PINK-9 HAS BEGUN
Welcome to Stalingrad where we have just learned that the apartment next door to Stalin's is the gateway to Chaos. So says Stalin's mom who is keeping it under the closest surveillance. Stalin's mom, in fact, never leaves her perch by the window. She's absolutely transfixed by all the activity out there. Pink trucks pull up every day. New neighbors are moving in. There's something pink and smooth and lifeless about them. They're almost human-like, the way they move. Except they can't stop smiling. See the way their faces are always transfixed. The way they expose themselves to the light.
Stalin's mom sputters when telling Stalin. Takes a shaky sip from her Bloody Mary. Throws her head back revealing her long soft neck, and smiles ironically to no one in particular.
Stalin's mom remembers quiet children at Stalin's 10th Birthday Party. The sky was fat and gray and a procession of dark clouds came and went all day long. She remembers the lid of a trash can clanking in the tranquil silence of an alley and a revolutionary pamphlet lightly lifting into the stillest breeze. At noon he and his friends will gallop through the factory streets and swarm over chain link fences chasing down all the little girls in the neighborhood. They will tie them up and set every thing they touch on fire. Stalin has never looked so noble. Stalin's mom can still see his dusted coal cheeks and hear his cracking voice. As he stands there, in the fiery swirls of black and red, the crackling heat all around him, she remembers him looking up and saying: Fire, I bid you to burn!
Stalins mom blows her nose into a handkerchief. She thinks his uniform's too big. And she tells him:
—Joseph, you're so pale and skinny and you're practically falling out of your jacket.
—Joseph, you still comb your black mustache like a Czarist.
—Joseph, what a pathetic little Napoleon you are.
To shut her out Stalin runs the blade of his pen-knife up and down his thumb. What does he care about old stories? He's wondering why a glimpse of squirting red blood in the glint of his blade excites him so much, and he grabs his dinner napkin from his soldier's collar and claps it on the table. Turns it around and jams his thumb into it. Grinds it all around. Stalin doesn't stop either. Not 'till his thumb has stopped bleeding and the napkin's good and red.
Either: At precisely 11:30 PM, after sports and weather, Stalin's mom says good-night to Stalin, he's escorted by three security officers to his waiting red car, and quietly whisked away. Or: At precisely 11:31 PM his security officers don't meet him, and there's no waiting car. Just a dark empty street and all its dark empty shadows. And, either: Stalin waits there a long time. Shuddering in all that cold and dark. Or: at precisely 11:32 PM a pink Impala pulls out behind his red El Dorado and three men in pink ski masks radio in: Target in sight! And begin clawing and scratching at his car window until Stalin has to bury his face in a fluffy red pillow.
THE PINK CAPTORS, laughing electronically: Hardy Har Har!
What's definite is Stalin is taken at gun-point from a red El Dorado or LeBarron at the corner of Berkshire and Valley Forge or Scarlet and Blanch by either four or five men in pink suits while eye-witnesses clap and shout biting epitaphs at him at the top of their lungs. As he's carted off they scream "sissy" and "pantywaist" and tell him to go home to his mom. The pink captors shove Stalin, his big red flannel jacket pulled down around his wrists, to the apartment next door, dope him up, and drag him kicking and screaming into a pink cell.
Names! Names! Names! Stalin wants names! The names of all the people who ever laughed at him and called him names. The names of every Capitalist-bastard. There's gonna be hell to pay for every Yuppie-child-pornographer-one of them! Only he's having a lot of trouble imagining the executions and mass graves he will have to order for all these names. How can he think about blood baths in such a pink cell? Nothing but pink wherever he looks. Pink floor. Pink walls. Pink ceiling. Pink, pink, pink. Mom! It's revolting. Pink is not a primary color!
Point of fact: The cell is exactly Pink Delight. Otherwise Stalin's right to describe the cell as sparse. Besides the metal frame chair Stalin's sitting in and the monitor on the wall there's little else. Only a cot in the corner, and a pink, metal office desk with a big, pink plastic telephone plopped — dag nab it — right in the middle. No windows to speak of which suits Stalin just fine. Except for a fly won't leave him alone! Lands on his nose.
But who cares?
The boys in pink who file into the room are too busy sporting high-tech safety goggles and other nifty gadgets. They have style. Panache. A flair for the little things that make a difference. All spit and polish. And well groomed, too. Not a hair out of place on a one. Not a dirty fingernail in the bunch. These boys know how to wear a uniform. "Glamour Is Fear." That's their motto. Quite the contrast from the kinds of volunteers Stalin's been getting lately. Nothing but Cossacks and hillbillies walking into the recruitment offices these days. How are you supposed to build a brutal war machine with the likes of highwaymen and mongoloids? How are you supposed to beat back History with the sloth of today? I ask you: How is the Great Hammer of Progress supposed to smash the swarming enemy when drunkards and perverts hold the trenches?
