Shampoo Commercial
Claudia Smith

"You were alright when they found you," her mother likes to say. "Nobody would believe me if I told them," she would say. "What could I have done? They'd have taken you from me, if I'd told them what I saw. There was grass in your hair, and your legs were scratched up. But other than that, and your scuffed shoes, you were fine. You didn't have a mark on you."

She can remember screaming, tearing bits of meat, the glints and shine buried in his great nest. When they found her, miles away in a distant state, her mother was flown in, and there were flashing pictures, talk of abductions or secret satanic rings. Her mother had smiled, placidly, for their pictures and stories. She was no longer a suspect. She said things like "I'm glad it's all over," and would not sign over the rights for a television movie. Even now, her mother will say, "You can't blame a predator. They are animals, they act on instinct." Her mother likes to talk about what happened after, how they'd shared peppermint ice cream and that the reporters had said her daughter was more beautiful than the child stars they'd photographed. "Your hair was just magnificent, it could have been in a shampoo commercial. It always had a life of its own, I didn't even have to style it." Her mother also likes to remind her what she was wearing that day, a dress made just for her, with red-heart buttons and bric-a-brac edging the puffed sleeves. "I made all your dresses myself," she says, "and you loved it. You ate it all up, you just smiled and laughed. How you laughed! Don't you remember? You don't remember that?" 

They only talk about the flight's aftermath on the phone, and there's a sweet, throaty quality to her mother's voice when she describes the dress, the ice cream shop, the roller coaster rides. The carnival, cameras, that is the part she can't recall, but she believes in it. Her mother speaks of the patent-leather shoes she wore, purchased at Buster Brown a day after her discovery, and the name of every ride at the park - Banana-Shoot, Crazy Eights, the Texas Cyclone. She does not doubt her mother now, because she notices it all, too; the fabric her son wears, what he murmurs in his sleep, even the way he eats a sandwich, biting around the crusts.

Claudia Smith's 2007 collection, The Sky is a Well and Other Shorts, is being reprinted this month in A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness: Four Chapbooks of Short Short Fiction by Four Women, from Rose Metal Press.

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Detail on main page from woodcut by Frans Masereel (25 Images de la Passion d'un Homme; 1918)

Reread CS' "Scout Lantern."

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