factory’s crank and masher only half complete, she lost her normally staid composure. In a wavering voice, she asked if he was ever coming back.