A Little Bit of Me

Jottings and Writing, miscellanous misgivings

Halloween 2009

Halloween 2009

The day started like any other day. The sun rose, the winds shifted, the tides went about their rhythm. This was not like any other day though. This day held something special. The astute observer would have noticed a slight shift in the dimensions of life, with life and death itself.

Ted had woke this morning and looked around the shabby bedroom of the house where he and Jean had lived for thirty-two years. Cobwebs framed the window, clothes were strewn over the floor, an ugly stain had formed in one corner of the roof. There were still pieces of Jean’s clothing around the room, an old hat, one glove of a pair, her old gardening slacks and a miniature picture of her stood on the night-table. He had rolled over and immersed himself in what was her side of the bed. He thought he could still smell her perfume on the bed linen even though he had washed it many times. He hasn’t touched a thing since her death twelve months ago. He leaned over and switched on the bedside radio, still tuned to the station they both listened to as they contemplated what they would do for the day.

The sun tried to penetrate the thick curtains but Ted had kept this part of the house dark as a sign of respect and a sign that he is still in mourning.

He forced himself out of bed, bumping his way to the kitchen, He picked up the kettle that had the broken handle and put it on the gas hob. He was painfully aware that the oven was still broken and that reminded him that he must ring the serviceman to fix it. This used to be Jeans job but she can no longer keep the household running. She is gone.  He thinks that he should make more of an effort but then why bother? Since a few weeks after the funeral no-one visits anymore. It as if he no longer exists without Jean. He slumps at the kitchen table and his shoulders shake as he once again enters that space where he cannot control the tears.

He brews his morning cup of tea. Outside, the morning chorus has reduced in volume, it sounds curiously incongruous with Ted’s mood. He doesn’t feel happy to be alive. He wishes that death would take him. He remembers what Jean said before she finally passed. “I’ll see you in a bit dear” At the time he thought that the comment was morbid. Now he sees it as a gift from her. She was telling him that there was something more at the end of life. He carries his cup of tea to the sunroom, sits, and drinks it while he watches the world slowly coming to life outside. The room is looking more and more chaotic. He sees yesterdays cup and the discarded piece of toast that he couldn’t eat still sitting on the floor. The window sills are cluttered with dead flies. He shudders to think what Jean would make of this. The volume of traffic increases as first 7am then 8am rolls around and he drifts off to sleep as he sits there because all of a sudden, the sun had left the room and he feels cold. He dresses, and then wanders out into his garden. Although the inside of the house resembles a bombsite, the garden is immaculate. Ted has tended this garden for years and it has evolved into an extension of him. The flowers and vegetables are luxurious.  He looks at the end of garden and can just see the garage with the bonnet of the car poking out. If it wasn’t for the garden and car Ted does not know what he would do for himself. They have jointly been the only thing that have kept him from …. He stops himself from finishing that thought. Too much.

Across town, in another darkened bedroom Juanita wakes much later. She looks around her room. It looks like the room of someone who cares. Stuffed toys, dolls, CD cases. This is the room of someone who has a life. This is the room of someone who has taken what life has dished out to them and squeezed every drop from it. What is today? Halloween day. She has waited for this for a while. A chance to knock on a few doors and case a few houses out. The house is silent. The bitch must have already left for work. She reached over for her mobile and dialed her friend’s number.

“Cathy? It’s me. You ready?”

Mid morning and Ted is starting to feel tired from his labours in the garden. He is finding it hard to know what to plant now that he was only feeding himself. He thinks to himself that he wished that Jean and him had children of their own. He turns another sod over and he has another thought.

‘They would visit, They would see me as their father, not someone that Mum married after she had her proper family.’

The children sometimes came to visit and took away produce, but they had been principally attached to Jean. When Jean died, their interest in Ted and his welfare was perfunctory.

He has his first hallucination of the day about Jean. He calls them his “little live dreams” but he knows that they are not normal, there is something wrong with him. He sees her, as she was when they first met. She was radiant in a bright blue summer dress as she came down his garden path. She had been selling kitchen products to make ends meet after her first husband died. They had a flirtatious half-hour where she sold Ted fifty dollars worth of mostly worthless junk and they agreed to meet later. That started a romance, which blossomed over that summer and autumn, and eventually they married in the spring. He remembered how her children were so disapproving. He had marveled how a chance meeting could have turned into so many years of happiness. His thought drift into the holidays, the travel, and his eyes close at the memories. When he opens them, she is gone. The garden is empty.

Juanita  rolled out of bed. They had agreed over the phone that neither of them were going to school today and they were to meet outside Victors after twelve. The beauty of having a mother who didn’t care is that you were pretty much your own boss. Occasionally the police would pick you up if they recognised you were a truant, but lately they had given up on Juanita and Cathy. When you’re twelve years old, it is easy to fall between the cracks.