Once again the door flies open! And this time a large entourage of women in pink file through. Turning their graceful dresses. Staring nonchalantly over their shoulders at the helpless host. Step back men in pink. Make room for the girls in their big pink sun hats who talk and giggle amongst each other. Checking themselves in compact mirrors they keep in small purses the women whisper into each other's ears. Spinning and dancing. Frowning. Batting their long eyelashes. Pointing to Stalin and covering their mouths to suppress their obvious mirth.
At this point I should add that the pink room erupts into spontaneous conversation.
Woman to man: We were following up on reports all day. Older woman to younger boy: The subject appears calm. Older man to younger woman: Irreversible damage to the cerebral cortex. Girl and boy: The subject suffers from an acute case of Infantilism.
The pink phone rings.
A young man in pink makes his way through the delirious throng with the phone.
—Mom to Stalin, do you read?
—Loud noises from apartment next door.
—Over and out.
A pink suit takes the phone from Stalin and, pointing to the gold plated half-note on his lapel, introduces himself as chief science officer, otherwise known as Crawdaddy. He is surrounded by beautiful women and has one at each elbow. Each holding a pink martini glass and smiling forwardly. Crawdaddy hopes Stalin won't mind a little company, and a very long-legged young lady whips out a pad and pen. The woman brushes back her pink bangs and introduces herself as chief medical officer, apparently indicated by her raised hem-line. —But my friends call me Nurse. The science officer in her very very short pink nurse's skirt addresses Stalin directly. Nurse wants to know about Surgical Experimentation. A topic which brings a little color back to Stalin's horrified face. Now there's a topic worth conversation! No mistaking Stalin's new-found glee. Stalin is very proud of the advances that have come out of the field. Stalin has personally overseen and witnessed countless such operations. At first only animals were employed. Then the severely retarded. The insane. Deviants. Vagabonds. Social degenerates are fun to cut up too. And combinations of any of the above make for a hardy laugh.
QUESTION: Gene therapy?
ANSWER: Truth serum, nerve gas, and psychological warfare.
Stalin doubles up. He is really feeling sick. His chair is too hard. Crawdaddy's head is too large. The pink finger Nurse waves before Stalin's black eyes is way too long and cold, and moves way, way too slowly. But wait a sec!
Stalin's got a hammer'n'sicle
On his car
And one on his chest
A three-fifty-seven on his hip
And the right to arrest.
So why's it the lovely Nurse in pink's lovely nurse's hand is sheathed in a pink latex glove? And why's it that all Nurse's attendants who should be saying aloha as graceful as the lapping waves on planet Why Kee-Kee are pencil thin and! twice his size?
(Of course, the answers to these and other questions are black-inked from official records.)
At this point I would think the alien cocktail set would have been fully debriefed. They should probably be receiving their orders from a hidden intercom just about now. Commands like: Don protective pink gear this instance! Prepare to carry out the prime directive at once! I might imagine the alien fashion set is supposed to begin clearing a stainless steel table as fast as they can. Sharp enamel implements would supposedly get laid out in basins by the alien party set. Hup, two, three, four. . . And a mad scientist would walk through the door with a diabolical smile on his twisted face and a huge syringe in his right hand.
Instead, Stalin simply gets a haircut, a shower, and a shave. The mustache is trimmed. Snots wiped from his hairy nose. A pink shirt and pink double breasted suit's brought in for him along with a pink cravat, pink cufflinks, and pink wing tips. The Nurse personally offers Stalin a mirror: What a handsome man! And pulls a pink beret over Stalin's square head at an attractive angle. Phase #1: Completed.
Stalin takes off the beret and balls it up in his fist.
OBSERVATION: The subject appears angry.
Phase #2 is implemented. Weekly visits to Stalin's cell by Crawdaddy and The Nurse are designed to monitor the subject's progress.
As was directed the subject has taken up doodling. In an unprecedented move the aliens allow Stalin, who sits at his desk for hours on end, to use a red pen. Nothing Stalin doodles looks red enough. Stalin is all bloody thumbs. So he doodles bloody stumps. Nothing he doodles is doodle-like. Stalin tosses off one scribble after another. The scrawl is wrong. The scratch needs work. The red splotch is an eternal mystery to him.
OBSERVER'S REPORT: The subject is still durn mad.
The light is too bright in Stalin's room, and, to avoid the buzzing fluorescent pink bulbs, Stalin crawls under his cot at night. Apparently, they never turn out the lights in this place and it makes him feel safer!
In the morning the attendants leave his breakfast tray at the foot of the bed and try to poke him out from under the boxspring. But, Stalin will not come out. The attendants can swat at him all they want with their long pink prods. Stalin likes the feel of cold, surging pain dancing in his stomach.
Later that day he talks frankly with the head attendant: It somehow makes me feel alive.
Phase #2a: Stalin's phone calls are closely monitored and recorded for further study. They are, of course, heavily censored. Although the affable aliens assure Stalin they only bleep-out the words they think sound the nicest.
STALIN'S MOM: Bleep the bleeping bleep bleeps!
