The Red

A human head, having been decapitated, was delicately packed in a cardboard box, but sent to the wrong address: 3857 Wester Drive. The box was opened on Halloween in the early afternoon when the sun is a pumpkin ball and the trick-or-treaters were not yet trick-or-treating, but the family had already eaten dinner and even the family dog Bobo, a Weimaraner, had been fed.

Here is the house. It’s red brick and has a red door. It’s very pretty. Mother, Father, Jane, and Bobo live in the red brick house. They’re very happy. See Jane in her Elsa costume play with Bobo. Jane goes to the red door. There’s a delivery. It’s in a brown, cardboard box. The UPS man says, “Careful, doll, that there box is dripping something red.” Jane says thank you and lugs it to her father.

“Wonder what’s leaking so bad?” Jane’s father says.

The red has bled through the flimsy cardboard bottom. Jane says I wonder what’s in the box. They go to the kitchen and take the black-handled scissors from the top drawer next to the sink and cut the top of the box carefully so it will open at the sealed flaps and inside the eyeballs are white because they’ve rolled back in its skull. It’s a man’s head.

Jane screams and yells mommy, mommy, mommy and runs upstairs. The father quivers to the sink and vomits a thick, pale red that comes from his insides. Something putrid. He doesn’t want to, but he looks again in the box, and the white eyeballs are staring at him. The dead man’s nose is pudgy and there’s a freckle on his bottom lip the shape of a coffee bean. He’s got a cleft chin and his dark hair is parted and combed nicely, as if that might have been his last act in the world.

The father can hear Jane and the mother descending the stairs. Bobo, who’s lying on the hallway floor licking the red, perks his ears at Jane’s sniffling.

“It’ll be okay, Janie,” Jane’s mother says and then she repeats herself.

“Don’t come in here,” the father says.

“What is it?” the mother says.

“Red.”

“What?”

The father doesn’t respond.

The mother’s voice rises with fear and anger when she says: “Well, Griffin, what is it?”

“Janie saw,” the father says.

“Saw what?”

The father rushes to Jane. “You didn’t see nothing, Janie, you hear? Nothing.”

“Okay, Daddy,” Jane says, whimpering through each syllable.

The father just shakes his head no when the mother asks him again and again what’s in the box. The father tells the mother to take Jane to the park to play on the playground and swing on the swings. “Take Bobo too,” he says.

When they leave and the father is left with the dead man’s head, he looks again. “Shit,” he says at the man’s neck, where it had been severed. Flabs of skin are suspended in a sort of hopeless way. Inside the neck there’s a river of veins, muscles, and cartilage that had function when the man was a living person. Most of the bleeding red had emptied; the last movement from the man was his red blood dripping. Now, it’s a still, inanimate head, awkward and heavy like a bowling ball. The father doesn’t want to, but he touches it. The skin feels like his, that’s the first thought the father has when he taps the face and then feels the thing by rubbing it. He pokes it and smears his palm on it and notices the hardness of the skull. The father touches his own face in the same way and he thinks it could’ve been him.

A half-hour later, after the father can’t decipher how exactly the head had come to be decapitated, he calls 911 and the respondent says, now you’re sure it’s a real head, over and over, and when two police officers arrive, one officer vomits right in the sink where the father vomited, and then they leave with the dead man’s head in the cardboard box and the officer that vomited left his card and told the father to call him, and then the father is alone in the red brick home and almost misses the head.

It’s after ten o’clock that night when the mother calls and says they can’t come home and that Jane told her what was in the box and that they’ll stay at the Motel 6 off Kildaire Farm Road, and the father says okay and then drives the fifteen minutes to the motel, but before he does, he cleans the red. All of it.

The family is never the same. The dead man’s head haunts Jane’s dreams, and she says everything in the world will be forever stained red. Red, Halloween red. The mother says it’s worse for her because she never saw the thing, the head, and so her imagination runs wild like elephants stampeding in a grassy savannah. “Your imagination is a blessing and a curse,” she says to the father, and he just nods but doesn’t say a word. He’s not sure why, but he misses the head and thinks it’s probably the most outstanding thing that will ever happen to him in this world. A human head in a cardboard box on his doorstep is, in a way, like holding the winning lottery ticket, he thinks.

The father and mother decide they must sell the red brick house and move, and they put it on the market, but with the news coverage and all no one wants to live in a place like that so every open house is more empty than a donut hole. The floor is clean now, but always red. Here’s 3857 Wester Drive. It’s red brick and has a red door. It’s the house where the decapitated head arrived. See Bobo lick the floor. See Mother, Father, and Jane remember the day the decapitated head was sent to them.

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