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Black Fiction Happy

Janet sobs over the gaping hole in her hand-me-down vampire costume. 

“Halloween is ruined,” she sighs with her head braced against my leg. 

Loretta can stitch the roughest patch in a marriage together with her thread and needle. OK, that’s a stretch but the massive hole in this vampire cape would be effortless for her. Not to mention, she scoured the entire house and dug up my old vampire costume; of all the nights to cover someone’s shift, why did it have to be this one?

“I’ll do my best with it,” I wipe Janet’s tears back in anticipation of fresh ones that surface as soon as I think about them. 

I whisk the costume away to my den and shut the doors tight while Janet mopes at the kitchen table. The sewing machine on my desk appears twelve feet tall as visions of a torn cape or worse, a torn costume altogether swirl around my head. Loretta didn’t teach me yet I didn’t ask but how or why would I have the audacity to ask someone who juggled housework, outside work, and the undisputed title of the “fun parent”?  I tuck my thumb between my teeth with a heavy sigh, a semi-envious sigh, and get to work. 

I set the cape under the sewing machine and a bead of sweat already winds its way out of my face. If I could harness Loretta’s immaculate calm, this hole may take a few minutes less than it will now. The more I glare at it, the larger it grows until it appears irredeemable, and that few minute difference would come in handy. As I slide the cape’s hole towards the machine, the doors slide open and Janet screams, “Daddy, stop! You’re gonna make it worse!” 

I lean back in my swivel chair, spin around, and notice her with the plug in her firm grasp. Unless I planned on sewing air, the task of repairing the cape would be a lost cause with an unplugged sewing machine. Janet drops the plug and struggles to yank me out of my seat which means it’s time to shop for a new costume. 

“You’re not gonna take me to the store like THAT, are you?” 

For a brief moment, Janet executes a flawless impersonation of Loretta. She has the cadence, the pronunciation, and if I closed my eyes at the moment, I would not have been able to tell them apart. Guess I have to trudge upstairs and throw on something little Loretta approves of before we begin this costume search. I wish Halloween wasn’t considered a holiday around here; I’d relax until Janet gets out of school and THEN she can fuss me out about costumes or my sluggishness. 

“Daddy, we are burning daylight. The other kids are going trick-or-treating in a few hours.” 

When I jog downstairs, I hoist her under my arm, strap her in the backseat, and take off for the store. On the way there, Janet takes stock of other kids who are dressed head-to-toe as aliens, politicians, werewolves, vampires, etc, and pouts. There are a handful of princesses and I know better than to comment “Don’t you wanna be a princess” to someone who pretends to be a king of no one and nothing in particular.  The turn into the Halloween store parking lot is punctuated with Janet’s shriek because it’s closed for renovation and none of those costumes we passed can be hers. 

“We can head to the Halloween store 50 miles away or we can wait until next year,” I declare to Janet’s everlasting pout. Loretta can withstand any level of frustration from any person and when Janet wants me to awaken her sleeping mother for a conversation, I pray the patience holds. 

My phone rings on the way back home and as Loretta’s exhausted voice comes through, Janet flails for the phone. I compromise and set it upside down on speakerphone in my cup holder to focus on the sudden dips and curves in the road. Janet swings her limbs back and forth as if she’ll have her way and since Loretta’s infinitely livelier than I am, maybe she will. 

“What’s up, Jace?” she sighs in a croaky voice. 

I have a surplus of apologies for her, for Janet’s rash behavior but none of them surface. Instead, I greet her with a hurried “Your daughter wants to speak to you” and zip my mouth. As I pull into the driveway, the car quiets with a hum and the only sounds come from the random clusters of kids outside and Janet and Loretta. 

“Janet, are you giving Daddy a hard time?” 

“Mommy, this is gonna be my first trick-or-treat ever and he won’t take me to the Halloween store.” 

That is a bald-faced lie but I’ll let it slide. 

“What happened to the Halloween store a few minutes from us? Did he try that one?” 

Janet’s lower lip trembles which mean she’s gonna summon her inner Hollywood actress tears in 3, 2, 1. 

“He did but they’re closed and then he said we have to go to the Halloween store 50 miles away or wait until next year,” she whines, and here comes the show-stopper, “And he wants to wait until next year.” 

Loretta reassures her with an array of “shh” and “it’s gonna be alright” as she asks to speak to me. Janet hops up and down and hands me the phone which I take off speakerphone and stroll down the street to where she can’t hear Loretta at all. Janet releases her buckle and rings the doorbell because that’s one way mischievous geniuses can be nosy; they bring the conversation to them. 

“Your daughter is ringing the doorbell like a maniac to eavesdrop on our conversation,” I deadpan and she chuckles as if it’s an inside joke the two of them formed without me. 

“I can hear her from all the way upstairs and she’s your daughter too, you know,” she giggles and opens the door to the force of Janet’s heavy squeeze. 

I strut through the door and once I lock it behind me, Janet drags the vampire costume from the den to Loretta the way a dog retrieves its bowl to ask for food. Loretta sticks her arm through the hole and cackles before leading the two of us to the den. She plops into the swivel chair with an arched eyebrow and a steady hand as Janet plugs in the sewing machine to marvel at a master’s handiwork. 

“This was a huge oversight on my part,” Loretta starts as she sets up the sewing machine and shakes her head at the hole, “Should have paid attention and fixed this before we moved or at least before today.” 

Loretta motions for me to pull up a chair beside her and when I do, Janet hunches over my lap to watch in awe. 

“Make sure you flick on the power switch on the bottom right corner here. Next, you wanna find the spool pin which is this metal pin that pokes out the top of the machine,” Loretta grins with tender movements that could relax a headless chicken, “The thread guide comes after which is the metal piece on the top left of the sewing machine.”

