A Walk on Halloween

By Carol Abbott 

 

       Margaret had always loved Halloween. As a child she had planned for weeks before the big day, just what costume to wear. Fairy princess, spooky witch, space alien....over the years, Margaret had done versions of them all, and many more besides. As an adult, Margaret still enjoyed the holiday immensely. She decorated the front porch of her midtown Victorian house with thick spider webs, changed the porch light to a green bulb and hunted in the storage trunks up in the attic to find old clothes to stuff with straw and an old felt hat that Grandpa Riley had worn when he gardened to make a scarecrow for the wicker rocker that sat on the porch.

 

        Lots of families with kids had migrated to the suburbs but there were always a few trick-or-treating children and Margaret knew they would enjoy her efforts. Besides, she loved to do it just for herself. The day before the thirty-first, she was at the neighborhood market after work to get milk and something for dinner, when she spotted the perfect pumpkin. A really good one, with a plump, rather tall shape and sporting a wonderfully gnarled stem, which was something that Margaret always admired, thinking it added so much character.

 

        She paid for her purchases and made her way home through the gathering twilight, already planning how she would carve this superior pumpkin into a wonderful, spooky spirit of a jack-o-lantern that would just set off the porch decorations to a tee. She was beginning to smile in anticipation, swishing the fallen red and yellow leaves drifted across the sidewalk with her black suede boots. Toting the shopping bag and with a wide and friendly grin for the occasional neighbors still out in the gathering dusk as they headed home for Thursday evening suppers of chili or beef stew, Margaret covered the five blocks from the store to her home. It was wonderfully cool and there was a slight smell of wood smoke drifting on the breeze that tossed Margaret's hair as it pushed at her back, reminding her to be sure to call Mr. Parr and order a half cord of good seasoned hardwood before it was all gone from the stack outside her backdoor stoop.

 

        As she walked, leaves crackling underfoot, she noticed that so many of the neighbor's houses were sporting signs of homage to the Halloween season. Some even had carved pumpkins already in place on front steps and ghosts and skeletons swayed in the trees at several houses. The O'Brien's had outlined the whole porch railing in round orange pumpkin lights and a very tall hooded creature with outstretched hands stood sentinel near their front door.

 

        She rounded the corner into Jansen Place, glad that the subdued light was still sufficient to admire the stately oaks. High up, overhead, the sky was a color made of equal parts dark purple and sapphire but as Margaret glanced west, back toward the way she had come from the market, there were streaks of crimson, gold and pink tinting the clouds that hugged the horizon. The sinking sun streamed between the homes in the cul-de-sac in glowing spears of light to turn the stately old homes on the east side of the road into golden palaces, while casting deep shadow across the lawns of the houses on the west side of the street.

 

        Margaret loved this little cul-de-sac. It had been her home for nearly her whole life. She and Mama had lived with Grandpa Riley from the time just before she turned eleven. Margaret’s Daddy had died nine weeks after her tenth birthday and then three months after he passed, Grammy Riley had died and Grandpa was so lonesome and sad. Mama had seemed so lost, and really, there wasn’t enough money to keep the large house that Daddy had taken such pride in, but which caused him to have to work so many extra hours. So when Grandpa suggested the move, Mama heaved a sigh of relief and took her daughter back to live in the Riley Family home on Jansen Place in the heart of the city.

 

        With the exception of the four years that Margaret went away to Wellesley during the school year, she had lived in her Mother’s beloved family home ever since. Currently, Mama spent at least ten months out of every twelve in Arizona, because "that’s where all my old friends have ended up and I love the heat and hate the humidity." Margaret knew it was that Mama still wanted to live her life, not just spend the years endlessly under the same roof where she’d been born and sharing a house with a thirty-five year old daughter, who looked as though she herself might never find any man that she’d be willing to marry.

 

        In truth, Margaret hadn’t exactly given up believing that there was someone perfect for her, but she had to admit that she wasn’t spending much time on the search for this elusive guy. She loved the job she had, kept in close touch with several old school friends and, all in all, was content, meeting each day with joy and enthusiasm.

 

        Margaret’s steps quickened toward the house at the very end of the cul-de-sac, with it’s wide, welcoming lawns strewn in oak leaves. It would be good to reach home. The pumpkin was making the shopping bag heavier with each step. "Oh, you will make a terrific jack-o-lantern but I wish I’d found you when I was driving rather than on the day I took the bus," she thought as she shifted the bag’s handle from her right to her left hand and began to fumble one handed into the slouchy suede shoulder bag swinging from her right shoulder, fingers sifting for the bottom trying to snag the house keys by feel.

