Swirls of orange and brown leaves begin to pile around the pillars, posts and trees in the neighborhood where I live. Soon their golden carpet will spread before me as I trudge from car to house. Rain will erode their dry contours and turn them to sludge as winter draws itself closer around us, along with the ghosts who cast benign, enigmatic glances at me as I hurry by.
On Halloween, I turn out the porch light and dim the lights in the living room. The houses of my block have no children, and the only trick-or-treaters who trod our steps come late and from far away. My neighbor's grandchildren have moved to North Dakota. If I bought candy, my husband and I would be hard-pressed to resist the pile of leftovers.
A little image floats upward from a deep recess. A tiny velour-covered critter, with a cherub face and brown whiskers formed from the stroke of an eye-liner pencil. I lift him from his car seat and clutch him to me as I walk to his babysitter's house. We're going around her neighborhood with her family. She and her husband wait on their porch with their children, a couple of little angels and a devil. She's position a huge metal bowl full of miniature chocolate bars on their stoop, with a plastic witch clipped to its rim and a hand-lettered sign inviting children to help themselves. She's a trusting soul. She's written "One To a Customer" and made a smiley face.
We set off down the block, the two youngest in a wagon. We send them to each door hand in hand, while the three adults hover a few feet back. Halloween has turned scary; we don't want to be the parents whose children came to harm because we didn't look out for them. Diane puts one hand on her son's head and tells him to hold his sister's hand. My own little own toddles ahead, clutching his tiny bucket and chortling "trick or treat" with only a trace of a lisp. It's 1992 and he's been walking for just a couple of months but talking practically from birth.
By the end of the block, the kids have lost their enthusiasm for walking and don't resist our urge to head towards home. We hit a couple of houses that straddle the corner, venturing near the main street but not approaching it. We see a carload of children emerge from a van near the curb and spread out towards the neighboring houses. One lone adult leans on the open door, his face visible in the dome light. He looks weary. He lights a cigarette and huddles into his jacket as we move beyond him. We trade smiles.
Back at my car, we all hug and I buckle my son back into his car seat. Diane's husband has already taken their three into the house and I'm anxious to get home. But Diane stops me with her hand on my arm, the same slender hand I had just seen her use to propel her son forward to each house displaying a beckoning light. I look into her face and see grief that hadn't been obvious before now. I wait. "We're getting divorced," she says. I know there's more; but we both know this isn't the time or place for what lies behind her statement. I fold her into my arms and we stand without speaking, in the dark, on her street, while my son rummages through his loot and sings a little song.
A few weeks later Diane closed the daycare in her home. I put Patrick in pre-school and bought a house. When I toured the place, for the first time, in the January after that Halloween, I noticed pictures of familiar children on the mantel. "I know these people," I told my realtor. "Their kids used to go to the same babysitter as my son." We stood in the living room, looking at the photographs, until one of us shifted and the world started spinning again.
My husband has gone off to tennis and my son still sleeps. Yesterday counts as a good day: My friend Penny Thieme and I launched an Indiegogo to raise funds for the VALA Gallery, an artists' community which she founded and manages. There will be a pumpkin painting contest there today, and my son, well beyond the age of trick-or-treating, plans to go help with the children. As for myself, I'm doing fall cleaning, and when the night falls, I'll be a half-mile from here, celebrating an anniversary with some friends of ours, and wondering where all the little goblins have gone.