Every night, I move one of our gnomes from its home on a bookcase, hiding it somewhere around the house.
Behind my favorite chair.
Under the record player.
On the stairs.
Emmeline wakes up now and dashes into the living room, inspecting a vacant place in the bookcase.
"Well look at that," she whispers, wide-eyed and hands on her hips, "It's wandered off again!"
I try not to laugh too loudly, while she searches from room to room like some innocent sprite from a French movie, calling, "Blue Gnome? Blue Gnome? It's time to go back to your home now!"
I sit there watching her, thinking: She has to know, right? She can't believe this thing just simply wanders away. I faked the last year of believing in Santa partly because I was afraid of receiving less bounty and partly so as not to let my parents down. I was the last child. They were so into it. It would have been cruel, I reasoned, to let them down.
And yet, you just can't fake that look on her face. This sense of wonder. It's amazing. Everything is alive. Everything is painted in make-believe and fantasy, this miracle, storybook world of toddlerhood.
She asks for stories all the time now, and when I'm not telling her about the mice that live in the ceiling lamps and only come out at night, I'm telling her about a rare breed of Irish fairies that conjure the fog or remove their own heads, for fun.
So it was a special treat to wander through Noe Valley's main corridor, 24th Street, and find, hiding behind newspaper racks and wedged into cracks, these little doors that appeared to be built especially for small people -- really, really small people.
"Oh look!" Emme said, her eyes wide again and searching, "Fairy doors!"
We've found three so far and have a feeling we'll be hunting for many more soon.