Seeing Red

January 16, 2018

     “What’s it like being eighteen.” Kate’s question, or was it really a question, hung for a second over Robin’s head, who quickly grabbed it.
     “Do you want the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”
     “Yes,” said Kate, with a funny grin.
     “It sucks.”
     “Really?” Her mouth flat lined. “You mean that?”
     “A hundred percent,” said Robin, who looked at Kate from the rearview mirror. She looked devastated.
     “Okay it doesn’t suck like how I mean it sucks. It just, feels weird I guess. Like the new thirty.” The snow was coming down in fatter clumps, and it made the night sky look like TV static. They were going ice-skating in celebration of Robin’s newfound adulthood.
Kate had an epiphany:
     “You can buy me cigs!”
     “That’s twenty-one, stupid,” said Lesli, who sat up front next to Robin. “Plus, you and I both know that this smoking habit of yours has got to stop.” She smacked loudly on her gum and ran her hands through her blonde hair, as if readying herself for today’s argument.
     “I am in complete, perfect control of my... habit.”
     “I could go a whole week without lighting up. I could.”
     “Then what’s that in your coat pocket, Red?” Lesli resorted to using Kate’s nickname, which evolved from her cherry red hair that stopped at her shoulders.
     “That’s not the point, the point is if I wanted to I—”
     “We’re here! Now shut up, okay?” Robin turned into the parking lot, happy for the distraction. Lesli had to get the last word in:
     “It’s going to kill you.”


     Inside of Buckskill Rink, a favorite among Long Islanders, the three friends stomped the snow off their boots and waddled up to the skate rentals. The place was just how Robin had remembered it from her younger years. The floors were blanketed in black foam so that you could walk with your skates on. In certain places, however, the foam would bubble. Or worse, it would unhinge itself from the wooden floor and curl up into a beckoning finger, as if to say, “Come here little children… come trip over me.” The thought sent a shiver down her back, but she dismissed it.
     There was also the constant smell of stale popcorn mixed with sweat, and the fireplace that did everything but keep you warm. It was a dump, she and everybody else knew that. But it was their dump, and they couldn’t help but love it. It had charm.
     The rink was a spectacle. Parts of the ice were bruised and watery, like a piece of flesh that turned purple and leaked pus. The number of people made it so you were always brushing shoulders with someone, and the colored hats worn by children looked like floating M&Ms, weaving in and out of the crowd. Out on the ice, Lesli and Robin talked to one another, although their sentences were often stopped short by the kids who’d barrel through them (they were playing an endless game of tag). Lesli regained her balance after one of the older kids pushed her. Pushed her!
     “Those brats! The parents must be fun.”
    “Definitely,” said Robin, suppressing a chuckle. “By the way, have you seen Kate anywhere?”
     “Nowhere. I don’t think she ever came out onto the ice,” answered Lesli. “But I can take a wild guess on what she’s doing.”


     Kate was standing behind the lodge where they kept the Zambonis, and yes, she was smoking. She let the wind chill bite and pull at her face and hands, delighted by its company. She let her mind wander, and thought about her own upcoming birthday. Robin had told her that eighteen sucked and that it was “the new thirty,” but Kate didn’t believe her. She was excited to see where her life would take her and the type of person she’d turn out to be, and turning eighteen was the first step.
     She lifted her cigarette to her lips and inhaled deeply. As she exhaled, smoke mixed with cold breath, her neck tensed up. Someone was coming, and she wasn’t allowed back here. She put her cig out and recited an apology in her head: “Hello, I’m sorry for coming back here. I won’t ever do it again. Have a nice d—”
A vigorous hand locked over her mouth, her screams were muffled into the greasy palm. Her eyes twitched in panic; she screamed as hard as she could but the hand fed it back to her, filling her brain with air.
     The figure whispered in her ear, his hot breath moistening the left side of her face:
     “You can’t hurt me, Clementine.” He lifted his other hand; it held an ice-skate. “You can’t hurt me ever again.” The blade was brought down in one fell swoop, as if he had practiced. It slashed Kate’s throat and soaked in her crimson blood.
     The ice had to be resurfaced. Everyone shuffled off the rink and onto the bleachers. The kids whined and stuck their tongues out at the Zamboni. The driver stuck his tongue back, and the kids shrieked with glee. Lesli and Robin were grateful for a break. They headed inside for hot chocolate, when an elderly woman screamed.
     “It’s the Devil!” she cried, her entire body going into convulsions.
     “He’s come for me! He’s come for me!”
     “Look!” said a young man. More people looked and saw: the ice had been completely covered in blood. It sloshed ever so slightly as the Zamboni drove through it. The people panicked, and begged the question: “Is this some kind of sick joke?”
     But for Lesli and Robin, it was the brutal truth. At the end of its run, the Zamboni spit out wet clumps of cherry red hair. Red hair that had been mistaken for an abusive babysitter’s.

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