A little something for Halloween!
Picking a Halloween costume was an art. Early on, Megan and Penny had talked about going as headless ghouls, but somehow the ghouls had gotten lost in Dulcey’s plans. Penny was going as Little Nell. Megan was disappointed.
“What are you going to go as?” Helen asked Megan.
“I don’t know—I don’t think I’m going,” Megan replied. It just seemed too much of a bother. She’d stay home with The Tale of Genji. And a vodka martini.
“Of course, you’re going.” Sometimes it was as if Megan was Helen’s second child.
“What are you going as?” Megan asked, looking for inspiration.
“Cleopatra. Want to see the costume? I picked it up last night.” Helen had wanted to surprise everyone but she couldn’t wait. Her costume was too good, a gown threaded with gold and silver, a five-pound wig for a crown—just thinking about it made her feel regal. “I’m getting my makeup done at the salon.”
“This wig weighs a ton,” Megan said, putting the wig over her head. “Are you sure you’re going to be able to wear it? You’ll be sweating all evening. You will.”
Helen took the wig away from her.
In the past, all of Megan’s costume decisions had been made with Stella. Alone, she was indecisive and self-defeating.
“Why don’t you go as Mata Hari?” Dulcey suggested. They were all sick of Megan’s waffling.
“I’m too wash-and-dry for that.”
“Nonsense. You’d make a wonderful Mata Hari.”
“Why? What did Mata Hari look like?”
“Dark and mysterious. She enthralled men with her Javanese dance of love.”
“I’ll go as Virginia Woolf.”
“Be Mata Hari, Megan,” Helen commanded.
She resisted Mata Hari, but in the end, it was all she had. The evening of the party she inspected her costume and makeup. The fin de siècle felt hat that hung jauntily at an angle, the fake fur stole, pearls and gloves. Her suit was historically correct to the last detail (it’d taken a week for her to sew it). Her makeup was just as detailed, her face grayish white, her lips blue. She’d made her eyes bloodshot by putting a little vinegar in them. Painful, but necessary. Satisfied, Megan went downstairs to reveal herself.
“I don’t get it,” Helen said.
“I’m Mata Hari.”
“What’s with the makeup?”
“I’m dead. I’m the corpse of Mata Hari.”
“What’s that?” Helen asked, pointing to holes in Megan’s suit.
“Bullet holes.” Megan had borrowed a rifle to riddle her suit. The residue of real gunpowder was absolutely essential. Not just for the look of the powder, but also for the smell of it, the way the powder’s acrid smell wailed its way into the nostrils.
“You’re going to spend all night explaining that,” Helen said.
Dulcey saw the bullet holes and screamed with laughter.
“The question was blood or no blood,” Megan explained. “I thought I’d be tasteful. Just a spray of gunpowder.”
“I think it’s wonderful. Absolutely wonderful! So! What about it, ladies? Shall we proceed?” Dulcey held out her diamanté-studded lorgnette and led the way.
As they neared the Lewiskis’, Dulcey’s heart began to pound. Stage fright. She felt extremely uncomfortable in other people’s homes, unfamiliar stages.
“There! There! We can park there!” She found relief in barking out commands, directing traffic. Getting out of the car, her knees almost buckled, her legs imperceptibly shaking. Penny gave her hand a squeeze. Dulcey squeezed back and walked swiftly towards the house.
Regina was the first to greet her.
“Dulcey, sweet sunshine!”
“You look amazing, darling.” Regina gave Dulcey a peck on the cheek. Threading her arm through Dulcey’s, she propelled her forward.
Helen lagged behind.
“Helen?” Megan asked. “You okay?”
Overwhelmed by her costume, Helen couldn’t breathe. Sweat was flaking off her gold and silver makeup.
“Just take off the wig,” Megan advised.
“I can’t. It’ll ruin the effect. I’ll be okay.” She didn’t tell Megan she was wearing a corset. Her gown was diaphanous and she’d wanted her body to appear perfect. She held on to Megan, walking slowly up the driveway.
Bob Lewiski waved enthusiastically at them. He looked more Hollywood detective than British inspector, but he did have a magnificent pipe hanging from his lips.
“Lady Fairmouth, I presume?” he said, pretending to write notes in a little black note pad.
Dulcey laughed, delighted. “That pipe! I love that pipe!”
“It was my pop’s. Last time I had it in my mouth, he beat the living daylights out of me. Welcome! Come on in everyone! The gang’s all here.”
“My god!” Dulcey said, surveying the room. “I can’t believe how fantastic everyone looks!”
Stephanie immediately ran towards Dulcey, giving her a huge hug. She was a chocolate chip cookie with a great big chunk missing. Carol had added teeth marks with felt pen.
“Oh, sweetheart, you look fantastic!” Dulcey said, hugging her back.
Megan’s heart dropped. The room was full of Scarletts and Rhetts, Marilyn Monroes and John Waynes. It was Hollywood, not Halloween. She wanted ghouls, headless demons, dead souls reaching for the living. Not a night of play, but a night of experience. She wished she hadn’t come.
