Felt like a story this week. This one takes place in a town that might be the one I grew up in, with people I might have known, on an October 31st in the 70’s. Hope you like it 🙂
It’s Halloween and Mama’s in a good mood tonight.
She made tacos for dinner with separate bowls for everything: tomatoes, lettuce, onions, hamburger and cheese. She bought taco sauce in a bottle and when you put that on at the end it tastes like a restaurant.
While I eat, Mama gets dressed in her costume.
She knows all about how to dress up, from being a professional actress in New York. Her costume is always the same: a long white dress like the girl wore in “Let’s Go Scare Jessica To Death,” (the scariest movie in the world), a gray wig, and a homemade noose.
I always make my own costume, like Mama.
This year, I was going to be Super Devil. I made a tail from yarn, and construction paper horns I stick on with bobby pins. I wrote Super Devil on an old t-shirt with magic marker. Mama saw, and she about laughed her head off because I messed up and put an extra P in “super.”
Doesn’t that just beat all?
Well I’m gonna carry a spoon and be a devil who just likes to cook supper all the time and it will be like on purpose, so I don’t even care.
It’s getting late, and I ask Mama if I can leave and start trick-or-treating.
“Sure, go play in the street,” she says, not exactly to me.
I grab my Kroger’s bag and run.
Outside it smells like fire and is so dark you can just barely see the kids in masks going from house to house. Some of them have reflector tape stuck on their shoes.
This year we all got sent home from school with a bag from the fire department, full of stuff that ruins Halloween: reflector tape so you don’t get run over, a list of treats that might be poisoned, and directions to a place where they x-ray your candy because people put nails in it.
Mama threw that bag right in the trash and said we should throw caution in the wind, which I liked.
Here’s my plan:
Start with the first house on the right, the Scully’s, then go straight down Baird Lane, turn on Addison, and all the way around until I get to the Deppings.
I move fast. Miss Depping is a bank teller and gives out whole normal sized candy bars from a fancy bowl.
After about an hour, my nose is running and my bag has a rip.
Right then, I see Kristen Kallenberger’s gigantic glittering wings from a half a block away. I recognize those wings because her father has been working on them with glue and wire at their dining room table since summer. She can barely walk with the weight of them on her back, but it doesn’t matter because her father has one hand and her mother has the other. They take a step and lift her up,
take a step,
lift her up,
take a step,
lift her up.
Is she supposed to look like she’s flying?
My sneakers squeak in the wet grass when I turn to run. I got my devil spoon in one hand and my Kroger’s bag in the other, praying the Kallenbergers are to busy with their fairy princess to notice me. The tear in my bag is getting worse. Lemon Heads and Now-n-Laters are falling out everywhere.
“Friend!” She calls out.
She calls me that because I won’t tell her my name, which still does not stop her from coming over every day, acting like we’re siamese twins, even though I am nine and she’s in kindergarten. Kristen has every Barbie in the world and a dog named Cocoa who bites.
Dammit to hell and back.
She breaks away from her parents and runs toward me, her wings falling over to one side, silver reflector tape on her forehead.
“Um, I gotta go,” I call to her. “Mama wants me home before nine since it’s a school night.”
Mrs. Kallenberger catches up to us, all sweaty and shiny in the street light. “Well, we thought you’d be at home, Mae. Kristen says your mother puts on quite a show on Halloween.”
Kristin grabs her mother’s hand.”She dretheth up like a witch and thcareth all the kidth. She giveth out poithoned appleth!”
Mr.Kallenberger runs over, wearing an plastic eye patch. “Aaargh, that sounds scary,” he says in a pirate voice.
“Yeah, Daddy, and she hath cauldron and everything!” He straightens her wings.
Kristen is hopping around like she has to pee. I can see that her pumpkin basket is almost all the way full and right on top is a whole Hershey bar.
“Well, I still have to get to the Deppings before I’m done,” I say, and start to go.
“Oh, poor Miss Depping just ran out of candy. I hope she doesn’t have any tricks played on her by goblins or,” Mr. Kallenberger winks at me,”Supper Devils.”
“If you let me come to your houthe and get a poithoned apple, I’ll give you my Hershey bar.”
“I think you’ve had enough, Stinker Doodle,” Mrs. Kallenberger says. “And we still have to run your candy by the hospital. Mae, would you like to come with us and have your candy x-rayed?”
“Um, no thanks.”
“Pleathe, Mommy, pleathe?? Can I go thee the wicked witch?” She’s on her tip-toes.
Mrs. Kallenberger stands there, a big sweaty moon-pie, smiling at Kristen. “Well, since you’re a fairy princess I guess I can’t refuse, right? Give Mommy your candy so we can make sure it’s safe.”
“Tell your mother I’ll be by in a bit to collect Kristen,” says Mr. Kallenberger, and they walk off together with Kirsten’s pumpkin bag. We cut through back yards to get back to my house. Lights are on in most of the houses so we can find our way through sand boxes and swing sets and the Niedermeyer’s broken down Nova.
