31 October 2008

A Halloween Story

Do you have your pumpkin yet? my sister asked our new neighbor.

What is that? Marianne replied.

A pumpkin! my sisters shouted. You have to have a pumpkin. And a costume for Halloween.

The little girl just stared at us. For the first time I realized that not everybody had the same culture as ours. I thought that maybe this place she came from -- Egypt -- not only sounded mysterious, but must have actually been so if kids didn't know about carving pumpkins, spending days creating costumes in secret so that nobody else would be dressed the same, and spending cold, rainy, Midwestern nights wandering the neighborhood filling up pillow cases with candy bars.

After dinner that evening the girl's mother called my mom, and, in her own combination of Arabic, French, and English, asked about this mysterious tradition. Mom volunteered that we would escort Marianne on Halloween.

A few nights later she arrived at our back door with her older brother and sister. She wore a store-bought Cinderella costume. I had never had a store-bought costume. I could hear what my mother had told us many times before:
It is more fun to make your costume.
Store bought costumes are tacky.
It will go up in flames if you get too close to Daddy's cigarette.
Confronted with Marianne's sparkling blue dress with sequined stars and a shiny tiara sitting atop her head full of dark curls, I knew my homemade costume that I had worked on for a week was inferior in every way to the spectacle standing before me.

I recovered as soon as I saw that she carried a pumpkin. An uncarved pumpkin!

What's that?

It's my pumpkin for trick-or-treating.

Laughter was stopped in its tracks, halfway past our vocal chords, by one look from Mom.

It's a wonderful pumpkin, Marianne. Leave it here while you go out with the girls and we'll carve it when you get back. Then it will be a jack-o-lantern. Go have fun and be careful that you don't run into any witches.

Off we went through the neighborhood. Marianne was unsure about the giant spider's web at the house next door. It reached from the top of the porch awning, over the walkway, down to the ground where it was rooted in shrubbery. Creepy music played while the lady with the treats reached her long, curled fingernails into a coffin to pull out candy. It took several attempts to convince Marianne that it was only make-believe, that there wasn't anything to be afraid of.

Soon it was dark, and after several doors, Marianne had caught on to the routine. She ran ahead of us once she realized that any encounter with a real witch would be rare. She knew that she was prettier than Snow White Stephanie, the Greek girl who had joined us, and she wanted to be near the front of every doorstep to hear the adults coo about the pretty girls. I was glad that I was a hobo; I knew that I couldn't compete with the Mediterranean princesses vying to get the first Hersey's bar at every house.

After about an hour, we were beginning to tire, but we weren't ready to give up yet. Our pace had slowed and we were walking lazily down a dark cross street, just a few houses from home. Suddenly, at the corner, a bulky, hunchedback figure jumped at us from behind a bush. Hands held up menacingly, the grizzled old hag leaned in close.

I'll get you my pretties. Hahahaha...

Her face was pockmarked and bumpy, an odd combination of white ooze and green clumps. She smelled strangely familiar but she was like nothing I had ever seen before.

She called us by name. I want your candy. It will give you cavities.

We all screamed.

She smiled, her lip curling upwards, and slide two teeth forward menacingly. We started giggling; we had recognized Mom's familiar trick of sliding her bridge out of her mouth to mimic a vampire. She had colored pieces of confetti stuck to her face with Ponds cold cream and an old pillow tucked into the neck of Daddy's raincoat. She was wearing my brother's snow boots and an old fedora she had found at the back of the closet. She had the best home-made costume that night.

We didn't have time to explain to Marianne. Terrified, she ran home as fast as she could. I wouldn't have been surprised to learn that Cinderella had lost one of her shoes on the way. I don't think her pumpkin was turned into a carriage that evening, or even a run-of-the-mill jack-o-lantern.


Emily Barton said...

What a fabulous story! I love your mother's idea of dressing up and popping out at all of you. I'm going to have to try that myself one year, I think.

Cam said...

I think that lots of the moms in my neighborhood dressed up when I was a kid. The places I've lived as an adult have never had many trick or treaters. I think it's sad -- it was such a fun time for all of us.

My mom, btw, felt badly about scaring the girl so much. But in later years, it was quite the joke between them.