 

        As she glanced toward the scarecrow to catch that silly cockeyed expression that looked so good from the angle coming up the walk toward the porch, she gave a mighty start! The scarecrow seemed to have a friend. Someone was sitting in the second rocking chair all but hidden in the shadows of the approaching night. There was a slight movement of the rocking motion of the chair back, an impression of wide shoulders, a glimpse of white hand resting on the chair’s broad arm. Under Margaret’s russet suede, belted trench coat, which had been more than adequate to the chill of the late October day, her arms bumped into goose flesh. She loved this old and solid neighborhood and always felt completely safe and comfortable in it’s surroundings. Now, suddenly and inexplicably she felt an urge to run, to drop the bag and run or, better yet, to fling the bag at the shadowed figure on the porch and flee!

 

        In the brief moment between thought and action, the slightly rocking figure came forward to his feet and the last slivers of light showed a tall, well built man. He took a couple of steps forward, smiling as though in greeting, and began to look slightly familiar instead of someone to run from as had been Margaret’s first instinct. Suddenly his face became serious. "Oh, I am sorry! I have startled you. I never even thought what this would look like to you. Please forgive me." The voice was rich timbered and wonderfully modulated. He came down the steps at a normal walking pace but to Margaret, still recovering from the jolt to her senses, he seemed to come down in slow motion. He was tall and slender, wearing a chocolate brown jacket of tailored suede. A turtleneck sweater of the same tone as the jacket, brown jeans and dark boots completed his ensemble. His hair was dark blonde with reddish glints and looked rumpled and wind blown. While Margaret stood there collecting her flustered dignity the street lights came on and showed the interloper to have a ruddy complexion and open, friendly eyes, that in the uncertain light appeared to be hazel or perhaps green, and that flashed between concern for the fright he had given and amusement at the situation.

 

        Margaret’s voice had a very slight tremble as she answered, "You did rather frighten me. It was so unexpected and I had just been immersing myself in the feeling of Halloween ghosts and goblins on my walk from Fuller’s Market." She smiled and said with glee, "I’ve found the most perfect pumpkin for carving. You are my new neighbor from the corner, aren’t you? I saw you the other day but was running for the bus so didn’t have time to say anything. I’m Margaret Chapman. How do you like the neighborhood, so far?"

 

        "I’m Jeremy Randolph and I think I’m going to like being here very much. My clumsy attempt at being neighborly can be explained by the fact that I had noticed that you generally arrive home at about 6 p.m. most days and so I decided to come down and introduce myself. I wanted to ask you if children in this neighborhood would be out trick-or-treating on Halloween night. If the custom still lives here in the heart of the city, I didn’t want to be left without treats for them. Then when you didn’t arrive shortly after six I was thinking of leaving but seeing the sun setting on Jansen Place was so compelling that I just lingered ….and that’s where you came into it. Again, I do apologize. It’s not the first impression I was hoping to make." His smile was very appealing and Margaret felt heat on her cheeks that she fervently hoped was hidden in the gathering night shadows.

 

        "There aren’t too many children that seem to trick-or-treat around this neighborhood any more. Certainly not like when I was a kid. Then there were tons of us roaming the streets. These days one bag of miniature Milky Ways will about do it. But you know, there are lots more people putting up decorations for Halloween than there used to be. I was seeing them all over the place on my way home from the market this evening. The sky was sure putting on a show just as the sun set. I don’t blame you for being in it’s thrall." She paused in contemplation then suddenly said, "I’m sorry, Jeremy. I can’t believe my lack of manners. I’m just going in to make some coffee. Would you like to come in for a cup?"

 

        Jeremy looked startled as he said, "Thank you. It’s nice of you to ask, but I have a dinner…er…engagement…and should have been on my way by now. Could we make it another time? I didn’t realize how late it had gotten!" He reached out and seemed about to touch her arm, but hesitated and then smiled boyishly and shrugged. "I really have got to go. It’s good to finally meet you, Margaret."

 

        Margaret smiled back but suddenly felt awkward, as though the offer of coffee had been a blunder of some kind. "It’s nice to have met you too. Welcome to the neighborhood, Jeremy." The words, the tone, it all seemed strained and awkward somehow, but she couldn’t keep babbling on when he said he had to go, could she? So she picked up the grocery bag, turned toward the steps and started up.

 

        Jeremy’s voice stopped her half way to the top. "Thanks, Margaret. You say a bag of bars is about right? I’ve got a party to go to later in the evening but don’t want to run out before I leave or I might risk getting my windows soaped."

 

        "Yes, that should about do it," Margaret said too loudly and heartily, as her hand finally closed around her keys at the bottom of her purse. She heard his boots moving on down the sidewalk but pride kept her from glancing back before slipping inside. Pride also kept her from looking out into the street as she pushed the door closed behind her.

