This is the story of George and Bob who were brothers.
One was older than the other. But I forget which one.
It was their favorite time of year, except for Christmas, of course.
A time of haunted hayrides, trick or treating and pumpkin carving. The brothers George & Bob, younger sister Francine and oldest brother Frank began thinking about costumes as soon as school began.
Every year their mother would pull out the sewing machine and put to cloth the imaginings of her children. They never had a store bought costume, as she had convinced them this was much more fun.
She had almost convinced herself as well.
Mommy, whose real name was Madeline, liked Halloween too. She always decorated the house as soon at October 1st rolled around. As they held their breath, the imaginary calendar in their minds quickly pulled each square numbered day off the sheet, ending with the most special numbered. Beginning with October 1st, the anticipation very nearly drove them crazy with excitement, the countdown to the day a reward in patience. As each evening progressed closer and closer to October 31st, a new plastic goblin or Styrofoam witch would appear on the mantle in the living room. Day by day a ceramic dish filled with candy corn would appear on the kitchen table, or a bowl filled with gourds and small pumpkins would find itself on the coffee table in the den. Cotton stuffed black cats sat on chairs and rested atop bed pillows, all fun reminders of the days to follow.
Picking the pumpkins to be used as jack-o-lanterns for the front step was a yearly treat as well, and all the kids at Samuel Jackson Elementary School looked forward to the Friday before Halloween. Ever year a nearby farmer donated a truck load of pumpkins in which all the children could pick one to carve in the classroom.
Desks covered with newspaper, one by the kids could carve their concoctions into the soft flesh of the orange globes. Misshapen smiles with missing teeth or crooked eyes were the norm. Some ambitious students would even make wigs of yarn, long black curly locks or thick braided clumps pasted to either side of the scary faces looking back at them from atop their desks.
Bob, of course, always made his pumpkin a masterpiece. He first drew a picture with magic marker, making sure the face was centered and not at all sloppy looking. Bob took great pride in his pumpkin skills.
George liked to name his pumpkins. No one could remember when he first started doing it, but it seemed like the right thing to do. After all, it was like having a member of the family for a while, as all the pumpkins carved at school were carefully transported home to the steps in front of their house on Maple Street.
George & Bob carried their precious cargo in paper bags with handles, courtesy of the local grocery store. They were much too intent on the mission at hand to notice how bright the sun was that day, how crisp and cool the air was. It was something they pretty much took for granted, as most children do, and wouldn’t realize the significance of the afternoon until they were much older.
As they turned the corner to head towards home, they began to trot as they got closer to their, breaking into a full run once they had gotten close enough to spy the ghosts tied to the posts of the house front porch. Mommy had tied old white bed sheets together and made a family to greet them.
“Holy cow! Do you see that, Stanley?” George said out loud to his pumpkin.
He was lifting the newest member of the family out of the brown bag with all the pride of a new father.
He positioned Stanley on the third step from the top, midway between the 5th and the bottom wooden slats of the wooden gateway.
Bob smiled sheepishly as he lifted his masterpiece and put it beside Stanley. Although he did not name his creations, it didn’t stop him from talking to them.
“You’ll be very happy here” he said softly to the gourd, as he placed it gently on the step next to his brother’s.
Mommy looked out the kitchen window and watched as the two brothers stood back to examine their proud creative endeavors.
Later that evening, Mommy put the finishing touches on the last jack-o-lantern to sit on the steps outside the door of their house on Maple Street. The inside had been gutted and flattened enough to stick a tea candle inside, illuminating the smiling face of the pumpkin. It looked quite at home amongst the other works of art her children had created in preparation for one of their most favorite times of the year.
They had been asleep for several hours, dreaming of bags of chocolate and candy corn filling their sacks as they screamed Trick or Treat! to their neighbors and the siblings of their friends. Slumbering in the knowledge that all was right with the world, they snuggled up against their blankets and pillows, safe and secure in anticipation of the festivities to come later in the month.
Mommy blew out the tea light, a small poof of smoke billowing above the wick, a scent of sulfur and wax filling her nostrils. She sat down on the steps besides the small gourd village and pulled her sweater closer around her, breathing in the cool night air. Summer had finally let go of its stronghold, the last gasp of heat vanquished as the Autumn breezes shuffled them out the door.
She sat that way for a while, knees pulled up to her chin and huddled under her sweater. Trying to sort her thoughts, she wondered how she was going to tell them the things she had kept to herself for so long. Suddenly there was a creak behind her and the screen door opened, revealing the figure of her oldest son, Frank. He was getting more grown up every day, a fact becoming more and more difficult to ignore. She was a short woman, barely 5 feet tall, and her tweener son was just about eye level.
“You okay, Mommy?” he asked with a sleepy voice. She smiled at the recognition that he still called her Mommy, even though most of his friends called their mothers Ma or Mom or Momma. She was grateful he wanted to hang on to the moniker for just a little while longer.
“Fine, son” she answered as she craned her neck backwards to face him. “Fine.”
She smiled reassuringly towards him before turning back around to face the street.
The road they lived on was quiet, a few lights peppering the houses surrounding theirs. Off in the distance a dog barked, and they could smell the remnants of a fire lit earlier to burn the remains of brush and branches from spent apple trees of the orchard several miles away. It was the comfort of the sounds and smells that prevented her from telling the young man the true feelings churning inside her at that moment.
“What do you want to be for Halloween?” she asked him gaily, wanting to lighten the mood within herself.
“I don’t know …he said rubbing his eyes while turning to step back inside.
“I’ll have to sleep on it” and he closed the screen door behind him. He stopped before walking from the entryway.
“Maybe Spiderman or something like that?” yawning and stretching his arms upward, as if reaching for heaven.
Mommy stood up to join him on the other side of the door. Opening the screen she looked up at the moon shining brightly on the street she loved so much, the only neighborhood her children had ever known.
“Mommy?” he said as he headed for the staircase. Then he stopped, one foot on the first step.
Mommy’s heart began to pound slightly faster beneath her sweater. He was always the most perceptive of all her children. She didn’t want to have to tell him now.
“What?” she asked cautiously.
Please! she prayed frantically. Not like this….
“I don’t know” he said matter of fact. “You sure seem to be sleeping a lot…”
Mommy’s eyes began to well up and she was thankful the hallway was dark.
“Must be the change of season she said simply and then closed the front door tightly, locking it. It was a vain attempt at keeping the world outside of their little nest for just a few moments longer.
To be continued.