A SAFE AND QUIET STREET
The little girl stood in a ring of moonlight at the entrance to the cul-de-sac. Along the gentle curve of houses, several front yards displayed shambling cardboard skeletons or cackling witches gliding on broomsticks.
“Let’s try this street, daddy.” Pale light gleamed over her Hallowe’en costume, sparkled along her tin foil tiara and laid an indigo sheen over the sash of her robe. “There are no monsters here that will hurt us.”
Ah, the energy of the young, her father thought. “Okay, princess. But we’ll make these our last calls. It’s close to your bed time. And our goodie bag is nearly full.” He shuffled the pillow case that he was carrying, swollen with gathered candy bars, caramel coated apples and Reese’s Pieces.
They stopped at the interlocking stone sidewalk of number 12. A painted wooden plaque over the mail slot read, The Watsons. “Go along now, sweetie. I’ll watch from
here. And remember your manners.” He heard the Westminster bell chimes sounding a final chord as the front door opened.
A portly man appeared in the doorway. The hall light shone over his balding head and seemed to slide down his stooped shoulders.
“Trick or treat.” The little girl held forth a small basket, and raised her beribboned sceptre. Its appliqued star shimmered in the porch light.
Mr. Watson smiled and waved to the father. He turned to the girl. “I love your magic wand,” he chuckled. “So, if you don’t like the treat, will you put a spell on me?”
The fairy princess shook her head. “It’s better to use it for a charm. So that’s what I’ll do. I promise.”
“Well, this is my lucky night, then,” said Mr. Watson. “Hold there a sec, and I’ll pick you a favourite.” He eased back into the hallway. Near the girl’s feet a carved pumpkin flickered in jolly menace.
Watson lifted a bowl of candies and shiny apples from off the hall table. “I was tempted to do a lights-out tonight. Didn’t think I’d see many kiddies along here.” He spoke in a heavy monotone, as if he were thinking through his actions to get them in the right sequence.“That’s how it’s gone. Slow traffic. Slower than previous years.”
On the sidewalk the girl’s father was recalling from his childhood the haunted Hallowe’en street of scary old Miss Blanchard. Be careful near her front steps, all the kids knew, try for a sense of her mood and if it was mean she’d catch you by the scruff of the neck and put a hex on you to make your teeth go rotten, as she had done with Billie McLean. But there was always the saving hope for a colored packet with a homemade lozenge inside.
“And your crown,” said Mr. Watson. “Let me guess… You’re Cinderella’s fairy godmother? Or Princess Leia from Star Wars?”
The girl’s mouth tightened in serious explanation. “Fairy godmother. Mummy wanted me to be Batgirl, but I’ve always dressed this way. Since my first time. It’s what I am.” She studied Watson’s bowl of treats.“Why won’t the other kids come by? Don’t they like your apples?”
“No, it’s the other stuff they don’t like.” A hard rasp came into his voice. Small beads of sweat formed over the dome of his bald head. “Stuff you can never get rid of. The lies and suspicions.”
His eyes widened and fastened on her. “That foolish mother. I tried to tell them. She was on her cell phone, not tending her child as any responsible mother should. Then the wee one gets hit on the head by a swing. Down she goes, screaming blue murder. Of course I went to help. Leaned over to pick her out of the sand, poor thing, and her scared half witless.
“I’m not a peek-a-boo charlie, or a stalker - as that cruel woman claimed to the police. Never.” A quiet desperation softened his plea. Watson reached into his bowl of treats and withdrew a ripe apple. The ruby skin shone in the hall light.
The little girl placed the tip of her wand on the fruit and held it there under a firm pressure. Her gaze held Watson’s eyes, pale blue and watery. For a moment she thought he might be sick. “My Mommy says some times the path to love winds through forgiveness.” Her attention turned to the small boxes of raisins and colored candies. “I have so many apples tonight.” She pointed her wand over a licorice square. “I’d prefer one of those. If you don’t mind.”
Watson hesitated. “Yes, of course.” He placed the candy into the extended basket. “And welcome to it.”
He watched as the girl’s father rested his arm lightly over her shoulders and guided her into the shadows along the sidewalk. The gesture stirred in Watson sharp terrors from his childhood that cowered in a dark corner of his mind. Again, he felt at his neck the pinching grip of Father Ryan at the Christian Brothers’ School for Orphans, his way of shaping obedience and piety; again, he winced at the panic of threatened beatings from older residential boys, Quincy and Lafferty and Lacoste.
“… awful scary when it was a dark and stormy night and what’s facing us kids is a hold-your-breath moment to run up Miss Blanchard’s front steps,” the father was recounting. “Still, the prize was worth the dare. A piece of the best caramel taffy you’d ever find.” The recollection warmed him. “Pity, you don’t see home made taffy like that anymore. Not on any street.”
Watson held the rejected apple in his hand. Near the stem a curious star-shaped bruise mottled the skin where the wand had touched it. He winced at the quick memory of his own heavy schoolyard bruisings, when threats turned to blows. The anger was still there after all these years, lonely and private. But she had offered him easement, this… fairy godmother. Through forgiveness, and a chance to rid himself of hurtful wounds. What if it were true? Could he find in himself a responsive warmth to replace hostility and suspicion? He could start, he supposed, with that hysterical mother. Of course she would be anxious over her child’s safety. But the others? Quincy and his hot tempered crew, their frequent clouts and kicks at him in the play yard? That would be a matter of long thinking and tentative progress.
He returned the apple to the kitchen. As he placed it on the cutting board, he recalled his young visitor’s parting comment, earnest and confident. A warming calm rose in his chest.
On the street corner, the girl and her father paused.
“Ready to go home, princess?”
His daughter nodded. “I told Mr. Watson not to worry. Next year there’ll be lots more kids wanting his treats.”