May 17, 2021
There are lots of terrible places to be in the world. Stuck at the bottom of a well. Mired in a leech-infested bog. Trapped in the back seat on a long cart ride with nothing to read. Geometry class.
But the worst place to be stuck is in between. That place where you’ve outgrown the familiar. You need to step into a new space, a bigger space but you’re not sure how to act when you get there.
The thing about growing up though, is that if you’re doing it right, you’re always moving into a bigger, more uncomfortable space.
The secret is that you get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
I know. It sounds weird.
Anyway, that’s where Scarlet was. She didn’t want to hang around the house, but she was nervous about Project Haggis.
“What are the three rules of traveling?” asked Dr. Sigmund.
Scarlet shifted her weight from one sequined sneaker to the other and stared up at the entry ceiling. “One. Be on time,” she yawned.
Daisy plucked a bit of fluff off Scarlet’s jacket.
“Yes. Get to Grandma’s by five. Party at six,” said Dr. Sigmund.
“You already told me,” said Scarlet.
“Rule number two?” asked Dr. Sigmund.
“Stay on the path.”
Daisy tucked Scarlet’s bangs behind her ears.
“Indeed. You’ll be fine in the woods. When you’re in the market, the stay-on-the-path rule means stay away from the back stalls. Swindlers. Last rule?”
“Don’t talk to strangers.”
Daisy licked her thumb and rubbed a tiny brainwaffle crumb off Scarlet’s cheek.
“Huh?” Scarlet thought a moment. “Oh, right don’t talk to strange strangers.”
“Bingo,” said Dr. Sigmund. “The back stalls are full of them.”
Daisy stood back and regarded Scarlet. “You really do look grown-up,” she said.
“When you get to the market,” Dr. Sigmund continued, “get in the haggis line right away. Right away. Because it’s probably going to be long and you want to give yourself time to get to Grandma’s.”
But Scarlet’s mind was drifting. What can I get for five bones? she wondered. Maybe a broach? A bracelet? A … boa?
“And Darling,” said Daisy, putting her hands on her daughter’s shoulders.
“Try to focus. Remember what your father said.”
“Forewarned is forearmed,” said Dr. Sigmund.
“Oh, and Scarlet,” said Daisy, “Keep an eye out for your nose.”
“It’s easier than keeping a nose out for your eye,” said Dr. Sigmund, smiling.
It was true. Zombie body parts sometimes got separated from their owners, but they had an amazing homing instinct. It was quite common to be out in a field or a back alley of Plainfield or in the forest and see a hand or a foot crawling toward home. Scarlet thought of her own nose, lost long ago on a first-grade field trip in the forest. She imagined it lying sad and alone, trying to move itself with little nostril flarings but not getting very far. Or worse, slowly digesting in the belly of a wild animal, like a wolf. Her parents kept wanting to take her to Pick-A-Part, the body part store to get a new nose. But Scarlet held out. She wanted to give the nose a little more time. She wanted to feel whole from her own parts, not someone else’s hand-me-down.
“One more thing,” said Dr. Sigmund. He took off his watch and handed it to her. “So you can keep track of time.”
Daisy forced a jar into Scarlet’s other hand. The wet and writhing mass inside was partially obscured by the label, which read: Prime Time Snackin’ Slugs. “For the protein,” said Daisy.
Scarlet strapped on the watch and stuck the jar of slugs in her shoulder bag along with the cloak. Something shifted a little inside her. Just for a moment, she imagined she was outside her body. She saw herself through Daisy and Dr. Sigmund’s eyes, feeling how they would feel saying goodbye to her. She felt a surge of love for her parents and clasped them both in a hug. “Thanks, Mom and Dad.”
They squeezed her back.
“Don’t muss your hair, now,” said Daisy gently.
“Do you feel ready?” asked Dr. Sigmund.
She looked up at them and shook her head. “Not really.”
Dr. Sigmund squeezed her shoulder. “That’s normal,” he said.
“Growing up isn’t a bad thing,” said Daisy.
“In fact,” Dr. Sigmund winked at her, “it should be an adventure.”
“But, yet, it is a bit scary sometimes,” finished Daisy.
Scarlet nodded, swallowing the lump in her throat. “See you tonight,” she said. And with that, she was out the door.
Dr. Sigmund closed the door softly behind her. He and Daisy looked at each other. Neither one spoke for a few moments. Dr. Sigmund unsnapped his jawbone. The CLACK-click sounded loud in the empty house.
He stared at his wrist. It looked lonely without the watch.
Daisy’s hands fluttered about, seeking something to tidy.
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