“C’mon, Daddy. We’re mature enough to go by ourselves.” It was Rachel, in begging-pouting mode.
Mature enough. I don’t think I even knew the word mature when I was in second grade.
“Yeah, Dad. And I promise I’ll look out for her.” David, her older brother by only two years.
It was hard to argue with them. I hated to be the kind of father who took his kids trick-or-treating. Who stood on the sidewalk with a couple of cellphone-holding schmucks and helicopter moms while their masked and costumed progeny ran up to ring a doorbell, or grab candy from a basket left on the porch by homeowners who didn’t want to be bothered to open the door. Like I was.
In fact, I hated the whole idea of a pagan holiday when minor acts of vandalism by teenagers, if not exactly condoned, were simply overlooked. Maybe I’m too sensitive, but the black and white newsreels and photos of Kristallnacht pop into mind.
I also despised that our already overweight and over-indulged children went out to “beg” – to beg! – for candy. And then, when they finally got home, the sugar-induced euphoria and hyperactivity and the negotiating and the parceling out and the furtive throwing away of much of the said candy.
I’ve always hoped that there would be storms on Halloween Eve – perhaps even a late-season hurricane, and I started checking the Weather Channel a week ahead. But then the schmucks would probably carpool their slicker-wearing, umbrella-holding kids around, dropping them off, engine running, in front of each house.
And I know I could well be the answer to the SAT question: Christmas : Scrooge :: Halloween : (yes, me).
“All right … all right, Rachel, Davy. But I’ll have to talk to Mommy about it.”
“Listen, Marv. We’ve had the Halloween discussion, argument – whatever you want to call it – every year. I know what you think of the holiday. And I kind of agree, though your reasons are valid, if not a bit extreme.”
“Yeah, Sheryl … I can hear the but coming.”
“Yeah, Marvin … but we live here in twenty-first century America and not in the shtetl of your great-grandparents, or in the horror of wartime Poland and Germany. All their friends go trick-or-treating. They always have a good time running around, all dressed-up. And I don’t want to see Rachel and Davy excluded.”
“Okay, okay. But what do you think about their going-by-themselves idea?”
“They’ve already asked me, Marv. And I told them whatever you decided.”
“Thanks a lot. But c’mon … they’re seven and nine. Do you think it’s wise to let them go by themselves?”
“How about this? How about not exactly walking them from house to house, but waiting for them on a corner or other vantage point. I think it would be a good compromise. They’d feel more independent and you could also be like our own neighborhood sentry.”
“Well, it doesn’t sound exactly wonderful, but it does sound doable.”
“I’m glad that’s out of the way.”
“And maybe, Sheryl, I’ll even dress up. Where do you think I can get a Freddy Krueger outfit?”
“Now you’re getting with the program. You can hide behind a hedge or some bushes, and jump out at some poor unsuspecting children and scare them with your disfigured face mask and your horrid glove.”
“You know … that’s not a bad idea.”
“You’re an idiot, Marvin. For chrissakes … I was making a joke.”
Amazon had the entire Freddy Krueger outfit for sale – the striped shirt, the fedora, the mask and the glove – and it was fairly inexpensive. When the box arrived two days later, I hid it on a shelf in the garage.
I didn’t know if I could – or would – go through with it. After all, I could always claim it was Sheryl’s idea. That would really endear me to her.
On Halloween, after Sheryl got home, we sat Rachel and Davy down on the sofa in the den. That usually meant that what we had to say was serious. We laid down the rules: that they’d stay on one street and always keep me in view. That they’d check in with me if they wanted to walk down a different street in our development. That they’d never ever go into someone’s house. That if there was any funny business – anything at all! – they’d run and tell an adult.
After they dressed up – Rachel as Wonder Woman and Davy as Spiderman – we took several photos for the family album and for “just in case,” then we walked them outside.
“Remember the rules, right?” I asked.
“Yes, Daddy,” they replied in unison, in Sheryl’s exasperated tone.
They stopped first at our neighbors’ houses – the Links, the Webers, the widow McColgan, the two Bleiberg mommies. I stood beside our driveway as they made their trip down the street and up to each front door. They continued around our extended cul-de-sac, even turning to wave at me several times, as if to say, “You see, Daddy … we’re all right. You can trust us.”
At their furthest point, I hightailed it around to the back of the garage and slid through the rear door. I grabbed the Amazon box, pulled the striped shirt over my head, put the mask on and adjusted it so I could see – thank goodness it was well-made, without a slim elastic band that would break on first time use – worked the claw glove on, and then donned the signature hat.
Then I crossed the street to position myself behind the Robinson’s hedge, below the new street light.
I saw Wonder Woman and Spiderman approaching, then getting nearer. As they got to the property line, I jumped out in front of them, claw glove raised high, growling then roaring, “I’m gonna get you, you miserable children!”
They stood frozen, then started screaming. As they turned to run, a police cruiser, with its lights flashing, squealed to a stop. A blinding spotlight was trained on me.
Through the PA system, a booming voice: “Hands up where I can see ’em!”
I raised my hands.
Then, “Get down on your knees!”
I heard the a car door opening, then slamming. Footsteps. “Hands behind you.”
The jangling of handcuffs. First one wrist pulled back and secured. Then the other. “Now stand!”
The officer, a gloved hand under my arm, helped me up. He kept me facing the spotlight; he was mostly in silhouette. “Now explain yourself. Why did you jump out at those kids?”
I heard movement and voices around me. People had come out of their houses. Nosy fuckers, I thought.
“I’m their father,” I said. “I just wanted to …”
“Just wanted to what? Scare the bejeezus out of them? Scar them for life?”
“No, I just uh … I don’t know. I thought it’d be …”
“What? A good idea? To ruin their Halloween? What kind of asshole are you, anyway?”
Just then, in the background, I heard the unmistakable sound of my wife’s laughter.
Rev 3 / September 24, 2017
Appeared in Local Gems 13 Days of Halloween email newsletter, 2017, and will be in the print version, published in 2018
September 2017 Copyright © 2017, Lloyd B. Abrams