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“Mama, can I pllleeease have a popsicle?”
Lily’s face puckered into an adorable little pout. At just four years old, she was quite persistent, and knew just how to be persuasive with her mother when she didn’t have her way. Her baby blues widened as she heaved another desperate prompt between her puffed, rosy cheeks.
“Pllleeease, mama! I reeeallly want a popsicle!”
I sighed. There was nothing more that I could do. It was the fifth time that I had told her that dinner was supposed to come first. She hardly ate as it was, though I had read somewhere that toddlers typically have a much smaller appetite, especially during the summer, when the heat is overbearing. It was a rather muggy afternoon, and I figured that hydration would be at least one benefit to the sweet, frozen treat. Regardless, as a parent, it was hard not to worry about whether she was getting adequate enough nutrition. “Well, I can’t force her to eat,” I told myself. “At least she’ll be getting electrolytes, right?”
After arguing the matter with myself (more-so than Lily, I think), I reluctantly trudged over to the freezer.
“What color would you like, Lily?”
“Mmmmhhh, the red ones!”, she said in declaration. “I NEED the red ones!”
I scanned the frigid interior for any signs of red until my face became the color I was searching for. Nothing. I sighed again. “Well, Lily, I think we might have to settle for another color. We’re out of the red ones.”
“But I really NEEEED the red popsicles!”, she begged. Another pout emerged.
“Lily, honey. I think that you want a red popsicle. You don’t need one. We have other colors.”
“No, mama. I need the red popsicles!”
“Oh, boy,” I thought to myself. “There’s no reasoning with a four-year old when they think that they need something.” I will admit that I have quite a tendency to give in to her requests, so this was partially my fault. Many would say that I spoiled my child rotten, but I had always made a promise to myself that I would do my best to make her happy, and if I was capable, I didn’t mind going the extra mile for her.
“Alright,” I calmly replied, smiling. “I’ll tell you what, Lily. When daddy gets home from work, I’ll grab some red popsicles from the store. I have to do some light grocery shopping anyway…”
It was here that I thought that I would try my luck.
“…but you have to promise me that you’ll try to eat some dinner, okay?”
To my surprise, her chubby cheeks deflated, and she nodded somberly in agreement. Our little pact was made.
My husband mostly worked the late shift at the store that he managed, so I knew that he wouldn’t be getting home until about ten o’clock. I also knew, as well as Lily, that ten o’clock was past her bedtime. Ultimately, I would have to be the bad guy. I hated that, but it was the only way that I could get her to the table for some real food. Perhaps, she would fill up on dinner and forget about the red popsicles until morning, when I could surprise her with what she wanted.
I made shrimp and mashed potatoes, her favorite dinner, hoping to arouse some sort of hunger, but to no avail. She only mentioned the red popsicles, over and over, as I made it a point to mention our promise. “No dinner, no red popsicles.”, I affirmed with a stern look. She only paused to look at me, then back down at her plate, picking at her food with the tip of her fork.
After hours of attempting to entice an appetite, it was time for bed. Not even one bite of the food was consumed. The only sign that she had even visited the food was shown by the numerous impressions left by the metal utensils. I told Lily of the consequences to her stubborn actions. “No red popsicles,” I reminded her. After brushing her teeth, I helped Lily to her room and tucked her in.
As I read Lily a story, I could hear her tiny tummy rumbling.
“Mama, I really need my red popsicles…”
“We’ll see about tomorrow, honey. Goodnight. Mama loves you.”
Gently, I caressed her head with my fingers, and patted a light kiss on her forehead. Her skin felt soft and warm against my lips. As I left the room, I could hear her muffled sobs from the soft blankets surrounding her. I wasn’t sure if they were from hunger or disappointment. Either way, I felt like crying with her. I would do anything to make her happy. Anything.
I must have dozed off on the couch, waiting for my husband to come home, when I heard the garage door leading into the basement shut abruptly. “He must be here,” I yawned. I could feel my diaphragm depress deep within my chest. I wasn’t used to catching up on sleep, yet I had been doing a lot of that lately. Typically, I’d wait for Joshua to get home before melting into the couch with him, listening to the mellow sound of Bob Ross telling us how to paint mountains with a palate knife. Always, it was the same colors. Always, it was the same tone. That’s why it was always so easy to drift into dreamland. It was only due to a recent bout of severe depression that I had been experiencing unusual sleeping habits and, at times, unbearable headaches. Medication was a consideration, but I never felt the need to take a drug when I could muster coping with the symptoms myself.
I went into the kitchen in anticipation to meet him, coming up from the stairs. I waited to hear his footfalls on the wooden planks. Nothing. I opened the door and quickly flicked on the light. No one was there. “What in the world is going on?”, I pondered.
“Joshua? Are you down there?” No answer.
