The Headless Child built a gas chamber out of Legos and now cannot sleep. Only the dead truly sleep his mother says, and this doesn’t help. A black wind batters the window, an owl cries in the storm.
It is the Headless Child’s past that upsets him. He recalls The Episode With The Plastic Bag That Was Not A Toy. The Time Mother Left Him In The Hot Car. The Teeter-Totter Trauma. The Syrup Incident. The Time He Was Accidentally Fed To Cats.
Calm yourself, baby. Would you like a stuffed bear? A stuffed lamprey? A stuffed wasp? A stuffed virus? A stuffed brick? A stuffed bomb?
It is no use. O, he is weeping still.
We will read a Little Golden book, Mother declares. Tuffy the Tumor? The Scrawny Tawny Cannibal? Fluffy Bunny Has Myxomatosis? The Pokey Little Pit Bull?
No? Perhaps Dr. Seuss, then. Slugs In My Rug? The Rat In The Hat? There’s A Hookworm In My Hippocampus? Stomp On Pop? If I Ran The Animal Testing Lab? Horton Hears A Hate Crime?
Sobs, gasps, a scream like rent metal.
Shall we try The Berenstain Bears And The Windowless Basement? …And The Calming Medication? …And Their Abnormally Small Heads? …Visit Mama In The Dementia Ward?
The child soaks the pillow with sweat, claws at his blanky. Mother is desperate. Outside the window, a light glows in the East. A mushroom cloud blooms in the faraway city.
Shall I sing you a lullaby? Rock-A-Bye Bastard? Twinkle Twinkle Little Meltdown? The Ants Go Marching O’er The Corpse?
Now the father lurches into the room. Father’s jaw hangs by a broken rivet, a dollop of red spittle splashes his boot. In a voice like bullets hitting tin, he speaks.
Hey there Sport, hey there Ace, hey Champ. Let’s toss the ole ball around. Let’s fire off some guns. Let’s kick some ass. It’s dog-eat-dog out there. It’s kill or be killed. Let’s make a woman cry. Let’s beat high mountains down and put forests to the torch. Let’s be winners. Let’s get ripped. Let’s sack a city. Let’s bomb a daycare. Let’s go forth to murder and create.
That won’t work; it’s the future that the Headless Child fears. Oh, is that it? The Headless Child’s future holds a lot of fearful things: heavy machinery, the sea, postmen, imported wheat, the Global Standards Index, laughter, a hen.
See, says the Mother, I have purchased devices designed to calm a troubled babe. The Vibrating Swing. The Rotating Chair. The Euthanizing Hose. The Electrified Skillet. The Cabinet Of Minimal Oxygen.
Failing that, we will try the FDA-approved medicaments. Tranquizol. Nepenthe-quil. Flintstone Valiums. Dr. Cockle’s Patent Roach Paralyzer And Colicky Toddler Tonic. Jungle Juice. Animal Smackers. Hemlock Licks.
The Father threatens. The Mother coos. The child bawls, and bawls anew.
It is no use, Mother sighs. Best let him grow up.
The Headless Child is grown. Now we call him the Guillotined Man.
The Guillotined Man has been pulverized by the heavy machinery, drowned in the sea, ruined by the Global Standards Index.
The postmen were cruel. Things went poorly with the hen.
The Guillotined Man chooses a spouse. He wants his parents’ blessing. Shall he marry the Faceless Doll? The Murdered Queen? The Gunnysack of Live Stoats? The Black Dahlia? The Me-Wolf? The Smear of Blood on the Wall?
O child, we only wish you to be happy.
The Guillotined Man and the Smear of Blood seek grandparentally-approved names for their twin children. Adam and Grieve? Hansel und Regretel? Spavin and Dolt? Pinhead and Claw? Eye-Mad and Wind-Blast? Holla and Weep?
Don’t matter whatcha call ’em, Son, just raise ’em to be Winners.
Now the former Headless Child chooses a career. Mulch Specialist? Behavior Control Technician? Drone Triggerman? Book Burner? Bleacher of Rabbits’ Eyes?
Whatever makes money, boy! Ha ha.
Time slithers. The parents grow old. Time to find them a home.
The Guillotined Man seeks a repository for the elderly. Whispering Spines. Medicated Manor. Hainted Cloisters of Sheep’s Bend. Wizenhall. Feeblefarm. Gravesedge. On Thursdays We Open the Blinds.
Father stares at the flowered wall. A long spoon delivers unto Father his beets.
Mother is stalked by nurse assassins and cannot sleep. A phone call to the Guillotined Man. He arrives.
Mother, cease threatening the staff.
Mother. I will calm you.
Pills and tinctures. The chill sap of the needle. The plastic cuff, the soaked sponge. The cage of rats. The guilt that eats the heart away.
I have so many ways I can calm you.