by Alex Ebel
Before they searched the basement. Before her father unlatched the stubborn door to the wine cellar. Before they found the small form huddled beneath a white blanket. Before her father frantically lifted her from the floor and carried her up the stairs. Before he contaminated the crime scene with fingerprints and tiny traces of DNA. Before they examined her body, before they found her skull had been cracked, her throat purple from a cord’s grip, before her autopsy found bits of undigested pineapple in her stomach. Before everyone in the country knew her face, it was Christmas.
Two children, brother and sister, played downstairs with their new toys. An evergreen filled the room with the scent of pine. Shreds of colored tissue and metallic wrapping paper littered the ground. Outside, snow fell and blanketed the street, filling tire tracks and prints left by boots, covering everything. Somewhere, someone was writing a ransom letter, unusually long and full of misspellings, demanding the exact amount of money the girl’s father had received as a Christmas bonus that year. Somewhere there was a broken window, a nylon cord, a broken paintbrush, a roll of tape.
After they found her, her image flooded television screens. A six-year-old girl, a child, made up and wigged and gowned. Tiaras nestled in mounds of blonde curls, rows of tiny white teeth, sashes and scepters and ruffles on socks, gleaming patent leather shoes clicking across a stage. Lace gloves and feathers and baby’s breath garlands. Wreaths and roses, a tiny polished wood casket.
Alex Ebel is a writer living in Boston. His work has previously been featured or is forthcoming in Hobart, The Rumpus, American Chordata, Hello Mr, and Chicago Literati. He can be found online @alexsebel