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blue (she's like a dog that solves puzzles)

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Skyler wanted him to write thank-you notes for the presents. Most of them were coffee-mugs full of M&Ms and little teddy bears holding balloons on plastic sticks. The really generous offerings were coffee-mugs full of truffles and little teddy bears holding balloons on plastic sticks. What would have been really helpful was someone buying him stationary so he could write out all the damn thank-you notes without springing for the paper himself.

He was almost done when the blue dog turned up. It had wide ears and a moronic grin on its face.

There was no card attached.

“Honey,” he said, going into the bedroom to find Sky, “do you know where this came from?”

She took one look at it and laughed. “One of Flynn’s friends, maybe? You know what that is, right?”

He held it up by the scruff of its neck. “It’s a blue dog.” He was feeling low on whimsy at the moment. Writing two dozen thank-you cards on sunflower stationary had drained it all out of him. And a blue stuffed dog was a novelty he didn’t need: if anything, it was an insult, something childish and demeaning, something that must have come from one of his students. Walt hated the feeling of a joke that he hadn’t understood: it was like something caught between his teeth that no one had told him about. It was an embarrassment.

“Well,” Skyler said, taking the dog from him and patting its side almost fondly, “you weren’t the one stuck watching cartoons when Junior was little. This is Blue.”

“That’s a little—on-the-nose.”

She scoffed. “Yeah, that whole show’s a little on-the-nose, if you ask me.”

“It’s a cartoon?” As much as he didn’t like the implication that he had just ignored a large part of Junior’s upbringing, children’s television—with the exception of Sesame Street—had always made him feel like his brain was going to deliquesce and start dripping out of his ears.

Skyler held up one of Blue’s paws and then stamped it down on the bedspread. “Blue,” she said, in a falsely-bright TV-presenter voice, like someone showing off brand new stainless steel cookware with warranty, “lives with Steve—or,” she said, in her ordinary voice, “some guy that they brought in later. –She likes to make puzzles by leaving paw-prints on things and then having Steve put the clues together to figure out the answer.”

“…And people watch that?”

“Flynn couldn’t get enough of it,” she said, gently lobbing Blue the Dog back at him, and Walt really wished she had forgotten to go back to calling him Flynn. Couldn’t he call his son by his proper name even when he was just talking with his wife? Jesus. “There are all these long pauses for the kids to yell out the answer, because the kids are always smarter than Steve—not really that hard. I don’t know who could have given it to you, though. No card?”

“No card.” He shrugged. “Maybe someone with kids is re-gifting.” He would have taken that more personally if he and Skyler hadn’t done the exact same thing when Junior was a kid—there were only so many Matchbox cars you could have in the house at any given time. Still, it was a little chintzy to do it for a remission party, but maybe he had higher standards of politeness than most people.

Then he thought about who on earth he knew who would have spent their daytime hours sacked out on the couch watching idiotic children’s shows, and his hand tightened around Blue. He should have known.

*

“Yo, I thought you’d like her,” Jesse said.

How did you get it into my house?”

Jesse shrugged. “I left it in a gift bag on the porch. Figured someone would bring it in. I mean, they didn’t, not like it’s a huge loss, right?”

“I don’t want you lurking around my house.”

Jesse stiffened, his shoulders bowing inwards, and he tossed his cigarette butt out of the window and, turning one hand into a fist, knocked it against the car door. His eyes were distant. Walt couldn’t tell whether or not he was high, and his uncertainty about that made his stomach knot: he wanted to be able to tell when Jesse was using and when he wasn’t, wanted to believe that there was a difference between the Jesse who went red-eyed and ragged and mumbling and the one who showed, on occasion, glimmers of intelligence, like sun winking off flecks of mica out in the desert.

“Whatever, man,” Jesse said finally. “If you don’t like her, fucking give her to Goodwill or something. Probably some kid writing Santa for her right now.”

“It’s May,” Walt said.

Jesse tucked his chin in, looking anywhere but at Walt: that wasn’t junkie paranoia, though, that was—skittishness, shyness. No—embarrassment. He’d given a gift that Walt had thrown back in his teeth, and as much as Walt wanted to impress upon him that it would be to everyone’s benefit if there were an iron curtain between his life and Jesse’s, Jesse’s hunched shoulders still felt a lot like a rebuke. If there were only so many things he could fix around the house, maybe he could move on to fixing Jesse—cutting the rot out of him piece by piece.

“Hey,” he said, “everything else I got came in a coffee mug. You showed more originality.”

Jesse glanced at him sideways. “Yeah?”

Two harsh words to him and it was like he thought Walt was going to bite him. He steeled his patience. “What made you decide on her?” Though he sincerely doubted that Jesse’s process of choosing his remission present had bordered on profundity: he would have given even money that Jesse had gotten high, gone into a store to pick out a card, seen the dogs on display, and recognized them from a cartoon he’d watched while eating Funyuns and smoking pot. Not exactly a difficult thought process to follow.

“Okay,” Jesse said, finally looking at him. His eyes were excruciatingly bright. The amount of focus in them felt almost like a slap: if he’d had this much of Jesse’s undivided attention in class, the kid might have actually made something of his life. “Blue—she’s blue, right? Like our meth. And she’s, like, curious about stuff. She solves puzzles, yo. She’s always figuring shit out.” From what Skyler had said, Blue had made the puzzles, not solved them, but it sounded bizarrely like Jesse had approximated, somehow, the concept of the metaphor, and Walt was actually interested to see how this would end. Predictably, though, he wound down without ever quite hitting the mark, and suddenly he was looking out the window again, the back of his neck flushed red. “So I thought, you know, she’d be tight. For a present.”

Aside from the fact that he could only conclude that Jesse had fundamentally misunderstood the entire nature of the dog in question, this was actually—from what he could piece together of Jesse’s motivations—somewhat… well, sweet. It was certainly more thoughtful than a cellophane-wrapped package of specialty M&Ms jammed inside another teacher-themed coffee cup. He’d had students belly-crawl for recommendations and come to him with less than that: an appropriately-colored dog who was smart, who fixed things, who solved problems. Not that Jesse had apparently gotten far enough in this line of reasoning to determine what, exactly, Walt was going to do with Blue, but—

He supposed he could give her to Holly. He tried to imagine his as-of-yet unborn daughter snuggled up in her crib next to this stuffed animal, this consumerist tie-in bullshit product of a mass-market America, this gift based on total incomprehension of a children’s cartoon, and Jesse Pinkman’s happiness that he was alive, which he hadn’t counted on, not at all. It was something he could visualize, distantly. Holly and Jesse, the two people he had never expected, knotted up together somehow, connected by a blue toy dog.

“She’s nice,” Walt said. “It was—thoughtful of you.”

Jesse lit up. Walt wanted to tell him that he couldn’t go through life like that, that open to the slightest praise, the slightest criticism, but, judging by how much time Jesse spent using meth to close all the doors and windows that led in and out of himself, maybe he knew that already.

When he got home again, he put the dog in the baby’s room, at the foot of the crib, where she sat in the darkness, plastic eyes as bright as Jesse’s; a patient guard over everything that was Walt’s and always would be.