When we get home I see a crowd of kids around our front door and the point of Mama’s hat. “Now who would like a bite of this delicious apple,” she croaks in her witch voice.
We scoot in for a better view.
“It’s poisoned!” A girl wearing a Wonder Woman outfit under a windbreaker hides behind a chubby Dracula.
“Poisoned? Why, of course it’s not poisoned, silly child. How could you say such a thing?” Her voice is low, like a snake. “Here, try it if you don’t believe me.” Mama knows how to be scary from being an actress, and all the kids are falling for it like babies.
“How about you? Or perhaps you?” When she’s in character she uses words like perhaps.
In front of her is a real cauldron, like a witch would have, filled with vinegar that stinks. Every few minutes she takes some white powder from her pocket and pours it into the cauldron so it fizzes. It’s only baking soda, but Mama says it’s a good special effect, like the red lightbulb she put in the porch light that makes her lips and nail polish look black.
“That’h you Mith —-! I know who you are!” Kristen pushes into the red light and close to Mama.
“Oh my, this potion must be attracting flies! Where’s my swatter?” Everyone laughs a little and Kirsten’s wings slump to the side again.
“You can’t thwat me. I’m a fairy printheth!”
I put a cherry Zot in my mouth and study Mama. She is very in character.
“Well, a fairy Princesssss,”she says, holding out the S sound right in Kristen’s face, like showing off, “is only good for one thing, and do you know what that is?”
Everyone is quiet. I try to stop my Zot from fizzing.
“Well, do you?”
Some kids are whispering, but Kristen stands there like a statue.
“It seems the cat’s got your tongue!” Mama says, so loud that everyone jumps. “A fairy princess is good for nothing but making princess stew.” She leans down to an Abraham Lincoln standing on our front steps and says “Delicious,” just to him. He backs up and his hat falls off.
“But should I bake you or broil you?” Now Mama is leaning over, combing Kirsten’s hair with her red nails, smelling her cheek. “Such decisions. I think baking is best, and you are just the right size to fit in my oven.” She holds Kristen’s face in her hands and pushes her against our front door until her wings are flat.
“You’re not nithe,” she says. Her tu-tu is shaking.
A red-headed cowboy turns around and pushes his way out of the crowd. “I’m telling!” He yells, and runs through the Niedermeyer’s yard into the dark.
More kids follow him.
Kristen is balancing on her tip-toes and the rope around Mama’s neck is dangling into the poison. I think about running, but there’s nowhere to go.
I hear sneakers running in the grass and kids voices growing fainter. Only one boy is left on the porch. His costume is a pig nose held by an elastic string around his head. He looks at me, and I know him.
Everyone knows Tommy’s mother works in the Coke factory, inspecting bottles. She’s so fat she has to sit on a special stool, or else stay home wrapped in a sheet on the couch. Mama says she can’t even get up to change the tv channels, so Tommy has to do it.
Me and him look at each other. His eyes say I’m one of his kind.
There’s a thud and by the time I look, Kristen is on the ground and one of her wings is bent into an L. Her face is red and crying.
“Oh, my mouth is watering. About an hour in my nice hot oven and you’ll be just right!” Mama thinks she’s so funny and gets herself into hysterics.
All I wish is that my Halloween candy could be filled with razor blades cuz I would eat it all and die and not have to be here with babyish Kirsten and Tommy Cribs in a pig nose who knows everything now.
Our front door is open now and Kirsten is crying, scooting onto the muddy carpet. “Thtoppit. I’m not playing!”
Mama is laughing like herself, not acting anymore.
“Kristen, sweetie??” Grown-ups can run really fast if they want to, and her parents make it across the street and through our front door in two seconds. “It’s Mommy and Daddy, we’re here! Honey, we’re here!” The two of them are on the floor, hugging Kristen like a cocoon.
I watch Tommy Cribs dip his finger into Mama’s cauldron and lick it. Then he’s gone.
“What have you done?” Mrs. Kallenberger gets to her feet. I’ve never heard her yell before. “You are a sick, sick woman, do you know that? A very unhappy, sick woman!”
People always say Mama’s unhappy.
Mrs. Kallenberger turns to me.”Mae, are you alright?”
Mr. Kallenberger is holding a kleenex up to Kristen’s nose and telling her to blow, but her mother isn’t done.”We had a child run to our house in tears saying you were going to cook our Kirsten! That you pushed her down!”
“Oh shut up, Mother Goose, she fell,” Mama answers, pushing past her to the kitchen.
Her father picks Kristen up and the three of them head through the Niedermeyer’s yard, toward their house. For a while I can hear her hiccuping in the dark.
I turn off the red porch light and everything seems kind of normal again. There are still tacos on the coffee table, with all the little bowls, from before.
Mama turns on the hot water and stares at the wall where she always wishes there was a window. The steam floats up to her face and, standing over the dirty dishes, her pale make-up drips off, like milk.