“Oh Ronnie, don’t you just look adorable!” Mrs. Jenson cooed.
She brushed the faux fur away from his face. She had wriggled Ronnie into an orange-brown lion costume. He stared back at her with his wide crystal blue eyes and pouty lips.
“Ronnie are you excited to go trick-or-treating?” Mrs. Jenson said in her soft, high-pitched voice she reserved for her precious boy.
Ronnie continued staring at her. He reached his pudgy, dimpled hand to tug at the matted fur framing his face.
“Don’t do that dear, you will mess it up,” Mrs. Jenson scolded gently, wrapping her hand around his warm, delicate fingers and bringing them down to his side.
“What do you say we get out of here? Go do some trick-or treating?”
Ronnie bore his blue eyes into her. He was too young to comprehend the magical joys of trick-or-treating. Trampling across dewy grass, climbing porch steps, holding open a bulging bag of candy to receive even more. He would learn soon enough about this wondrous, yearly occasion.
Mrs. Jenson scooped up Ronnie and rested his small, lion-costume clad body against her hip. She brought her lips to his cheek, holding them there just long enough to inhale his sweet, warm scent.
“Now let’s be quiet. Daddy is working,” she whispered.
She slowly tip-toed out of the room, clutching Ronnie. She was already wearing her grey wool coat, prepared to make a quiet exit. Like a mouse escaping her prey, she quietly descended down the stairs, one step at a time, careful to keep her balance and not upset Ronnie.
Once at the bottom of the stairs, she slipped on her black leather boots. She didn’t do up the zipper until they were outside. She opened the door and gently shut it behind them. She set Ronnie down gingerly on the pavement. He stood staring at her, blinking every few seconds. Mrs. Jenson pulled a plastic bag out of her pocket.
“Here you go, sweetie. You’ll hold this open to get candy from all the neighbours!” She grinned, taking Ronnie’s left hand and placing it around the handle of the plastic bag.
Ronnie still didn’t seem to comprehend what was going on. He reached up to touch the fur lingering near his eyes.
“No baby, don’t touch. Come on, let’s go have some fun!” Mrs. Jenson sang.
She grabbed Ronnie’s other hand and led him down the stone pathway. Kids were weaving in and out of driveways, clutching bulging bags of candy and running to show their waiting parents what latest treat they scored. Witches, lions, robots, princesses, superheroes and more danced along wide roads in the dim light. The houses were decorated with bright orange pumpkins, cotton white cobwebs, and skeletons grinning as you passed. The odd home even let out a scary noise or a flash of light. Mrs. Jenson hoped Ronnie wouldn’t be too frightened by all of it.
“Now Rons, remember, none of it is real. It’s just all pretend,” she whispered to him.
Ronnie clutched her hand tightly. He didn’t love being in crowds. He would cling to his mother as if trying to make himself her third pant leg.
Mrs. Jenson led Ronnie to their neighbour on the left. She stood at the end of their pathway.
“Ronnie, baby, you’re going to go walk up to her door and say ‘trick or treat’ just like the other kids, OK? Here we can watch what they’re doing.”
He followed her gaze as a group of kids not much older than him scrambled up the pathway, towards the amber glow of the front door. One of them was dressed in all black with white bones painted onto his black mask. Another was wearing a frilly dress, a golden tiara perched on her head. The last one was wearing a fleece onesie, a pacifier strung around her neck. The princess gently rapped on the door.
The front door swung open, warm yellow light spilling out.
“Trick or treat!” The three children cried out in unison.
They held open their plastic bags, eagerly awaiting their treats.
“My, my look what we have here! Which princess are you, my dear?” said Mrs. Robinson.
“Sleeping beauty!” The princess replied, grinning widely. She did a little curtsey.
Mrs. Robinson laughed.
“Well aren’t you charming? Let’s see what I have for you three. How about some M&M’s, maybe some cheetos as well?” Mrs. Robinson said, reaching into her overflowing bowl of brightly coloured candy and delicately fishing out particular treats.
She dropped three packages of M&M’s and one packet of cheetos into each awaiting bag.
“Thank you, thank you so much!” The children responded, gleefully.
“You’re welcome, be safe out there!” Mrs. Robinson cried as the children turned to leave. They bounded down the stone stairs and she shut the door.
“Come on Ronnie, it’s your turn.” Mrs. Jenson said.
Ronnie didn’t budge. He clutched her leg, unsure of what he should do next.
“Alright, alright, I’ll come with you. But you can go to the next one all on your own,” she said.
She took Ronnie’s hand and helped him up the walkway. She nodded her head towards the door, sending him a silent message to knock. Ronnie didn’t move. She raised her hand to the door and knocked on it three times.
The door swung open.
“Oh! Hello Mrs. Jenson. What can I do for you?” Mrs. Robinson said, forcing a smile.
“Ronnie over here would like some candy,” Mrs. Jenson replied, tilting her head towards Ronnie in his lion costume.
“Oh. Some candy? For Ronnie?” Mrs. Robinson asked, her voice raising a few octaves. Her cheeks turned a rosy red as they do when she is flustered.
“Yes. Maybe some M&M’s. He’s never tried them before. I don’t usually keep sugary snacks in the house,” said Mrs. Jenson.
Mrs. Robinson stared at her for a fleeting second before looking away.
