A Little Something at the Door
Mrs. Franklin, a woman in her late nineties, with beige hair that can only be produced from a box of cheap hair-dye picked up at the Dollar Store, stares through the screen door at the girl on her porch. She is a child, a very somber child, maybe 8, with short dark hair that forms a cap around her head and a stuffed toy bunny in her arms.
Jessie Franklin, the old woman’s daughter, lost now to meth, but who was, for a time, a hairdresser with a good eye for precision cuts, would call it a “bob.” Well, that’s what Mrs. Franklin would call it, too. She remembers that in the 1920s, when she was 4 or 5, her mother had a bob. This child does not look a whit like Mrs. Franklin’s mother.
And what are those things on her feet? They look like slippers got married to rain boots, and those spindling legs of her, like twigs. But she’s sweet, hugging that big gray bunny to her. Actually she’s a little old for a bunny. Her face is so…so…so calculating. Those wing-y brows and lipstick, my land, kids are growing up way too fast these days.
“What can I do for you, sweetheart?” Mrs. Franklin asks, trying to move on from the stare-down between herself and this oh-too-grown-up little girl. “You selling Girl Scout cookies or something?”
The girl pokes her tongue out just a little and slowly runs it all around her lips, but she doesn’t say anything, continues to look straight into Mrs. Franklin’s eyes.
Mrs. Franklin feels an unnerving thrill pass over her, and stares back. Clears her throat, tries to settle her voice into something between her initial cordial attitude and her growing discomfort. “What is it you want?”
The girl keeps staring, her hands tightening around the bunny, her arms tightening too, the center of the stuffed toy shrinking under the pressure.
“Are—are you a mute?” the old woman asks. “Can’t you speak? Just shake your head yes or no so I can understand what you want.”
The girl shifts her feet and Mrs. Franklin, who has had a hand on the doorknob, now moves the peeling front door to a position that suggests she might go back inside, she’s very busy, and doesn’t have time to play some stupid game.
She says, “I’m going to go now. I’m sorry if you can’t talk. You should carry around a pencil and paper so you can write down what it is you want. Or have cards. Some mute people carry cards with them.” She closes the door a little more. “Tell your mother about it, okay. The cards, I mean.”
The girl begins to smile. A slow, lazy, dawning smile. But insolent, really, mocking, thinks Mrs. Franklin. She begins to shut the door, but the girl shouts, “Wait,” and the old lady, startled, reopens it.
“So you can talk…” These words are barely out of Mrs. Franklin’s mouth when the girl drops the bunny and raising both arms at once, her hands coming together, and points a gun at the wrinkled spot between the old woman’s thin gray eyebrows.
Muddled and afraid, Mrs. Franklin gapes at the girl whose eyes have gone all bright and shiny and clear.
Suddenly she gets it, but it’s too late. The girl laughs and pulls the trigger.
Gay Degani is the author of a full-length collection of short stories, Rattle of Want (Pure Slush Press, 2015) and a suspense novel, What Came Before (Truth Serum Press, 2016). She’s had four flash pieces nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11th Glass Woman Prize. She blogs at Words in Place.