Red Menace by Joshua Chaplinsky

The young girl lies on her stomach in front of a black and white television set. Growth spurt legs shoot out from under her cotton nightgown, bend upwards at the knee, and terminate in a pair of feet lazily paddling the air. Off in the corner, the girl’s father hides behind a book, a haze of pipe smoke obscuring his velvet robe.

The girl crinkles her nose. On the screen, a married couple argues across the vast divide of separate beds, the wife rubbing her ballooning abdomen. An untelevised female voice floats in from another room to interrupt the drama.

“Time to get ready for bed, honey.”

The child huffs but obliges, leaving the TV on so she can listen from the bathroom.

Canned laughter is the only sound audible over the scraping of bristles against teeth inside her head. Still, she recites the dialogue in perfect rhythm with the actors.

The enceinte woman on television affects an exaggerated pout as the child pads her way back through the living room on the balls of her feet. In the kitchen, the child’s mother washes the dishes, handsomely dressed in a blouse and skirt under her apron. She has short brown hair, worn in tight curls around her face. Her red lips smile wide as the little girl comes around the corner.

“Did you say goodnight to your father, dear?” the mother says.

The girl nods her head yes before turning around and retracing her steps back to the living room, where she holds her breath and walks up to her father to plant a kiss on his cheek.

“Goodnight, Daddy.”

Her father smiles, but doesn’t turn his attention from the book.

“Goodnight, pumpkin.”

And in one continuous flurry of feet, she scampers off to her bedroom.

The little girl sits propped up against a frilly pink pillow, frilly pink covers pulled tight around her neck. Stuffed animals, horse posters, and porcelain Hummels crowd in to listen as her mother reads aloud the last few lines of a fanciful tale.

“And they all lived happily ever after. The end.”

The mother leans in to give her daughter a kiss.

“Goodnight, sweetheart.”

“Goodnight, Mommy.”

“Get a good night’s rest. Tomorrow’s another day.”

“I will…” A  yawn swallows the child’s words.

The mother smiles lovingly before turning out the light. The pale glow of a nightlight illuminates the room.

Eight hours later, the glow of the nightlight beats a slow retreat from the morning sun. The young girl stirs in bed to the sounds of breakfast.

In the kitchen, her mother busies herself preparing the meal. A fresh apron protects the day’s blouse and skirt. The girl’s father smokes his pipe at the table, hiding a dull gray suit behind a newspaper headline: U.S. ARMY SOFT ON COMMUNISM.

As the girl’s mother breezes in with a pan of scrambled eggs, a small scared voice interrupts the routine.

“Mommy…”

The woman looks up, spatula suspended en route to plate.  The father pokes his head out from behind the newspaper.

The young girl sits propped up in bed, the comforter drawn back to reveal a dark patch of blood soaked into the sheet.

“Mommy!” Her call becomes more insistent. The girl’s mother enters the room.

“Yes, dear, what is it?”

She stops dead in her tracks, the sight of blood taking her by surprise. In a split second, her expression goes from one of concern to one of sheer joy.

“Oh, baby! Congratulations!”

She leans in to give her daughter a hug, which the girl accepts with gratitude.

“Do you know what this means, sugar?”

The girl shakes her head no.

“It means you’re a woman now!”

“I… I am?”

Her mother ignores the question.

“Oh, this is so exciting!  Wait here, let me get your father!”

“Mommy, wait!”

But it is too late, she is already at the doorway.

“Honey, could you come over here, please? We have something exciting to show you!”

“Just a second, dear.”

The mother rushes back to her daughter’s side.

“Oh honey, I’m so proud of you!”

The girl attempts to temper the excitement with a whisper. “Mommy, what’s happening?’

The rapping of knuckles on the doorway interrupts them. The girl’s father pokes his head in, pipe in hand.

“Knock, knock.”

The mother jumps up from the bed and rushes over to her husband.

“Oh, isn’t it wonderful, dear?  Our little girl is all grown up.”

The father takes in the blood. He maintains an even tone of voice, his expression never wavering.

“Good for you, dear.” He could be talking to either of them. “Congratulations.”

“I tell you what,” the girl’s mother says. “I’ll stay here and keep her company while you go make a few phone calls, okay?”