I began my uneasy descent into the grey, dampness of our downstairs room. As my bare foot left the warmth of the last wooden stair, the coldness of the cement floor sent a chill through my calf and into my spine. I made my way on tip-toe to the laundry room, wandering around the corner. I had hoped that I would catch him there, sloughing off his dirty work clothes before taking a shower in the nearby bathroom. To my surprise, he wasn’t there, either.
“Where the hell is he? I know I heard the door.”
Then I heard something else.
It was fainter, coming from the garage. It was too scarce of a sound to be him…
…I leaned my torso from the laundry room entrance. I listened from the quiet further…
…the pitter-patter of small feet. Another noise shortly followed…
Shuffling…then clanking. Was there an animal of some sort that had found its way inside?
I looked to my left as I approached the door that had aroused me from my slumber earlier. Joshua’s hunting axe hung across the top of the gun cabinet, covered in burlap. Without a sound, I took it down from where it was laying, draping the burlap on a chair that rested in the corner. Quietly, I turned the handle of the door and slowly pulled.
A minuscule slit of moonlight appeared. Being a mother, you learn in an almost instinctual way how to operate doors without alarming whatever could be on the other side. A creak barely emerged from the hinge. As I continued to pull, my confidence in my stealth was suddenly overwhelmed at the thought of the possibility that the B&E beast might take notice and jump at my direction to maw me. I kept my grip steady on the axe. Gradually, the gap was large enough to peer through, to see a little of what I might be dealing with. It was otherwise dark, except for the ominous beam of light coming in from the window on the wall directly ahead. I saw nothing else, despite my patient effort to be silent, until the door was completely open. In the far corner of the garage, near our workbench, was a small, dark figure, silhouetted by a bright LED.
The flowing material around the ankles…the long, wispy hair…
It was Lily.
“Lily!” I gasped. I briskly put the axe down. “What on earth are you…”
Immediately, as I turned on the overhead light, I fell to my knees. Her gown was streaked with red. Glass shards surrounded her delicate feet. She held something red in her dainty fingers, tilting her head slightly as she lifted it to her petite lips.
An intense, throbbing wave of ache emanated from my brain. I had forgotten about those vials. When we planned our family, Joshua and I, we decided to keep those in a small cooler in our garage for emergency situations, for identification and such purposes if anything should ever happen to us. I guess I had forgotten because we had never had to think about it until recently. Normally, that cooler was locked, but the lock was removed about a week prior when we had an accident.
It was our blood.
The voice was gurgling and almost unrecognizable. It was Lily, but it wasn’t her.
“…I found the red popsicles.”
Immense pain welled up inside of me, overflowing…stinging my eyes with hot, helpless tears. I watched, unable to move, as she took another. I could hear the nauseating crunch of the slush in her mouth.
When did this happen? How? What’s happened to my little girl?!
…the cooler door. The accident. She was impaled through the stomach when that truck slammed into us head-on. She needed a transfusion. The voices of her doctor became audible once again as my mind tortuously twisted itself. “AB+ is hard to find.” It was her only chance…her last chance.
I glanced over at the axe on the floor.
The voice deepened and distorted even more with the elongated, almost taunting word.
“…the red ones are gone. I NEEEDDD the red popsicles…”
It was my fault. I’ve always tried to make her happy. Perhaps always was too much, after all. I have spoiled her. Rotten.
It was everything that I could muster to hold that axe in my hands. If I was capable, I didn’t mind going the extra mile for her…
Just then, a sharp sound came from the ceiling above. The chain belt lifted the heavy, tri-fold car port entrance. Daddy was home.
The axe became heavier and heavier in that moment, as if I had been holding it there for an eternity. My heartbeat danced with the rhythm of the mechanism above. Just then, Lily’s head was yanked backward unnaturally, jolting her glare to me. The innocence of her face was marred with the coagulated red of her deed, slowly dripping from the nub of her small chin. Singular droplets wrote the story of her binge, as they fell in lines down her porcelain neck. It was as if a doll’s face were dipped in crimson candle wax, melting away the child-like facade, only to replace it with a hellish abomination. The deep, blue eyes that conveyed drama so well were empty, void from all emotion.
What was I to do?!
The slam of the car door was accompanied by the hurried shuffle of my husband’s shoes. The noises echoed against the cold, stone walls before escaping into the night. Like an on/off switch had been flipped, his quickened pace became a dead stop. Joshua was directly between us, Lily and I. He could only slump over in a trance, fixing his eyes on what I saw, staring for several moments at the horror of it all.
“What…the hell is that?”, he finally asked.
“That’s our little girl,” I murmured.
“Honey, please. We buried her days ago…remember? She’s gone. That thing is not our daughter.”
I would do anything to make her happy. Anything.
“Lily, say goodnight to daddy. You’ll have more in the morning.”
“The red ones, mama…?”
I could almost hear her voice again.
I lifted the axe high above my head.
“The red ones.”