Wag the Dog

When I try to wipe the potatoes off on my dress, the red lady catches my hand and swipes it with a napkin. She's smiling, tutting something about dear, dear, what a mess! I think her name's something like when you forget: Um-um. Em. Hem.

The napkin doesn't really help, but she pushes a clump of them into my hand and sits me down at the table. Then she draws a breath, flicking a dark lock out of her eyes, and moves into the hesitant crowds. I'm not sure where the red man went. It's funny, I think, how the two are both red. They go together.

I think the reason why Redemma didn't want me messing my dress is because it's a new one. This one's gray and ruffly with a special sweater to keep me from getting cold. I think I'll keep it. I slip the shoes off my feet, under the chair, and pinch my tights between my toes.

After a while, Emmared drifts back to the table. Her chin is jut out, her shoulders flat, and mouth sewn up in a smile that she tweaks a bit at me when she sits.

She leans into my ear, "Red back yet?"

I shrug, poking at my cold potatoes with a spoon. Considering it, I turn to her and slap my palm: rock, scissors, paper. Ummemma blinks at me, startled. I slap my palm again: paper, paper! She oh's and flattens a napkin across the tabletop. I wonder if she was keeping them in her purse.

She's peering around at the people while I scribble on it: haLL PasS? The question mark on it a deep red arc of ink. Again, Emma seems confused, but then she flushes pink at my tortured face. She quickly waves me away and I skitter out.

People are bustling around the building entryway, suitcoats rustling with little secrets tucked inside. People with grim faces and dull eyes stand stiffly by the elevators, like toy soldiers on the assembly line, and I remember the story of the brave tin soldier and his lovely one-legged ballerina. I try a pirouette on the tile, silken feet and all, but the people don't think it's funny. Even when I thud into the carpeted walls and it takes me a bit to get my balance again - they just turn away at the electronic bing and disappear into the building.

I don't remember what I was doing. I poke around for awhile, watching the glittering plaques on the walls with their white-picked names.

"Gniloy fashistskoy nechisti," I hum, rocking on my heels to the vague beat, "Zagonim pulyu v lob, otrod'yu cheloveches-"

I pause at a sound. The repetition of it flattens me and I press against the wall.

"Wilkerson, no, haven't seen him today. Heh, he's still on his 'business trip'."

"Aw, God."

A pair of men, shoes rapping a staccato and voices low, turn the corner. They don't glance at me as the blonde one mutters, "Hey, I've seen his files - I know what he gets up to on his trips."

"Yeah, right, things that'll get you a long, painful death in a dark alley."

They pass, nodding in broken assessment, and I breathe. There's a soft bing down the corridor and the Red man limps out. His face has paled, eyes wide, and he hobbles over when he spots me. His foot draws a deep red arc across the tile.

It looks like a question mark.

The End

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