“Sure thing. Your mother’ll faint when she hears the good news.”

“I’m sure she will. Oh, and make sure you call the teacher. My girl isn’t going to school on her special day!”

The father exits the room. The girl looks down at her bloodied lap, tears in her little eyes.

“What do I do?”

The mother swats her hand at the girl from across the room in mock offense.

“Why, you’re not going to do a thing until I get a picture of you. I want to remember this day forever!”

The mother hurries out of the room, apron strings trailing.

The little girl scans the empty room before reaching a tentative hand under the sheet. She draws back fingertips smeared red, rubs the wetness between her thumb and forefinger. Slowly, she lifts the sheet and peers underneath. Her face comes back drained of all color.

A bright flash of light accompanies a whirring noise as a Polaroid camera goes off, capturing the moment. The startled girl turns her head. Her mother shakes the picture between cherry red nails.

“Oh, that was just too perfect!”

She trots back over to the bed and gives her daughter a squeeze.

“Isn’t this great?”

The girl’s father interrupts once again.

“Honey, the neighbors are here!”

The father ushers in an elderly couple. He disappears just as quick.

“We came as soon as we heard!” The old lady clutches invisible pearls, turns to the girl’s mother. “I’m so happy for you!”

The girl’s mother positively glows. “I know, thank you.”

The elderly man pokes his head out from behind his wife and waves at the little girl.

“Congratulations, dear.”

By now the girl is too shocked by the situation to do anything but offer a feeble wave.

She thanks the man in a soft voice. The elderly woman drowns her out.

“Oh, isn’t she darling?  And so polite!”

With that, two more women burst through the door amid squeals of excitement.

“We heard the good news!” one of them says.

The giddy women wear attire almost identical to the girl’s mother. They start dispensing hugs.

The girl’s father calls from the other room. “Honey, your sisters are here!”

“Thank you, dear,” the girl’s mother says with good natured sarcasm.

“He’s such a good husband,” says one of the sisters.

“Isn’t he?”

The sister moves in on the girl.

“Here’s our little lady!  And how are we doing?”

The girl goes to speak, but the other sister cuts her off.

“Oh, she’s doing great!  You know, this is so much easier than when we were girls.”

“I know! We never even got The Talk from our mom. Just a pamphlet and some towels.”

The mother’s smile falters.

“Oh, she didn’t need any talk,” she says, almost to herself. “She’s mature for her age.”

“Uh… mommy?”

The mother turns towards her daughter.

“What is it, dear? Can’t you see adults are talking?”

The girl pauses, mouth open. Before she can articulate her feelings, in walks her father leading a mob of school children and their teacher.

“Honey, more visitors.”

The teacher wears a handsome blouse and skirt combo, similar to the other women in the room. She herds the children towards the foot of the bed as if it were a display at a museum.

“Stay together children. And keep your voices down.”

The little girl’s mother swoons. “Isn’t this sweet!” She turns to her daughter. “Look, honey, your friends from school have come to pay you a visit on your special day!”

The children huddle together at the foot of the bed, staring. They seem unsure, frightened. Their teacher beams.

“We heard the good news and decided to take a little field trip to show our support.”

One of the girls in the group raises her hand.

“Miss Hoover, what’s happening?”

“You’re seeing what it’s like to be all grown up.”

Another girl, a little older and more confident, chimes in.

“It’ll happen to you one day.”

The first girl says nothing, her eyes widening. A nervous little boy raises his hand.

“Miss Hoover, is that going to happen to me?”

Some of the girls giggle.

“No, dear, don’t be silly.”

The boy seems relieved, but still confused. Another girl speaks up.

“I can’t wait till I’m all grown up.”

Another one agrees.

“Me neither.”

The already cramped room becomes even tighter as the young girl’s grandmother makes her entrance. She is the logical progression of all the women present, with tight coils of grey and bifocal lenses. She leads a clean-cut young man by the shoulders. He is not an adult, but is significantly older than the young girl.

“Where’s my little woman? Grandma has someone for her to meet!”

She sits the young man down next to her granddaughter.

“Oh, don’t they make a lovely pair?”

The women in the room start mumbling and nodding in agreement.