Time for my afternoon nap thinks Ted. Maybe a little medicinal whisky. The gardening had made his joints ache and the memories have finally run from good to bad. He sips a large glass of whisky and settles into his favorite chair that overlooks his view of the harbour and the road. Before long, he is asleep. A thin trickle of drool appears on his chin. Ted dreams of the war. He had fought in the big one. WW2. He had seen front line action. He dreams of the young German soldier he had shot and who had refused to die. He lay there, bleeding, his upturned eyes not pleading, just reconciled to his fate. He dreams of fixing the bayonet before the push forward and he dreams of raising the bayoneted rifle over his head as the young German lay moaning on the ground. Ted jerks awake as cold steel penetrated flesh. He is sweating and he feels sick and cold. He pours himself a large whisky and notices how he is trembling. Time to think about eating. He drifts back into another troubled sleep and dreams of Jean. He sees her a month before she dies. She is frail, her delicate body racked with pain. She moans as she rolls over in the bed that has been her home for the last year. Her once beautiful face is scarred from the surgery, the veins of her arms and legs are darkened from the medication. He then sees her just as she dies. The light leaving her eyes, she stares at the ceiling and her breathing suddenly changes, her mouth gapes open. Ted sees the image of her as the color drains from her face and she is finally gone.

“So! What are we going to do tonight?” asks Cathy.

“I figure we put on makeup and costumes so that we won’t be recognised and play the Halloween game. We can case out some of these houses without raising too much suspicion and if anything looks good we’ll go back later in the week and do a proper job.”

“ Halloween! It’s so babyish. So 20th C.” Cathy had lately been calling everything either 20th or 21st C. It was one of the things that Juanita liked about Cathy. She was always up with the play.

“All those silly little kids wanting candies and gifts. I like the other part though. Sounds like a good idea. I’ve got to do the tea thing with Mother but I’ll be out of there by seven.”

Cathy and Juanita looked out of place as they sat in the coffee shop, making their cokes last an hour, so they couldn’t be thrown out. They met here most days, whether they were at school or not. In the last term, they had only managed a cumulative total of two weeks in class. At twelve, their futures were already being decided.

Ted has finished his evening meal. The steak tasted like rubber and the mashed potatoes have left a cheesy taste in his mouth. The salad from his garden is largely untouched but the whisky bottle has lowered by a good six inches. Ted wonders if he is becoming mentally unhinged. Is this normal? This rumination, this constant living in the past. He wonders about old people and how they never share their grief. His generation just bottled everything up. After the war he was expected to just get back to living life normally again. No one offered any counseling or asked him what it was like to kill someone. Life was just so fragile.

Ted pours himself another large glass and splashes a thimbleful of water into the top of the amber pool. He drained it in a solitary gulp and poured another. It was starting to get dark outside and he noticed children in costumes skipping down the street as he drew the heavy curtains against the harsh streetlights.

Cathy and Juanita were almost ready. Juanita had raided her mother’s room and she had caked mascara and then liberally applied eyeshadow and lipstick to her not-so-angelic twelve-year-old face. Her finger and toenails were now a brilliant blood red. She had also purloined dangly earrings and one of her mother old slips that she wore over an old velvet curtain she had fashioned into a dress. Her outfit was completed by a pointed witch’s hat she had found in the old playroom. As she placed it on her head, she suddenly flashed back to previous Halloweens when her intentions had been less ominous. She shrugged and adjusted her hat. Cathy had not really got into the spirit of the occasion. She had been liberal with the makeup but had stayed in jeans and T-shirt. Her only concession was a gaily embroided pillowcase in which she intended to collect her booty. She wonders to herself what this all means anyway. Why do people dress up this way and why did adults give out sweets and presents to complete strangers? Something to do with harvest and giving thanks for crop protection. Or was that Thanksgiving? She had vague memories of when she first did it and an image of a hollowed out pumpkin with a candle inside flickered through her mind but left, just as quickly. She was keen to see inside some of the properties in Kings Heights. There were bound to be open windows and forgotten locks. Normally they would never have a chance to get near places like that but tonight the world opened itself to all children. They set off.

At first, they didn’t find much of any interest. Too many other younger kids had been before them and they found some of the people to be surly and not into the spirit of the occasion. Juanita made a mental note of two likely properties of working couples who would leave them unattended for a day and she particularly noted the collections of video and computer gear that flickered through half opened doors. They moved on to Kings Heights.

Ted tried to concentrate on the television but the noise from outside distracted him. Why were all these children out after dark? A banging on his front door interrupted his ruminations. He staggers down the hall and pulls the door open to the length of the safety chain. Four small children dressed in rags and pointed hats laughed back at him.

“Trick or treat,” they screech in unison and hold out paper bags.