Carol Lewiski suddenly popped up with a tray of drinks.
“Drink?” she asked. She was Groucho Marx, her thick electrical-tape eyebrows constantly in motion.
“Yes, thank you.” Megan took a glass and disappeared.
“I think we have a hit,” Dulcey whispered to Carol. “Only—I think everyone’s getting a little too sloshed. Me included. I had a few at lunch with Regina. I can’t believe she’s still standing. That’s one tough cookie.”
“Maybe we should serve dinner?” Carol said.
“The sooner the better, I’d say,” Dulcey agreed.
Carol struck a gong, one-half of some old cymbals Bob had lying around.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, dinner is served.”
The buffet snaked all around the dining room. Dulcey nibbled quietly in a corner, rehearsing lines in her head. A John Wayne came up to her.
“So when’s the fun starting?”
“Start, my dear? What can you possibly mean?” Lady Fairmouth asked, the voice husky and stiff, vowels curdled.
“You know—ah, right,” he said, winking.
It happened as people lingered over coffee. The lights turned off, then on. Startled, people gasped and then laughed in anticipation. Dulcey wailed melodramatically, “My necklace! My necklace! Someone has stolen my necklace!” Inspector Snoop came dashing in. A voice pierced the air— “Someone’s been murdered!” Carol faked a faint. Everyone rushed to say their lines, a free-for-all ensuing as everyone laughed hysterically, Dulcey’s face streaming with tears. Then suddenly a door slammed and the room blackened.
“Penny, sweetheart—you’re not supposed to turn the lights off anymore,” Dulcey called out.
“I didn’t turn the lights off,” Penny said.
Bob made his way to the light switch. “The power’s gone.” He looked out the window. The entire neighborhood was black, except in the glowing orange light of children trick-or-treating, their plastic pumpkins eerily swinging in blackness.
Carol hunted out candles. Bob lit an old hurricane lamp, the light somber, flickering ghosts deflected.
“You had this all planned out!” someone accused Dulcey.
“Not me!” she laughed. And then she found her legs. “It is All Hallows’ Eve, the night the dead become the living. Expect the unexpected. All other nights the ghosts hide inside us, wandering in our imagination, where dark is light and light helpless. Only once, one night out of the whole year, are they too strong to be held in imagination, too irresistible to be dismissed. Boldly they come, boldly into the night, to grab what is theirs and celebrate. What we won’t recognize, what we can’t believe because we are too afraid, is that this one night, they own us. Ghosts are here always, their breath on our hair, their touch down our spines, watching us as we huddle in our beds. It’s not just our imagination. Tonight is Halloween. Let’s touch the ghosts. Come on. Everybody. Blow out the candles. I dare you.”
Bob turned off his hurricane lamp. Slowly, the candles snuffed away. It was blacker with the sounds of hushed, anticipating breathing. The room seemed choked.
I can feel you, Megan thought, her arms folded about her. Stella.
Suddenly a cracking, thunderous sound!
“Is that you, Bob?” Dulcey giggled.
“How did you know?” Bob asked.
“Been on too many soundstages. Not bad. I’m going to put you into the act, dear man.”
Bob shimmered his cymbals.
“I know! Everyone, hold hands,” Dulcey commanded. “Let’s have a seance! Be very quiet. Be very welcoming. Hello. Hello. Is there a spirit in the house? Is there a spirit in the house?”
“Yes,” Bob croaked.
“Who are you, spirit?”
“The spirit of the drunken sailor!”
“What do you want, spirit?”
“A cold martini, shaken, not stirred.”
Dulcey quickly stood up, lit a candle.
“We’re going trick-o’-caroling, everyone,” she said. “Light all the candles!”
“Trick a what?”
“Trick-o’-caroling—you know, like Christmas caroling.”
“But there aren’t any Halloween songs,” Helen called out.
“We can sing camp songs,” Stephanie suggested.
“Stephanie!” Dulcey grabbed the girl and kissed her cheek, hugging her tightly.
“Right, then, off we go.”
“Oh, this is getting too hokey,” Regina whispered in Megan’s ear. “She can be too much. Don’t you think?”
Megan ignored Regina, walking away.
Gaily, Dulcey’s party went around the neighborhood, ringing doorbells and yelling, “Trick-o’-caroling!” As they sang, other groups joined them, until, a festive mob, they ended up on Platter’s Field, drinking apple cider and roasting hotdogs and marshmallows around a bonfire, giddy with joy. The power quietly flickered back on around four in the morning.
Dulcey always maintained Bob had planned the whole thing.
“You’re giving me much too much credit, Dulcey,” Bob would protest.
“Don’t play modest with me, mister. I have your number. Only, Bob, next time, don’t blow out the whole city. No point in overdoing things.”
They couldn’t stop giggling, bending over together in hysterics.
This was an excerpt from Anchored Leaves. If you enjoyed it, buy the book! The ebook version is free if you buy the paperback at Amazon.