The Color of Red

All Rights Reserved ©


Mystery / Other
Judith Hartberg
Age Limitation:




The man was squatting in front of her, just beyond her mother lying there, half in the kitchen, half on the porch. He was trying to get her to look at him. In one hand he held a small notebook and a stub of a pencil, the two held together with a rubber band. Around his neck on a leather strap was a camera. “Sweetie,” he said. She knew very well who he was – Doc had come to help her, but she could not, at first, look at him. Her mother needed her to stop the flow of red – she knew very well, after her initial confusion, it was not red food coloring – but blood. Too much blood. Much more than the many times she had cut or scraped herself in tomboy escapades.

She also knew she could not really help her mother, but felt frozen there, and that she would be caught forever in a net of confusion and fear, not knowing what had caused this trauma or how to stop it. But, also, her mother needed her in this moment, to be nearby as she slipped more and more quickly away toward some unknown shore, somewhere beyond the familiar world of her everyday life. She needed to know her girl was safe.

Then she looked up for an instant and then again away from him – from Doc. She knew Doc would help her but her eyes were pulled toward the floor. “Mom . . . Mommy.” A strange unreal feeling had encapsulated her and her mother; she felt that if she did not move, her Mom would be all right and sitting up again any minute now as much as she knew this would never happen. ‘Thinking like an angel,’ her mother would say.

I know, sweetie – I’m here to help you.” Doc spoke softly, patiently waiting on her.

She knew that. Deep down and for ‘damn-sure’.

But, Emmy, sweetheart, your Dad. Do you know where he is?”

All she could think of beyond this very moment was leaving the bathroom after trying to wash the red food coloring from her hands, not being able to get all of it off. Going back to the kitchen to tell her Mother. Being worried. But, as she walked down the stairs and then along the hallway heading toward the kitchen, she heard a strange bumping and a cut off groan or cry, a slapping sound – like the screen door shutting but not caught in the latch. Hesitating a moment, only a moment, and then she was off running. “Mommy!” No answer. “Mommy!” She was feeling scared – something was different, not right. As she ran into the kitchen, all she could see was the red color splashed on the counter. All she could think of then was the food coloring. She’d wanted red frosting for the cupcakes her Mom was fixing for the school bake sale. And now it was all becoming a terrible mistake. Mom must have spilled it again. The ‘making sense’ part of her brain wasn’t working and everything was out of order.

But she couldn’t see her Mom anywhere. It was not a large kitchen and her Mom was just not there. At least not seeable from where she stood. She glanced toward the dining room. Not there either. That was when she noticed that the backdoor – to the porch – must be open and the screen door leading out into the yard was what was slapping, slapping, just out of sight – summoning up some dreadful rhythm. Go-ing, go-ing, go-ing it seemed to say.

She went forward again and looked out on the porch and that was when she saw her mother lying out there, her legs over the door sill and in the kitchen, the rest of her body extended beyond and into the porch. Half in, half out.

Doc Hutchinson,” her mother whispered. “Call – like I showed you, Emmy.” The phone was on a counter next to the door. Obediently, Emmy went to it and picked up the heavy black receiver; she dialed “0” and Mrs. Davis said, “Hello, that you Cissy?”

No, it’s me, Emmy, Mom wants you to send Doc Hutchinson.”

Whatever for, honey! Somebody hurt there?”

Emmy hesitated and then placed the phone back in its cradle and went to her mother. “I called Mrs. Davis. “

Her mother tried to lift a hand toward her, but it just seemed too hard. Her hand was very white and lying flat on the floor beside her, fingers splayed. It was then Emmy saw that her other hand was at her throat clenching against a steady burble of blood – there was something very bad – her neck was hurt – it was cut – a dark slash side-to-side. She put her small hand against her mother’s, pressing gently, and waited. She waited as that hand grew cooler and cooler and then the next thing was Doc Hutchinson rising up the stairs and walking across the porch toward her. Then he was crouched down on the other side of where her mother lay, where she, Emma, seemed trapped just this side of the widening circle of sticky blood.

Then Doc stepped around and over her mother, into the kitchen, and in another moment was lifting her carefully away from behind; he turned her toward his chest and hugged her tight in one smooth motion as he rose back up. She could feel his camera pressing into her. “Honey, honey, honey,” he crooned, “C’mon, now, let’s get you out of here – “He slipped the camera string up over his neck and carefully dropped the camera to the floor.

But – Mommy . . .”

Yes – I’m here now – sweetheart. Doc’s here. “

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