She feels as vaporous as a ghost, padding from room to room as the gloom slowly fills the house.
“Move it!” she yells up the stairs, and they scream back “Almost done!” in perfect unison.
She savors the memory of how their faces had lit up that morning, when she had put on her hat and coat and commanded them to get ready to walk into town for the costumes. They deserved it. A few crumpled bills stuffed into a pocket of her faded, blue raincoat held that kind of power. She had been trying to save for some time, to cushion them against the unknown. But now what was the use?
They pile down the stairs, costumes crinkling and hissing. All that plastic and silk.
“Watch out, Ma, or I’ll curse you!” Ruby’s witch cackles, waving her fingers.
Zach is some sort of hobo-clown. He loves Red Skelton and maybe that’s why he chose that one, she doesn’t know. Of course, the Montgomery Ward only had about the three costumes left by the time she had decided to bring them on down there, so it’s not like they had a lot to choose from.
“It’s getting dark, they’ll be starting down at the grange hall soon. You’d better get a move on,” she tells them.
“You’re coming, right Ma?” She sees Zach’s pale blue eyes widen behind the hobo mask.
“I’ll be along presently. Just hold your sister’s hand and everything will be fine.” She fixes her daughter with a serious but tender gaze. “Ruby, you’ll watch out for your brother, won’t you, hon?”
“Yes’m,” Ruby says and it’s hard to take her seriously wearing that clean mop she’s laid on her head for witch-hair. She’s just a kid, after all.
She bustles them out the door and notices the strap on Ruby’s right shoe is loose. “Hold on.” She bends down and snaps the buckle. “There. Wait! What good is a witch without a broom?”
She runs back into the house and grabs the straw-stick from the kitchen closet. “That’s better,” she says, placing the broom into her daughter’s hand.
“Come here, my hobo.” She holds her arms out to Zach and she sees his eyes roll, but he rushes forward into her embrace. “Be mindful of your sister, now. I’ll see you both soon.”
And then she releases him.
She walks back into the house, letting the screen door bang shut.
The kitchen is getting darker, but she doesn’t feel like turning on a lamp. The darkness whispers to her, like a lover, as she watches the kids, hand in hand, skip across the yard toward County Road 22.
“Hey, wait!” she calls out, and then scampers over to the counter. She has just remembered she bought a roll of film when they got the costumes. To get a picture of this Halloween. For a keepsake, like people do.
The wind is picking up outside. “A picture!” she yells, holding the camera over her head. “Just get closer together.” She moves her arms like she is directing traffic in town.
The sky above the children boils black, gray, and white.
And she snaps the picture.
“Okay,” she yells again, nodding her head. “I’ve got it. I’ve got you! Now, go on.”
Back in the kitchen, she pulls the photo out of the side of the enormous, gray plastic camera and places it on the table. From here she can see into the living room as well as out through the screen door to the yard and the road. She looks at her wedding photo above the couch, and, on the mantle, the folded flag that came home from Vietnam on her husband’s coffin. Unpaid bills lie in a mound on the coffee table.
She looks down. Miraculously, the image of her kids on this Halloween slowly emerges as she loads the pistol.
She sits quietly in the darkness.
Through the screen door she watches Zach and Ruby running, their squeals of glee swallowed by the rising wind.
“Go on, now,” she whispers again. “Go on.”