May 31, 2021
There were only a few zombies waiting at the Mighty Offal. Still, Scarlet made a show of walking slowly to the end of the line, twirling her boa.
Chunk Grissom Sr. moved gracefully behind the counter, helping his son serve the last few customes and begin to close up the shop.
And he sang, softer than he had in the morning.
“I’ve got guts and I’ve got stuff.
Stop your shopping, I’m enough.
Always tender never tough.
Get yourself up off your duff.
I won’t give you any guff.
You’ll love my guts and other stuff.”
When Scarlet reached the counter, Chunk Jr.’s tired face lit up.
“Hi, Scarlet. That’s some necklace!”
“Necklace?” she snorted. “It’s a custom imported feather boa.”
Chunk Jr. gave an embarrassed laugh. “Oh, right. A boa! I knew that. I LOVE snakes.”
An eye roll.
An embarrassed laugh.
“Can I just get a haggis?” Scarlet finally said, and toying with a cluster of boa feathers.
Chunk Jr. swallowed and nodded. He cleared his throat and said softly, “I saw you earlier. I saved you our best one. That wasn’t really nice of Mr. Femur.”
Scarlet looked up from her boa. “Hmm?”
“Right,” said Chunk Jr. He retrieved a massive haggis from under the counter. “Our signature offering,” he said. He wrapped the haggis in just the right amount of wax paper, bound it neatly with twine, and presented it to Scarlet. “Voila! The mondo-haggis.”
“Nice,” said Scarlet distractedly.
She paid him and placed the mondo-haggis in her bag on top of the cloak and Pokey. Before she could go, Chunk Jr. pulled a small package out of his pocket and set it on the counter. It was wrapped and bound much as the haggis was.
“I’m good,” said Scarlet, turning.
“It’s a present,” he said gently. “Happy unearthday.”
“Thank you,” said Scarlet. Surprised. “How did you know?”
“I heard you talking in class.”
Scarlet untied the knot. “Oh, broach? A pendant? I love accessories.”
“Uh … it’s sort of an accessory,” Chunk Jr. stammered.
Scarlet ripped open the paper and froze. She looked at the gift. Looked at Chunk Jr. “Not even close.” She whirled away, leaving the package on the counter.
When she exited the market, she was shocked to discover it was almost dark outside. She looked at her father’s watch. Four o’clock? How’d it get to be four?! The streets were almost empty — just a few zombies lurching home. Even the stray limbs seemed to have wandered off or found shelter for the night.
Scarlet wrapped the boa tight around her neck. It wasn’t as soft as she thought it would be. Or as warm. “I’m supposed to be at Grandma’s in an hour,” she muttered. “It’s going to be a cold walk.”
“You still have time,” said a voice behind her.
Scarlet looked behind her. A wiry older zombie leaning on a broom stared at her thoughtfully. He wore patched overalls and a long-sleeved blue-checked workshirt.
“Time for what?” she asked.
“Time to do the right thing.”
“You have something in your pocket,” said Scarlet.
The man smiled and pulled a hand out of his pocket. “That’s Carlito, my helping hand.” He stepped toward Scarlet and held out his hand. “I’m Carl. I keep the market clean.”
Scarlet shook Carl’s hand. His real hand. She remembered her parents’ warning about strange strangers, but she had a good feeling about Carl.
“Everyone needs a helping hand sometimes, don’t you think?”
Scarlet nodded. “I guess so. … What do you mean ‘time to do the right thing’?”
Carl set Carlito back in his shirt pocket. “That’s for you to decide.”
Those sleeves, thought Scarlet. “You helped me today. You picked me up! How can I thank you?”
“Just pass it on,” said the custodian. “Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
He resumed his sweeping.
Scarlet rushed back into the market.
Chunk Jr. was wiping the last of the haggis crumbs off the counter while his father stacked empty display crates. He saw Scarlet, but said nothing.
“Chunk Jr. … I … I’m sorry,” said Scarlet. “Do you still have it? The present.”
He nodded once.
“I didn’t even try it on. Can I? It might fit.”
He pulled the package out of his pocket and handed it to her.
It was a nose. An old woman’s nose. Veined, warty, bulbous.
She wedged it in nosehole and struck a pose. “Am I glamorous or what?”
Chunk Jr. burst out laughing. “I don’t know WHAT I was thinking,”
Scarlet laughed with him. “You were thinking of me. Thank you.” She removed the nose. “Are you doing anything later? Want to come to my party?”
No, and yes.
“Okay. My Grandma’s. Six o’clock. You know where she lives?”
“Oh, it’s casual so you don’t need to change. Overalls are perfect.”
She regarded the nose, trembling in the palm of her hand. “Don’t worry, Sniffy, I’ll find a home for you.” She tucked the nose in her now-heavy shoulder bag and waved goodbye. “See you in a while, Chunk!”
Scarlet headed into the dark.
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