Marlow and Mommy were busy. Fall was in the air, Mommy said, and they had lots to do to get ready. They’d picked all the apples off their only tree. Daddy had to hold Marlow on his shoulders to reach the highest ones. Marlow stood on the stool in the kitchen and washed them. Then Mommy had peeled them and cut the core out with all the tiny, brown seeds. Then she even let him use the sharp knife to cut them. They had divided them up into bags and put them in the freezer.
Now Marlow and Mommy were cutting leaves out of construction paper to make decorations. Lots and lots of fall leaves, more than Marlow could count. Yellow, red, orange, brown. Marlow liked the orange best. But he had a problem.
“I just can’t make these scissors work,” he grumbled. They had traced the leaves on the construction paper with a pencil, so now all he needed to do was cut along the lines. But it took two hands to work the scissors, and then he couldn’t hold the paper. Cutting on the lines seemed impossible.
Twice now he had cut all the way through a leaf instead of making a little ridge. He looked at Mommy. She was doing just fine cutting with her scissors.
“Can I have your scissors?” he asked. “These don’t work.”
“Sure, I’ll trade you,” Mommy said.
While Marlow struggled to cut one line with the new scissors, Mommy cut out a whole leaf! Zzzip, snip, snip, snip.
“When we’re done cutting, we’ll hang them on a string and tape the string on the wall,” Mommy said. “You love stringing beads, Marlow. Maybe you want to start stringing the leaves and I’ll do the cutting?”
“I want to cut too!” Marlow yelled loudly. Mommy sighed.
It made Marlow think of something. Mommy kept saying, “Fall is in the air.” But Marlow had looked and looked and couldn’t see it. Mommy said “air” wasn’t something you could see, but you could smell it and feel it when you breathed.
Now Marlow sighed too, but mainly because he was taking a deep breath, to try to smell the fall. Then he had a sudden thought.
Mommy, is that why everyone has masks on?” he asked. “So they don’t breathe in the fall? Will fall make us sick?”
Mommy set her scissors down and looked at him. At first he was worried he had made her upset. “Nooooo,” she said slowly. “We’re all wearing masks to stop the virus, Mar. Remember what I told you about the virus?”
“That it’ll make people sick to breathe it in?” he asked, trying to remember. Mommy had shown him how to hold his shirt out and stick his nose in it to sneeze. Whenever he coughed into his elbow, she said “good job covering your cough!” But he wasn’t covering his cough good enough to have a Halloween party this year. Every time he asked, she always said no.
“But how will we know fall is in the air if we can’t breathe it or smell it?” he asked. He felt sad but he wasn’t sure why. Still, he knew better than to ask about the Halloween party again. He fiddled with his scissors but didn’t bother trying to cut with them.
“I know fall is in the air because the air feels cooler on my skin, and we have to wear jackets in the morning,” Mommy said. “And I can see the leaves changing colors… But when you say something ‘is in the air,’ it’s usually more of a feeling,” Mommy added. “It’s like the feeling of excitement about the thing, not the smell of it.”
Marlow wrinkled his forehead.
Mommy kept trying to explain. “People say ‘excitement is in the air.’ Remember how excited you were about Scarlett’s birthday party? You couldn’t see anything or smell anything, but you felt the excitement inside? You’d say, ‘excitement is in the air!’”
“Yeah,” Marlowe said. He’d been so excited for Scarlett’s birthday. All day long, he’d waited and waited and thought it would never come. On the drive, he thought every house was Scarlett’s house and felt disappointed when it wasn’t. He had practiced singing Happy Birthday and counting to five so he could help put the candles in her cake.
But now something kept bothering him. “But, Mom, you said the virus is in the air too.”
“Well, yessssss,” Mommy drew her words out slowly.
“But you can’t see it or smell it or taste it,” Marlow added, repeating the words Mommy had told him before.
Mommy was quiet, and her forehead had that heavy look, her eyes dark, her lips pressed flat together. Marlow wondered if she might be frustrated with cutting too.
Marlow picked up his scissors again and started cutting an orange leaf. Yet again, he couldn’t get the scissors to make the sharp turns of the intricate leaf. “Brrubb!” Marlowe exclaimed. It was the word he and Mommy used when they were frustrated.
“It’s different,” Mommy said. “They’re different things.”
Marlow looked at his paper and thought he’d try something different too, something round and easier to cut than a leaf, with no sharp bends or turns.
“When I say ‘fall is in the air’ or ‘excitement is in the air,’ it’s the feeling inside,” Mommy told him. “It’s not really in the air. When I say the virus is in the air, it really is in the air. So we have to wear masks to keep from breathing it in.”
Now Marlowe was cutting like crazy – snip, snip, swip – and Mommy’s scissors lay, silent, on the table. He wrapped his scissors around the orange paper in an easy, loose circle. Finally, he finished cutting and picked up a black marker for the final touches: two eyes, a toothy mouth.
“You know what else is in the air?” he asked, holding up his jack-o-lantern.
Mommy grinned. “Halloween!” She picked up her scissors. “Let’s make Halloween decorations! Halloween is in the air!”