PART I: ERASMUS
The autumn breeze quivers my tiny, cotton collar. I survey the pumpkins lying haphazardly on Stuart’s Farm. Then I call out in the high-pitched voice of a three-year-old: “Pun’kin! Pun’kin!”
Susan’s red hair cascades into my stroller, shrouding my view. “Which pumpkin do you want, sweetie?”
I have never felt a propensity toward gourd shopping, especially not in Granite Springs, though now that she insists that I voice my opinion, I have no choice but to share it. I pull her hair aside.
“That one!” I point to the farthest and largest pumpkin in the patch, which takes us five minutes to approach.
Upon closer inspection of the plant, I reject it by stomping my feet against the stroller. I never tire of this performance, not in all my twenty-eight years of experience. Truly, the acting is unnecessary. This performance is something I add for pleasure. I am the epitome of toddlerhood. I have a small, button nose, large eyes, and peach-colored cheeks. Besides, with the right words and a little peas-blossom, I take on the exact appearance of the child I replace. When looking at me, you would never guess that I am middle- aged. Hardly! My skin has the sour and sweet perfume of diapers and baby powder. The fact that Susan has dressed me up for this inane holiday seems superfluous, and frankly, ridiculous. I do not want to be dressed as a stegosaurus. I am already pretending, why should I put on another mask?
Nobody does Halloween like Ginnie Farrow. Just ask the neighborhood.
Sheila Canterwell, beloved kindergarten teacher, used to take the ribbon with her Haunted Haus, and before that Reverend Jim McGee smugly won decades worth of praise with his carefully planned Zombie Garden. He spent hours in his garage hand painting fake rubber limbs to look terrifyingly real when strewn in haphazard rows. We all enjoyed the results of their friendly feud, ohhing and ahhhing at each new height they managed to reach.
The prizes have varied over time, from gift certificates, to lawn service, to cash on occasion, but really, it’s the awe and appreciation of the neighborhood that most seek to win. And growing ghosts? Well, that’ll do it.
Thing is, no one in the neighborhood ever managed to grow a decent ghost. Some tried, including Jim and Sheila, but the soil didn’t cooperate, or the corpse seed didn’t take even if it was planted at the height of spring, under a full moon. We once saw them collaborate a bit, trying to get a few to come up in the community garden in town. Nothing doing, it just didn’t happen.
“Hairy, airy, Sophie- four eyes, four eyes!”
Every word is punctuated by a sharp slap, a swift kick, and a trickle of warm spit.
Then Mrs Maleigh appears on the porch, ringing the brass bell.
The flushed tormentors scurry into the schoolroom, leaving Sophie Turner to sit up.
Snow powders her tattered coat. She’s lost one of her precious winter gloves, but there’s no time to look for it. She hurries after her classmates, knowing full-well why she is singled out.
The other children can smell it on her, the oddness. She isn’t a townie. She wears patchy old clothes and too-big boots. Her frizzy black hair won’t sit in a sleek, fat plait like the other little girls’, and she has a pair of thick glasses like two telescopic lenses.
As Miss Maleigh begins her lessons, mean fingers pinch one of Sophie’s old bruises. She bites her lower lip. Another pinch… and another, punctuated by giggles. Then the fingers start on her hair. One, two- three frizzy threads are yanked out by the roots.
First, find a stand made from barn wood,
salvaged from the old one
down the creek. The scrap-wood sign
is spray-painted; grapevines
tangle on the beams, tattered brown
and dry against sharp air.
If they have a goat tied in front,
all the better. No crafts.
Two days into November and the last ghoulies, the hold-outs, charged the roads of their neighborhood. Disguised as the living dead, a man of superior strength, an out-of-touch hippie. “Trick or treat!” they called into the clouds. The sun dipped an hour earlier, dark fell by 5:30. Those boys in their costumes, those tricky disguises, they demanded treats, still.
While two nights prior, the hours after Halloween night, most costumes were tucked into closets, or walked into basements, or hidden under beds, maybe to be handed down to a younger sibling in the coming year. The city’s girls and boys and babies and adolescents stripped the layers of ghoulish make-up from their grins. And in mirrors, they frowned. For it was over! They had the treats, the candy, the sugar highs, yet, it was all truly over…
she kept a razor blade
in the cupboard
the razor slid out
of a yellow plastic box
with a clear safety lid
that i’d once seen my father use
to get his cigar started