May 10, 2021
If you had asked Scarlet to name her favorite smell, she would have had a hard time answering. Rotten eggs … swamp gas … sweat … morning breath … toe jam … animal droppings of all kinds …
How to pick just one?
But if you insisted, she would have eventually told you that the finest of all was the aroma of brainbatter cooking in a waffle iron.
Especially if you didn’t have a nose to get in the way of your smelling. When Scarlet inhaled the sweet smell of unearthday, that morning, the aroma went right to her soul.
It should be noted that the zombies of Plainfield, like all zombies, ate brains. They ate a lot of other foods, too, but they loved brains above all else. They had an infinite number of ways to prepare them and would eat them every chance they got. If you’re concerned about where the brains came from, don’t be. Plainfield’s zombies ate only brains from animals that had lived long happy lives and then died in their sleep of natural causes. Which, when you think about it, is rather civilized.
Scarlet’s pale-green face glowed as she entered the kitchen. She sat down, tore open an envelope with her name on it, and began to read the unearthday card inside.
She opened her mouth. Closed it. Frowned. Read bits out loud.
“No presents till tonight. … If I successfully complete a mission … haggis … woods … grandma … party … Threadheads …”
Dr. Sigmund set down a plate of steaming brainwaffles in front of her.
She crumpled the card and threw it into the hall.
“A chore? It’s my unearthday and you want me to spend the whole day doing a chore?!”
“Think of it as a mission,” said Dr. Sigmund.
“The Haggis Project,” said Daisy, gently. “You love haggis.”
“That doesn’t mean I want to wait in line at the market and shlep it through the woods and then cook it for Grandma and a bunch of people. It’s MY unearthday. Isn’t that YOUR job?”
Scarlet’s brainwaffle was going cold.
Daisy shook her head. “Not today,” she said.
“Trust us,” said Dr. Sigmund.
Scarlet stabbed her fork into a hunk of brainwaffle and took a bite. She and her parents ate in silence for a few minutes.
Finally, Scarlet asked, “Who’s going to be at the party?”
“All your classmates,” said Daisy.
“Plus some of our friends,” said Dr. Sigmund.
“The Threadheads,” said Daisy.
“Jeminy,” muttered Scarlet.
“She’ll be there because she’s a Threadhead … “
” … and because her mom’s your boss,” said Scarlet, glaring at her mother.
” … and Threadheads support each other,” said Daisy, firmly.
Scarlet lowered her eyes.
Dr. Sigmund swallowed, set down his fork and patted Scarlet’s wrist. She pulled her arm away. “Get to Grandma’s at five o’clock,” he said. “We’ll meet you there shortly after. The party starts at six. And Scarlet,” he said, “trust us. Seriously. It’s going to be great.”
“For you two. I’m doing all the work.” Scarlet took a bite. “Tell me again why you guys aren’t coming with me?”
“Your father has patients to see today,” said Daisy, “and I have an open house. Don’t worry, we’ll give you money for the haggis.”
“Plus a bit extra,” said Dr. Sigmund, “so you can get yourself a treat.
Scarlet brightened. “Oh! How much extra?”
“What do you think, Daisy? Four bones?”
“I think five, Sig. It is a special day. How does that sound, Scarlet?”
The cape cost more. Like, a LOT more.
Scarlet pointed her index finger at her mouth and made a retching sound.
“Scarlet, the world doesn’t revolve around you just because you have an unearthday.”
“Well, it should!”
Dr. Sigmund leaned back in his chair. “Scarlet, if you meet the day with the right frame of mind — like a grownup, in other words — it will bring you a lot of rewards.”
More than anything, Scarlet wanted to be treated like a grownup. But she wasn’t about to admit that her father was right.
“That helps. Not.” Scarlet pushed away from the table and clomped out of the kitchen.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Daisy called.
Scarlet exhaled dramatically and wheeled around. She collected the dishes and placed them in the beetle box for cleaning. She shoved her hands in and held them there.
Above the beetle box was a framed square of cross-stitch that read, “Clean Hands are Happy Hands” And below it: “Love the Zombie, Hate the Mess. Clean Your Hands and They’ll Rot Less!”
The swarmed over her skin seeking crumbs and tiny skinbugs.
Scarlet looked at the kitchen clock, watching the second hand crawl through a minute. The beetles tickled.
Scarlet extracted her hands and shook off the clingers. They dropped happily back into the box.
Except one. He made a break for it, sprinting toward the sink, the drain, and freedom. Scarlet trapped him with a cupped hand. She wasn’t supposed to eat the beetles, but they were so tasty. She snuck a backward glance at her parents.
Dr. Sigmund and Daisy were flipping through “The Plainfield Chronicle.”
Scarlet plucked up the beetle and opened her mouth, but at the last moment she stopped. The little guy looked so scared. Some unearthday this is, she sighed.
She let the beetle escape down the drain.
Finally, she lifted the lid from a jar of Nick Trickle’s Quick Spackle and troweled the sticky salve over her nicked knuckles.
Scarlet flexed her fingers. Dry and healthy. She stomped out of the kitchen.
Daisy called out a last instruction. “Don’t forget to wear your red cloak!”
If you think about it, traditions around clothing are kind of weird. Why do we wear Christmas sweaters? Or wedding dresses? Or business suits? Or 13th unearthday cloaks?
But if you ponder on it a while, there’s usually some kind of reason we do the things we do. Once you hold up a thing and look at it from a few different angles, you can still say “No thank you. I will NOT wear that Christmas sweater.” Or you can say, “I like how serious I feel in this business suit.” Or you can say, “I’ll wear a wedding dress, but I’ll do it MY way.” But it’s those multiple ways of looking at something that make a grownup a grownup.
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