Halloween. Of course. The day the disembodied spirits of all those who had died throughout the preceding year would come back in search of living bodies to possess for the next year. Their only hope for the afterlife. The Celts believed all laws of space and time were suspended during this time, allowing the spirit world to intermingle with the living. He had not made the connection with Jean’s death. Ted remembers that the festival of Halloween celebrates the end of the “lighter half” of the year and beginning of the “darker half”. He wonders where he remembered that from. He stares vacantly at these children.

“Sorry kids but I don’t have any children of my own and I don’t have any sweets in the house.”

“Thanks mister,”

Ted thought how nicely the children had taken his rebuff and he reminded himself to have stocks of sweets for next year. He walked back down the hall with a slightly bigger bounce in his step and a lot more on his mind.

Juanita and Cathy were making more of a task of it. Maybe it was because they were a little too old but they kept getting very nasty people answering their doors and not getting much in the way of gifts. They were also seeing that many houses in Kings Heights had extensive security. Juanita’s plans were not working out the way she had thought. They came to No49 Kelvin Heights. A long path led down, through a beautiful garden, which still showed much colour in the fading light, to a green door with a large brass knocker. The house didn’t have any security at all and Juanita could see the flicker of a television set and an unlocked shed out the back of the property with garden utensils and a chainsaw clearly visible. There was also an unlocked garage with an early model car, which piqued her interest. They knocked on the door. An old fogey, who reeked of drink, and swayed back and forth as he peered through the barely opened door, grumpily told them that he had already told them that he had no candy. The door was slammed. Cathy instantly lunged out and kicked the green panels. The door swung open to its full extent and the man waved a walking stick at them.

“Clear off-or I’ll call the police you little monkeys,” he screamed as spittle flew from his mouth. Cathy reeled back but Juanita held her ground.

“Hey! Old man. Easy does it. We are only trick or treating. What’s with you grandpa? And keep that spit to yourself. You could have all sorts of diseases. And don’t call us monkeys, you old fart.”

“Off with you. Get off my property.”

The door slams. Cathy, now ashen faced, looks at Juanita.

“The old twerp isn’t going to get away with that,” she spat and she walks down the drive and starts pulling out handfuls of flowers. Juanita, initially stunned at the old man’s response, suddenly had a rush of bravado, and joins her friend. He had looked so fragile. Like he couldn’t do anyone any harm and he seemed to be out of it. Juanita knew all about that. She picked up a handful of freshly turned clay and hurled it at the front window of No49 Kings Height. The window shattered and the sound of the glass breaking served to inflame the pair to greater destruction. Cathy savagely attacked the front gate and within a few minutes, the gate lay shattered across the footpath.

Inside Ted hears the sound of breaking glass, rushes to the back door and locks it, fearing for his safety as the level of noise from the front of his property increases. He hears sounds as the two mannequins come down the side of the property and he can hear them hurling abuse at him. Then they are in the garage and he can hear sounds of more windows breaking. He goes to the study and peers out from behind the curtains and one of the little monsters is jumping up and down on the bonnet of his beloved Wolseley. He hurriedly draws the curtain shut as they see him peering out and they rush toward the window.

Fingers, painted bright red, claw against the windowpane. Cat like noises screech through the night as they repeatedly draw, up and down, on the window. A hideous cackle accompanies the screeching and Ted’s ears are assailed by the cacophony of noise. He puts his hands over his ears, tries turning up the volume on the small television, tries anything to blot out the noise. He reaches for the whisky but the bottle is well and truly empty and he knows that he is more than a little tipsy. He thinks of his old service revolver hidden in a box under his bed. He staggers to the room and fumbles with the box. He snatches at the bullets and hurriedly inserts them in the well-oiled chambers. He snaps the chamber back into the body of the gun. It feels good in his hand. He likes the weight and the feeling of security and serenity that descends upon him..He rushes to the window.

He sees the two girls as they stand in his front flower garden. The garden he has kept the way Jean had it. The beautiful flowers, now crushed and torn from the ground and scattered over the path. They are laughing and jumping up and down. The taller of the two is swinging the wing-mirror of the Wolseley around her head in preparation to throwing it at his front window. Ted sees the young German soldier, then the girls, the torn flowers, and there is Jean, beckoning to him from the postbox. He lifts the heavy service revolver and sights down the twin crosshairs. Juanita forms a perfect transit from eye to sight. Ted squeezes the trigger and the upward jerk of the revolver is mirrored by the backward jerk of Juanita. He sights again and Cathy now dominates his attention. She is suddenly not jumping about. She looks back toward the house and a look of pure horror is on her face. Ted hesitates. His finger starts to relax. He sees the girl look at him and all he can see and feel is the pain and the memories. Suddenly he makes up his mind. Ted feels an utter peace as he squeezes the trigger for a second time.


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