Since the subject does not hide under his bed and is observed doodling in a rather light-hearted and carefree manner during these episodes, apparently totally unaware of what's going on around him, the phone calls are encouraged. What Stalin doodles is given the highest priority and deemed invaluable. So much so the doodles are immediately collected and sent by courier phone to the nearest sky lab for study.
In the 3rd and final phase: The doodles are hung on a freshly painted pink wall. Crawdaddy and the Nurse inspect them closely checking and double-checking computer printouts. Viewer discretion is advised. The wheelchair crowd has turned out anyway. Not everyone wears the pink uniform. Tonight the doors of the apartment next door are opened to the world. Generals and dignitaries mill about. Businessmen of all stripes and colors discuss the rising markets. Pink Chablis is served at seven.
Stalin sits in the corner tipping a bottle. Let these soft-batches remember the iron fist of Stalin. Let them beg for Stalin's mercy. Let them clutch their stomachs and swallow hard. Let them cry out in pain. Shrink with fear. Whimper. Plead Stalin's forgiveness. Let them pray Stalin please cover the terrible red doodles. Please take them away. Stalin will hear little. See less. Stalin, muttering: I'll wipe my nose on my sleeve and grab them by their bald ugly heads and throw them at the walls; I'll knock them to the ground and crush their frail genitals under my heels; The world will tremble at my. . .
Stalin looks up. A crowd of candy-apple faces has gathered round him.
STALIN, looking at the crowd: Worms!
The gathering multitude step closer. At the head of the pack a large woman with green hair motions for Stalin to bend over. Stalin does so spitting on the ground. This 'Tree-Woman,' Stalin takes it, is demanding to know more about his doodles.
TREE WOMAN: Mr. Stalin, what do you think of when you're doodling?
The woman points to a doodle behind Stalin's block-head.
—How about that one?
At the top of the Post-it there's what appears to be a burning farm house and a barn with crows and vultures gathered on the roof.
—Come gather around, folks.
Stalin, smile coming back to his face.
—If you look closely you'll see that in the barn a wealthy landowner is mounted on a headless woman.
Stalin pauses for reaction and continues.
—Over here soldiers are clubbing the hick farmer and his wife to death.
Another pregnant pause and Stalin goes on.
—Those are two pigs eating a mutilated body while the grandpa farmer is pouring a bucket of pig's blood on his head.
Stalin looks around and starts in again.
—That's a farmhand stoking a pile of burning limbs. While this band of ruffians over here is performing an autopsy on a little girl.
A proud Stalin . . .
—I am cutting out her heart. I call it Twilight Vivisexion. And, I doodled it while I was on the phone with my mom.
What a hit! There has never been such a doodle. Examine the craftsmanship. Awe at the expression. Everyone loves it. They can't get enough. Not a dissenter among 'em, either. Which is enough to send Stalin sprawling to the floor kicking and screaming and hammering the wooden boards with his large fist.
STALIN, clutching his stomach: Argh!
CRAWDADDY, looking down at stalin: But you're a hit, son.
STALIN: I am Stalin!
NURSE: The psychopathic schizo!
At these words everyone raises a glass, apparently mis-hearing. To the Sociospastic Psycho! Hip, hip, hooray! And Stalin cautiously raises himself to his feet and takes a painful bow, choking down the salt pouring out of his tongue by the gallon.
If he could only focus on something — anything! Stalin tries the pink-ness of a window. But the pink window is no good. So damn pink it only makes him sicker! So he grabs for the wall to hold himself up and bends over to squint at the pink glow of the floorboard. And that doesn't work either. Quite the contrary. It only makes him even sicker than he already was. So he swallows hard. Real hard. But he can't swallow hard enough. His stomach grips him like a Marxist Robot Hand. And he makes for the Men's room.
Mixed red stuff and snot everywhere. Pink tiles covered in red. Long red curls in the water lapping the sides of the pink bowl and the seat is all spattered red.
At first, Stalin's happy. He thinks it's blood in the bowl. His insides floating around down there. Him torn up pretty bad inside.
Only The People know Pink Chablis isn't really red. No matter how much Stalin wishes it was so. The People know there's no sense in pretending. Pink Chablis is pink. And don't put a quick change-up past these folks. The People can tell a good turn when they see it. During a brief huddle they decide to heartily commend Stalin's bold move. Yes, indeed. What a genius! After all, red is really such a blood-thirsty color. So painfully obvious. Who wouldn't think of blood? Now pink, on the other hand! That's what Stalin needs more of. What a friendly color, and what a fine and upstanding message it sends the world! No doubt about it. Pink is a vast improvement over red. And who knows what it could inspire in such an impressionable young man? The People welcome the day with open arms when Stalin's forgotten all about red. In fact, The People are so obsessed with their new and bloodless fantasy, they secretly talk to each other about a world in which Stalin sits by his window listening to the singing birds all day long. Stalin happily doodling nothing but bonbons and cherry blossoms and all the pretty things.
© Daniel Mendel-Black, 1997, originally published in Asteroid Impaired: Righteous American Fiction: Volume 1