Well, the great candy-fest has come and gone. I spent an intense two hours Halloween night standing at my front door, ready to spring into action the moment my doorbell rang. Youngsters dressed as The Incredible Hulk with green faces and foam-rubber muscles have the patience of a gnat and will destroy the doorbell if you don’t respond within nano-seconds. Had I ever sat down, I would have been too slow springing up again.
Although I can’t call Halloween my favorite day (I outgrew that several years ago), I still hand out candy so I can see the little ones in their costumes.
As we writers know, humans in all guises are fascinating creatures and an endless source of writing material. My doorstep saw the polite, well-mannered children who greeted me and thanked me. Then there were the barbarians, too young as yet to be hooligans, but give them about four to six more years and a driver’s license. You haven’t lived until a ten-year-old brandishes a wooden dagger at your throat and demands your Snickers Bars or else!
Of course, the best entertainment in my small-people watching came from the little ones. The two-year-olds just don’t get it yet. The three-year-olds are the ones reaching to grab candy for themselves. The four-year-olds are circling the group for second and third helpings.
The top charmer was the toddler in a T-Rex costume who was so fascinated by the cement dog on my porch that not even the prospect of candy could lure her attention away from the engrossing process of inserting her index finger into the dog’s mouth. The best costume of the night went to the clever young lady who was dressed as a bag of jelly beans. She’d designed and made the costume herself, but she confessed that it was terribly hot. Runner-up was the child who came as a candy cane–complete with red-and-white striped tights–and carried a Christmas stocking to hold her swag. She was young, but she already had style.
And then there were the kids who’d tried to make costumes for themselves despite next-to-nothing to work with. Those take me back to my childhood.
My first costume was home-made by my mother. I went as a ghost fashioned from a bedsheet and one of Dad’s old white undershirts, and Mom gave me strict orders not to say a word so no one would recognize my voice. Let’s just say that no one at school guessed who I was, and I was thrilled to be Caspar the Friendly Ghost.
I can recall having only one store-bought costume. It was black with a skeleton painted on it. I got it when I was seven, and it had to last through several other Halloweens until I completely outgrew it. Thereafter, my outfits were always home-made, devised first by my innovative mother and, later, myself.
Last night, I saw kids who’d been pretty clever, given limited resources. Some had painted their faces. Others wore hand-me-down party frocks for the Princess look. The least imaginative were the boys clad in football jerseys. But perhaps they were fantasizing about someday playing for the OU Sooners.
And then … there came my last trick-or-treater of the night. A grim-faced little girl of maybe ten in a cheap school dress and stringy hair, carrying a battered plastic Walmart sack. No face paint, no hat, no borrowed finery or ghoulish robes. She came alone, without any buddies to giggle with in the dark spans between houses.
There was no excited shout of “Trick or Treat!” and no “Thank you” for what I gave her.
Her eyes held a dull determination, and there was no smile on her face. Certainly there was no joy in her heart. I saw no excitement in her, no giddiness, and none of that eager-to-greedy anticipation that had carried the others before her.
There wasn’t much candy in her sack either.
When I closed the door, I couldn’t forget her, this joyless child. My writer’s imagination leapt to work, immediately playing the “what if” game. I had to speculate on what could so deaden a child’s sense of fun and adventure.
Was she out there against her will? Was she sulking because she didn’t have a costume? Or had there been domestic trouble in the family that evening to spoil the outing for her? Did she have an alcoholic parent who’d shouted at her, or belittled her before she went out?
Maybe she was unhappy because she had no friends or siblings to go with. Or maybe she was the unfortunate kid who didn’t get invited to the big Halloween party.
Was she afflicted with a lack of imagination? Was there no adult in her family sufficiently interested in her to even try to dress her up? How much effort does it take to work a bit of magic with a tube of lipstick or even a smear of shoe polish or Magic Marker?
Maybe too much, if no one cares.
And yet, how did she come to be tramping doggedly alone in my neighborhood after dark if no one had bothered to drive her there? Or did she walk to our houses, a stolid little figure braving the shadows alone? At the age of ten, I would have loved doing that. But this child was not having fun.
I shall never know this odd little girl who came last. I can only imagine what brought her to my door and where she went next.
She’ll appear in one of my stories someday. Of that, I can be sure.