She prattles on about bobbin-winders, stitch adjustments, and other parts I latch onto because she elaborates on them. Once Loretta sews up the cape, I forget virtually every ounce of information she hoped to cram in my head but Janet applauds and whistles as if this was a fire-swallowing demonstration. She stands up from the swivel chair and bows, plants a kiss on Janet’s head, and squeezes my cheeks for a peck on the lips as she drags herself back upstairs, most likely back to bed. 

Janet disappears upstairs and arrives a few minutes later in her vampire getup with false teeth. I have an inkling she’ll try to “suck my blood” out the door and once she sinks her “teeth” into my arm, I shake my head in a low chuckle. She panics and sprints around downstairs while I sit the plastic pumpkin bucket on the living room table and observe her worried rush. By the time Janet realizes it, she groans, scoops up the bucket, and coils around my left arm which means it’s time to trick-or-treat though it’s only five o’clock. 

While we saunter down the street along with other kids who wave at Janet, an alert pops up on my phone about a cul-de-sac curfew of eight o’clock. Parents around the area check their phones one after the other and whisper disappointments to their visibly frustrated kids. Janet watches them in confusion and tugs at my hand to ask me if I have to disappoint her too. According to the alert, police will sweep the neighborhood for a kid who robbed a few nearby houses which means I won’t have a choice. 

“We can only trick-or-treat until eight because a kid stole from some of our neighbors and the police are gonna search for him,” I relay the message to Janet as straightforward as adults do with other adults and she responds with a wan smile. 

“Let’s hurry and hit these houses,” she replies disheartened but skips down the street anyway as I shuffle behind her. 

The first few houses where Janet half-yells “trick-or-treat” have parents or adults, in general, my age who drop a few pieces of candy into Janet’s bucket and implore me to make the journey home before curfew. Meanwhile, Janet receives compliments on her costume, and for the few who ask why she isn’t a princess, fairy, or other costumes in that vein, she responds in kind, “Kids can be who they want these days.” Her curtsy cements her point and whenever another neighbor asks, I parrot the same response. 

The kids out and about earlier are all but gone as two or so families glide from door-to-door to trick-or-treat. Whether it’s the alert about the kid thief or exhaustion from an early start, it gives us an advantage. For a change, the area belongs to us with the exception of a house or two in the distance. 

“When I was a kid, my parents couldn’t take me trick-or-treating,” I blurt out of nowhere and Janet’s eyes are fixated on me. 

There’s a healthy mix of curiosity and sadness in Janet’s eyes when she whispers, “What happened?” 

She sits at a curb with the half-full pumpkin bucket and pats the vacant asphalt beside her. She slurps a gummy worm and when I sit, she rubs my back which coaxes out a few unexpected tears. This is Janet’s night and sulking down memory lane isn’t the way I intended to spend it but since she doesn’t mind, I start.  

“Your grandparents couldn’t afford to take me anywhere but school and they didn’t take me. They sent me on one of those chunky yellow buses that pass us when I drive you. 

Janet hands me butterscotch and despite my distrust toward butterscotch, I pop it in my mouth and continue. 

“Don’t worry about trick-or-treating. We can do it right next year,” she grins and bops my arm with the bucket. She’s gonna make a fantastic adult when her time comes. 

“We were poor and your grandparents had to work around the clock. When Mama returned home from work, tired and hungry, Dad rode the subway to work tired and hungry the same way. Halloween rolled around and neither of them could be around to take me and without friends…” 

I trail off and Janet catches tears that sink further and faster down my cheeks with a free hand. The other hand shovels candy into her mouth and I can’t blame her. Any other Halloween night, Loretta and I would swing her back and forth down the street as we enjoy decorations, a mountain of candy, and each other’s company. Since Loretta works and this “kid suspect” is somewhere around here, the best we can do is soak up each second until eight o’clock. 

When my watch reads five minutes to eight, Janet and I stroll home and she wraps herself around my arm. The phone buzzes and I answer with “Yeah, we’re headed home now, Loretta” and Janet giggles. Loretta sends us kisses through the phone which we send back in equal measure and a kid on a bicycle and a few squad cars whizz past us. 

“Guess the thief couldn’t wait until eight o’clock, huh?” Janet quips and I swipe some peppermint candies as she chases me down the street back to the house. 

October 27, 2020 22:46

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4 comments

Judith Buskohl
22:01 Nov 04, 2020

I enjoyed your story and read it to the end to find it a delight. This is a story about parents and their children getting ready for the one special holiday in October. Keep up the good work.

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Elle Clark
10:40 Nov 02, 2020

This is a cute story of connection between parent and child! I couldn’t help feel frustrated at the dad who expects his wife to work, do the housework and wake up to fix his kid’s cape. Sewing isn’t that hard and there are videos on YouTube. Can’t dads just try to be useful sometimes? Also Loretta’s line about it being an oversight on her part - the dad didn’t check either. It’s equally his fault. Aside from that, it was a really sweet story. The characters were believable and well rounded and the setting and plot firmly established. Tha...

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Daniel Brown
18:49 Nov 02, 2020

Thank you for reading! And I see your point there. It was the dad's old costume and he didn't check beforehand. Plus, his wife shouldn't be expected to fix everything. Again, thank you for reading, and thank you for your input!

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Daniel Brown
18:49 Nov 02, 2020

Thank you for reading! And I see your point there. It was the dad's old costume and he didn't check beforehand. Plus, his wife shouldn't be expected to fix everything. Again, thank you for reading, and thank you for your input!

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