Gone are the nets, the cages, the paraphernalia of pursuit; the call, the swoop, the gasp, the clank, the clink of silver (rarely gold); and then, later, the glug in the glass, again and again, tonic against the persistent stench: popcorn and pizza, graham crackers, Goldfish. But what did you do with them? People want to know, or think they do. His job was the catching, first with the nose and then with the net, the catching and that was all.
Now the fabled proboscis detects clotted gravy on boiled beef, scorched coffee, treacly pineapple upside-down cake: lunch. Now the only calls are to Shake those hips! because Motion is lotion! (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at 9 on the west lawn), and, on Thursday evenings, sequences of letters and numbers punctuated by screeches of Bingo! while the cage rattles on.
Only on weekends, sometimes, does he catch a whiff of something that pricks his memory: sugar and snips and spice and snails, and tails, none of it nice. He’s not permitted in the lobby during visiting hours, not since the incident with Peggy Price’s granddaughter, but he has the net still, they had to buy a new one for the fish tank. Oh, let him have it, they chuckle, it doesn’t matter, what can he do? He clutches it, alone in his room with the rain streaming in bars down the window. Is she here now, Peggy’s pernicious progeny, in her tattered princess frock and filthy trainers, with her preternaturally penetrating gaze? Is there still a mark on her cheek from where the net struck when he swung? Is she blathering through a mouthful of brownie, pointing and pestering someone else – the shivering specter in black-and-white fur, the briny witch with the siren warble, the hook-handed blowhard in gleaming Crocs – But what did you do? What did you do?
Didi Wood has always found Lady Elaine (Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) far more terrifying than the Child Catcher. Her work appears or is forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, Wigleaf, Jellyfish Review, and elsewhere. “Rattle & Rue,” originally published in Cotton Xenomorph, was chosen for the Wigleaf Top 50 in 2019. Find her on Twitter @DidiWood and read more stories at didiwood.com.