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Jana Lee Frazier Headshot

Halloween

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It is October and I am enthralled with fall, with black cats and cauldrons and crystal balls. I close my eyes but I do not see the future swirling in the mist. Only the past.

I see a woman, her hair as dark as a raven's wing and a little girl, giddy with excitement, walking along a sidewalk in the wind. The scarlet leaves of pin oaks skitter around their feet, the blaze orange offerings of sugar maples and the saffron stars the sweets gums shed roil across their path in a vibrant tide.

Dusk is falling, an old hickory heaves in the breeze against an amethyst sky. "Look for witches snagged in trees," says the woman in a whisper and the little girl does so, searching the high branches with eyes gone wide. "Can you hear her cat complaining he's stranded at the very top?! "

And yes, indeed, in the violet velvet haze of twilight it does seem as if a black shadow writhes and kicks and cries, fighting the twigs that have ensnared him. The little girl whistles low under her breath and squeezes the woman's hand tight-they giggle and run for home, the constellations spinning above them, those shaken stars glowing chartreuse overhead, the night at their heels. Spirits are on their trail and they know it; they can hear them sighing, beautiful wraiths in wispy white robes.

Tomorrow is Halloween and there is still so much to do. Breathless, they stop to sit on the front porch stoop to plan. The hooting of an owl becomes the background music to their scheming. There are dreams of magic; the little girl can already sense it steeping, creeping up from the very ground, conjured by the woman's hands.

In the morning she will watch as those hands pull old rags from the bin to stuff the scarecrow's shirt and pants. He will come alive under the woman's touch as everything does, his arms curving gradually into an embrace for the child to receive with glee. She will believe that he can see her as soon as he is given the glass button eyes that will sparkle in the darkness.

The woman's hands will haul the pumpkins in from the porch; she will read the pits and grooves with her fingertips like someone who knows Braille. She will take the child's hand to trace along those same seams and scars, her earnest green eyes asking for advice.

This is the one they will agree, this one bright as fire, gnarled along its chin, with golden flesh that the knife will reveal as it cuts deep into the juicy skin. The woman will release the scalloped lid, lifting it by the warty stem and instantly, everything that suggests mystery, that speaks of autumn, that hints of haunting, is infused in that aroma that will waft up under their noses making them laugh. The woman will pretend to swoon, the little girl's eyes will fill with lustrous tears. It is the authentic scent of sweet sorcery.

Crows might come conspiring in the afternoon, sometimes they do, landing on the lawn among the piles of Indian corn that must be trussed up into decorations for the walls and the doors. Ridiculous crows, resplendently jet, raspy-voiced harbingers of Halloween they are. While ghosts that will soon be hung from tree limbs are materializing from skeins of lace and muslin scraps, the shadows of the birds as they soar above soften the woman's face. In all her life, the little girl will never know anyone as gorgeous. Or this delicious.

Later on, just shy of sundown, they will sit in the upstairs bedroom by the bureau, the mirror mimicking their movements. In the silence they will swear they can hear the sizzle of a thousand jack-o-lanterns being lit in tandem. And the scoured old bones of skeletons creaking along in the street below. There will be the smell of caramel on the stove. Outside as a mesmerizing moon arises, the little girl's metamorphosis into an angel will begin. The woman will drape her shoulders with a long swath of fabric the color of starlight, shot through with silver and tie a wreath of rhinestones round her head in a ragged kind of halo.

Her sad eyes will meet the little girl's in the glass. They will both be caught up in the spell she's cast in this brief lull before the storm of her sickness starts again. The little girl will lean her head on the woman's shoulder before they venture out for trick-or-treat. I will remember this day forever, she thinks, realizing one like it may never come again. And she does remember, she is remembering right now. I know this for certain. Because somewhere in my heart, these two souls still walk the streets of October. I can see them in my crystal ball; the woman is my mother and the little girl is me.