“They certainly do,” the girl’s mother says.

The young man smiles at the girl. She tries to put as much distance between them as she can.

The grandmother helps the young man under the bloody sheet, shoes and all, before shooing everyone else out of the room.

“We’ll leave these two to get to know each other.”

Everyone in the room files out. As the grandmother closes the door, she looks over at her granddaughter, pure joy on her face. Then the door slams shut and the young man and the girl are alone in the room.

“Hi.” The young man speaks in an adolescent tenor.

“Hi.”

The young man stares at her in silence. The girl scans the childish trappings of her room, avoiding eye contact.

The young man reaches out and puts a hand on her leg. The girl jumps at his touch, turns to look at him. He brings his hand, moist with her blood, up to her face. He gently strokes her cheek, leaving a trail of red.

Suddenly, the girl’s mother comes flying through the door, a wedding dress draped over her arms. She is flanked by the girl’s grandmother and aunts.

“Look what I found in the back of the closet. My wedding dress! I always knew one day you’d get to wear it.”

Pushing the young man aside, she grabs her daughter and begins pulling the dress over her head.

“Mommy, no! What are you doing?”

“Just making sure it fits. I may have to take it in a little. You’re not as endowed as Mommy was.”

She pulls the dress down over the child’s legs, the flawless white fabric sopping up the blood. The young man watches with a placid expression. The mother looks up at him, annoyed.

“Go out in the hall and wait with the men.”

The young man dutifully obeys, wiping his bloodied hand on his pants.

The little girl continues to protest, more annoyed than scared at this point.

“Mommy, stop!”

The mother ignores her, smoothing out the bottom of the dress, her hands mingling with her daughter’s blood, the red and white blending into a soft pink.

“Mother!”

The girl’s mother throws her hands up in a huff.

“What?”

The girl’s lip quivers.

“What are you doing? What’s happening to me?”

“You’re a woman now, sweetie.  Act like one.”

“What does that mean? Why won’t you tell me what’s going on?”

The mother folds her bloodied hands together and gives her daughter a stern look.

“You’ll understand soon enough, dear.”

The girl is about to protest further when a siren sounds, building from a low whine to a shrill wail. She sinks into her pillow, pulling the comforter up to her chin.

“Oh, shoot!” her mother says.

“Now what?!?!” The girl tries to yell over the siren. “Is this part of becoming a women too?”

Her mother gives her leg a gentle pat.

“No dear. This is those commie bastards trying to ruin your special day.”

The girl’s mouth hangs open in a big, questioning O. Her father calls from the other room.

“Everybody into the shelter!”

Years later, when she can barely remember her own name, let alone the month her family spent in the bomb shelter due to a false alarm, the old woman stares out the window of an assisted care facility. Her adult daughter sits next to her, hiding behind a newspaper emblazoned with the headline: ISIS WILL BE HERE SOON. The picture shows a man in a black balaclava holding a knife to the throat of a hostage.

“Terrible,” the daughter says to herself as she turns the page.

An intestinal gurgle interrupts the bird watching and current events. The daughter peers over the top of her newspaper and crinkles her nose.

“Mom? Was that you?”

The old woman doesn’t respond.

The daughter times it, like waiting for the sound of thunder after a flash of lightning. She sniffs then recoils, drops the paper into her lap.

“Did you have an accident?”

The daughter grabs at the fabric of her mother’s moo moo, where a brown stain spreads.

“Jesus, Mom. You’re supposed to tell me when you have to go. Let me get the nurse.”

The old woman watches her daughter go, then looks down at her lap. She touches the mess she’s made, rubs it between her thumb and forefinger. A robin alights on the window sill, distracting her.

Joshua Chaplinsky is the Managing Editor of LitReactor.com. He has also written for popular film site Screen Anarchy and for ChuckPalahniuk.net, the official website of ‘Fight Club’ author Chuck Palahniuk. He is the author of ‘Kanye West—Reanimator.’ His short fiction has appeared in Zetetic, Motherboard, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Thuglit, Dark Moon Digest, Pantheon Magazine, and multiple print anthologies.

More info at www.joshuachaplinsky.com

And be sure to visit his Amazon page

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