The stars lay scattered about Sirius's lair, tossed playfully upon the sky only to lie forgotten. Children cut through the trees across a vacant lot, the burn of branch, a tickle of cobweb, one eye weeps where an eye patch binds. It's soon discarded with a snuffling of nose and the raise of a toy pirate sword. Crying is for wimps.
It's Halloween, or will be soon. Trick or Treating has been cancelled due to an impending storm and high winds off of the Great Lake. The houses stand, some decorated with orange and black, others with only the discard of leaves. This home was built right after the first Great War, when men left and women waited, everything they knew dissolved in fire and smoke as soldiers carried the pride and hope of peace in the form of a flag and women wept at home, tears hitting the ground like ice, to be swept away like broken glass. I have a sense of them in this house even now, for those that came back and those that did not, not for pride or peace, but simply to regain that love and that faith they left behind. It's here in this house, it's here outside, in the echo of children who were never born.
But the trick or treating wasn't just about the candy. It was being out, after dark, by ourselves, just kids, with scores of other kids, flashlights in hand. Out in front of us, two whole blocks, dozens of houses, the darkness slung low with lights, the night blowing cool and full of promise.
In our garb, we hovered over places of play, breathing sugar fueled dreams like air, ashen figures gliding through the night on silent feet. To each porch that had a light on we'd go, candy bag in hand. The houses weren't decorated up the way they are now, but on the porch would often be a lone jack o lantern, eyes shining from a candle or some fake cobwebs along the porch (those aren't fake! ack ack ack, get it out of my hair!) We'd pass each other wondering just who was that superhero, who was that under the Casper mask? We scurried along, hands waving, quick steps in time to the chatter of chilled breath, the blocks of a post war suburb stretching out, the dim lights of small town America.
As ghosts, cowboys, baseball players and Superman, we covered ground, drawing in deep breaths of it all, unutterably aware of how brief this night would be. I think even as kids we know that too soon we'd have to put this other life, this other identify away, as we melted anonymously back into our regular life, with wistful longing and the taste of sweetness on our lips.
It will never be this way again, it's just ONE street, we told ourselves. So we advanced, trudging up the steps to that first house, looking over our shoulders as if we could already see our Mom scolding us. We hit about six more houses, with other kids from our street, before as a group we agreed to go back. We swear each other to secret, the words not spoken but carved into stone upon which lies a nameless and forgotten effigy, those secrets of childhood we bear with us always.
There up ahead, the lights of our house. Home! We cross the empty lot where a new house was going in, following a faint path were dozens of small feet had worn the rotting leaves down to the soil. We clicked off the flashlight, whispering there in the dark about Great Pumpkins and Ghosts, where overhead, Chestnut trees thinned against the skies.
Too soon it would be time to go in, the night rushing past all too quickly, stolen moments of sweetness there in the dark. As children we live in the moment, not realizing that in recollection, we see how quickly it all went past, and holding a sweet piece of time with blurred eyes, you knew you had lost part of that, the innocence and the wonder, forever, even if memory remains.
Back home, we pour our bounty out onto the floor, Mom picking through it to throw out anything that was wasn't completely wrapped, and grabbing the Sugar Daddies like they were live wires, convinced that caramel was going to tear out what few fillings we had. We didn't mention the extra houses we went to.
She had to worry, it was dark after all, we were hardly isolated, but we were alone. We probably didn't even look back as we ran out. But if we had, we would have seen her standing there, evanescent and forlorn, even as she put a smile on her face and waved, so we'd venture forth with hope, not fear.
There weren't many more Halloweens with her there. Too soon we lost her. Too soon we were adults living on our own and learning that too much sugar can make you fat, and that roses often draw blood. Too soon we'd understand the night's promise of unease, the dangers that lurk in the shadows, finalities that go beyond a grave. But she let us live with our innocence as long as she could, while preparing us to be fighters and risk takers.
For me, I'll keep the child within, these nights of exploration and magic, where my super hero costume is untarnished by time, where there is only laughter and sweetness here in a house that's become a home. As I drift off to sleep, I can almost hear the sound of children's feet, rushing up towards the next house, not an actual sound mind you, but something in the air which the sound of the running feet faded into. The sound of innocence, so easily lost, yet remembered there in the shadow of a chestnut tree that stands its watch in silence, gallant and forlorn.