 

        "Very good, Margaret! First cute guy you’ve spotted in six months and you’ve got him running away already!" Margaret muttered under her breath as she trudged down the hall toward the kitchen, flipping on lights as she went. "I think he almost said ‘date’ when he was talking about having a dinner "engagement". Here I have an absolute fox living four houses away and he might as well live on the moon! Oh well. Nothing ventured…..and all that……"

 

        After dinner was done and the dishes put in the dishwasher, Margaret laid out a thick layer of newspapers on the kitchen table and proceeded to carve the jack-o-lantern. Setting him in the cool air of the back service porch to await the next night’s festivities, she headed up to bed and a good scary book by favorite author Laurell K. Hamilton. Nothing like Anita Blake slaying vampires and raising the dead to set the stage for a great Halloween. But when she shut off the light a little before midnight, she felt distracted and like something important had been left undone. Sleep didn’t come easy on this night before All Hallows Eve and she woke several times in the ensuing hours with a catch of breath and a feeling of unease.

 

        The next day she was grumpy and out of sorts. It started with oversleeping right through her alarm and then just escalated from there. An important project developed some serious glitches, a lunch meeting ran too long and was under-productive, considering all the time she had spent. She was mad at herself for unconsciously ruining a perfectly good day leading up to Halloween. And on the ride home reminded herself that if she didn’t get in a better mood that she’d have to wait a whole year for it to be Halloween again.

 

        She made a sandwich when she got home and poured the candy bars from the sack into a terrific orange and black basket decorated with witches and black cats and set it by the door.

 

        She changed into a black, gracefully flowing, draped wool dress, put on her black suede boots and combed her shoulder length auburn hair until sparks crackled and it floated, electric-charged about her face. She was naturally fair and she brushed powdered blush into the hollows at her cheek bones and worked to make her eyes more exotic with swooping shadow streaks and extra thick mascara.

 

        Then, soon enough, the children, coming and going, admiring their costumes and chatting with their mothers and fathers filled up the time and made her, finally, content for the first time of the whole day.

 

        The wonderful jack-o-lantern was indeed just the right addition to the decorations and Margaret was feeling her usual happiness with the ways of her world. After the rush, the visitors slowed and at about 8:30 Margaret switched off the porch light but left the pumpkin glowing. Having no porch light on would discourage nearly anyone from a late visit. Margaret popped corn and sat in the darkened front parlor to look out over Jansen Place and watch Halloween wind down for another year.

 

        Suddenly she was startled from a light doze by the chime of the door bell. How had she managed to fall asleep? It wasn’t that late, but she had slept so fitfully the night before. Should she ignore the summons? But she still had plenty of candy and she peeked out of the darkened window. It appeared to be only one kid, rather tall. But other children might be there as well just out of her sight. Again the ‘bing-bong’ of the bell. Oh well, she would go to the door. Even as a teenager she had loved to go trick-or-treating. It was such a harmless diversion for kids. And besides, she understood it herself, so very clearly.

 

        Was she being foolhardy? She loved and trusted the safety of her neighborhood. She had nothing to fear, she was sure. So she went to the door, basket of candy bars in hand, switching on the lights as she went, clicking on the green porch light just before she swung open the front door.

 

        She was totally unprepared for what was waiting on the porch. Margaret would reflect many times in future years as to how opening that door had changed her life for evermore.

 

        "Jeremy! What are you doing here? I thought you had a party tonight!"

 

        He stood framed in the spilling yellow light of the open hallway. Dressed completely in black leather and looking very handsome and just a little dangerous. A smile slowly formed in his eyes and spilled onto his lips as he looked at a Margaret so recently wakened from her sleep. "Hello Margaret," his voice was rich and low and held a chuckle. "I was hoping I could get that cup of coffee tonight." He paused, but Margaret was still, so still, just looking into his face. "Then after coffee, would you come out with me for a walk on this fine Halloween night? The moon is coming up orange behind the trees and jack-o-lanterns are a-glow everywhere. It’s just that I need someone to share it with, Maggie." Jeremy’s voice was almost as soft as a whisper as he said her name. "I need to share it with someone that can enjoy it as much as I do."

 

        He extended his hand toward her, his eyes never leaving her face. Margaret set the basket onto the wide seat of the antique halltree by the door though she didn’t take her eyes from him. She pulled her trench coat from the halltree hook, still not looking away. The smile that had been tugging at a corner of her lips grew brighter. She reached out and took his hand just as a breeze caught her hair and made it fan into a halo, backlighted by the hall light.

 

        "Let’s walk first. Then I’ll make us coffee."

 

        Jeremy grinned and pulled her toward him. "I think that is an excellent plan, Maggie."

The End

 

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