In the first few weeks of lockdown, after a certain publisher’s family had recovered from an unpleasant bout of the Covids, the Publisher’s daddy went online and found a great deal on a pack of thirty-six cans of Play-Doh, which had been delivered overnight, along with roughly twenty very fragile plastic molding doohickeys that reminded him of the commercials for Play-Doh toys he had watched as a child.
It was unclear to him, upon unpacking the toys, whether the original versions of the toys were better constructed than the ones he received, all jumbled together in a thin plastic bag, because he was fairly certain he hadn’t had any of those toys as a child, which is why he had bought them for his daughter in the first place.
The family imagined all the ways that thirty-six cans of Play-Doh could be molded and folded and pressed into various artful arrangements—a full spectrum of creative squishiness that could keep the entire family distracted as the events outside their window played out.
Among the plastic cutting implements were outlines of butterflies, hearts, stars, and birds. There was a little embossing press and an extruder whose hinge was so delicate that it cracked five minutes into its first batch of neon pink rigatoni.
The publisher produced great stacks of harlequin stars and marbled hearts, pressing different batches dough of into thick biscuits of varying hues. She rolled out long snakes and peeled crumbs off of the table. The colored lids of the cans ceased after a while to signify much at all, as the colors blended together in swirls and chunks after being cut and pressed together dozens of times.
The love affair was brief but burned hot, consuming twenty-eight of the three dozen cans in two weeks. The toys and stiffened dough made their way onto the shelf in a canvas bag with a little fox on the side, and while the publisher brought it out from time to time, the dough just got harder and more jumbled, and her interests strayed.
Yesterday, the publisher’s father packed up the air conditioner in her window to distract himself from the news of another wave of infections (to little benefit), and in shuffling around a stack of boxes that occupied what little space remained in the apartment to store a dormant air conditioner, he discovered the remaining Play-Doh in an unmarked cardboard box and called the publisher to her room.
The publisher cracked open can after can of dough, each time whispering “brand new!” and pressing the cylinders of dough, all different colors together, into flattened wedges on the seat of the yellow wooden stool in her bedroom. She cut out heart after star after butterfly and stacked them on the desk next to her bed, as if nothing at all had happened in the intervening twenty-one months.
It was beautiful and deflating all at once, recalling a thing that came and went so quickly, but never really passed. Same shapes, new colors. Long days, short years.
The publisher’s father sealed up the cans tight and placed them in the canvas sack with the little fox on it, throwing away the hardened balls of dough from two years, and placed it on a low shelf where the publisher could find it in the morning. He slept soundly.