“How about we take the helmet off now, Autumn?” the father said.
The little girl, who was indeed wearing a burlap sack over her head with eye slits cut out and a #1 written on the front, didn’t respond. The father sighed and said, “I mean, how about we take the helmet off, Popcorn.”
“That’s right, I’m Popcorn, explorer of worlds!” the little girl said, standing tall with her hands on her hips. Her arms were caked with dirt. Gemma thought it might be an attempt at camouflage.
“We’re inside now,” the father said. “So I think you’re safe from the alien acid rain. So no helmet, okay?”
Giggling, the little girl took off the sack and went to look at the different animals in the shop. Gemma cringed a little as Popcorn touched the sparkling glass cages with her dirty hands.
“She’s going through . . . a phase,” the father said to Gemma.
“I can see,” Gemma said. “What brings you in today?”
“We’re looking for a pet mouse. You got any?”
“As a matter of fact, we have two. Right over here.”
“Perfect.” The father turned to call for his daughter. “Autumn--I mean, Popcorn! Come look at the mice!”
The two mice for sale looked very similar, but one could easily see the differences if they looked long enough. The first mouse, Angel, had a pretty red bow tied around his neck and a pattern of spots that Gemma had never seen on a mouse before. His body was completely white, except for black spots on all four of his paws and one covering his nose, as if he were wearing gloves and a muzzle. He was a lively mouse and immediately started doing little tricks to impress Popcorn. He even played dead, lying on his side for a full minute without moving. Popcorn clapped in delight.
The second mouse, Braveheart, was nothing like his name. He shied away in the corner, so afraid that you could see his heart beating through his chest and hear his strained breathing.
“Which one do you want, sweetie?” the father said. Gemma knew it would be Angel. Why would anyone want a scared mouse like Braveheart?
But the little girl thought about it, then surprised Gemma.
“Can I have both?” the girl said.
The father smiled. “Why not?”
On their way out, Popcorn stopped to marvel at Echo, my pet Bat. Echo was pregnant, and therefore wasn’t for sale. Before Gemma could say anything, the father grabbed Popcorn’s hand.
“Not a chance,” he said.
When they'd gone, Gemma went to clean the cages.