“Oh, alright. M&M’s it is!” she said, turning away to recollect herself and rustle through the bowl of candy.
“Ronnie, open your bag,” Mrs. Jenson whispered. Ronnie still didn’t move, he was frozen to the spot. The plastic bag drooped at his side.
“Well three packages of M&M’s! How’s that?” Mrs. Robinson asked, clutching them as if unsure what to do.
“That’s perfect. I’ll take them. Ronnie seems to be a bit...shy tonight,” said Mrs. Jenson.
Mrs. Robinson handed the three bags of candy to Mrs. Jenson, careful not to brush her fingers.
“Thank you! Have a great night and happy Halloween!” Mrs. Jenson sang, grabbing Ronnie’s hand and leading him back into the darkness.
“No problem. Err.. same to you,” said Mrs. Robinson before slowly shutting the door.
Back on the street, Mrs. Jenson snuck a glance at Ronnie. He was toddling along next to her, clutching her hand for dear life. This must be a lot for him, poor soul. All the spooky sounds and seeing everyone dressed up in costumes. This would all fade away when he tried the M&M’s, she was sure of it.
“You did great, Ronnie. I’m so proud of you,” Mrs. Jenson said and bent down to kiss his supple cheek.
Ronnie giggled at her touch.
“Let’s try this house next. Look, there’s a group of kids coming. You can go with them!” Mrs. Jenson grinned, watching the approaching pair of children.
One of them was wearing a silver gown with her hair braided to the side. The other had a glittery S sewn onto her chest, a clear symbol of superwoman.
“Go, go,” Mrs. Jenson nudged, pushing Ronnie forward to join the pack.
Ronnie slowly trudged towards them, clutching his plastic bag. Two boys came up behind them, both wearing matching Batman costumes.
She watched as the four kids approached the door, Ronnie standing with them.
“Trick or treat!” they cried out when the wooden door swung open.
Thick packs of licorice were dropped into each of their waiting bags.
“Thanks!” They cried out, turning to leave. The four of them looked up and noticed Mrs. Jenson. The girls immediately dropped their eyes to the floor. The boys continued staring at her, one of them frowning.
They brushed passed her as she waited for Ronnie to make his way down the steep porch stairs.
“Did you see? It was Mrs. Jenson back there,” she heard one of the boys say.
“Yeah. My mom said she’s totally nutty. Apparently last week she-,”
“Stop. That’s not nice,” one of the girls interrupted.
“She’s crazy though!”
“Doesn’t matter. It’s not nice,” the girl said stubbornly. They turned out of earshot.
Mrs. Jenson shuddered. She hated to hear town gossip for this exact reason. At least some children had some sense not to take part in it.
Ronnie returned to her side.
“How was that, baby?” she cooed.
Ronnie reached up to touch the fur and brush it out of his eyes.
“Proud of you. Let’s keep going,” she said.
They made their way around the neighbourhood, trudging through dewy grass and climbing front porch stairs. Sometimes Mrs. Jenson knocked and other times Ronnie gathered the courage to bring his little hand to the door. The bulge of his bag grew bigger and bigger as he collected more candy. Finally, Ronnie sat down on the ground at the end of a driveway.
“Are you tired? Is it time to call it a night?” Mrs. Jenson smiled, sweetly.
Ronnie didn’t respond, he rested his adorable head on his hand.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” she laughed.
In one fluid swoop, she lifted Ronnie off of the ground and onto her hip. She walked slowly, balancing his bag of candy in her other hand, back to their home.
The front porch lights were on. That meant Mr. Jenson was still awake.
“Daddy is still up! Let’s go show him all of the candy,” Mrs. Jenson said, excitedly.
Ronnie clapped his little hands at the mention of his beloved father.
Mrs. Jenson bounded up the front porch steps, careful not to bump Ronnie on the railing that jutted out. She grasped the handle of the front door and pushed it open. She set Ronnie and his bag of candy down.
“Helena, where have you been?” Mr. Jenson was standing in the front hall.
Mrs. Jenson didn’t say anything. Her voice was lodged at the back of her throat.
Mr. Jenson noticed the bag of candy at her feet.
“Were you...were you out trick or treating?” he said, quietly.
She wanted to nod but her body wouldn’t let her. She was frozen on the spot, her heart hammering in her chest. Her stomach knotted the way it did when she was caught doing something wrong.
Mr. Jenson put his hand over his eyes and stood unmoving for a few moments. Mrs. Jenson was breathing heavily.
After what felt like a lifetime, he finally removed his hand to reveal thick tears streaming down his face.
“Helena, you can’t do that. He’s gone,” Mr. Jenson whispered.
Mrs. Jenson looked to her right where Ronnie had been standing. There was nothing there but an overflowing bag of candy. Her chest tightened and her stomach sank.
“But...but he was just here,” she whispered, her voice barely audible.
“No, no he wasn't. He hasn’t been here for three years,” said Mr. Jenson, sadly shaking his head.
“That’s not true. He was just here.” Mrs. Jenson said, sternly, finally finding her voice.
Mr. Jenson let out a wrangled sob. He covered his face with both hands. His chest heaved. Muffled cries escaped from the barrier he’d made out of his hands.
“He’s gone,” he choked between sobs.
Mrs. Jenson let out a primal scream and crumpled to the floor. She lay there, her cheek pressed to the cold marble, as reality finally washed over her.