Halloween – the word raises goose bumps on my arms, and I grin with anticipation. For twenty-four hours I can convince myself that I’m not really me, that I’m a witch, a fortuneteller, an arch-backed, hissing familiar, even if only in memory.
Back in the day, stiff fabric half-masks smelled of glue and sweat, and kids and moms created costumes instead of shelling out a fistful of dollars for cheap Chinese-made parodies of pretend. A faded black and white photo brings back my first costume, sewn by Mom. The orange skirt, the white blouse, the green scarf that the five-year-old gypsy wears as she stands beside a maniacal jack-o-lantern on the front steps of the house on Second Street. A pink-tinged Polaroid from the ’60s “channels” Ray Bolger, as a paper bag-masked scarecrow stands stiff before the camera, straw straggling from under a battered hat and leaking from an oversized shirt front. At fourteen, the year I gave up trick-or-treating, I wear black tights and sweater, with store-bought ears and whiskers. The black-stocking tail drapes over my arm as I grin into the lens.
I always longed for clouds to fill the autumn day with gloom and dread to set the mood, ragged ones that would let the moon shine through, so that if any witches happened to be taking a broomstick tour, I could spot them.
It took several days to sort my candy stash, putting aside peanut butter kisses, scarfing down popcorn balls, biting off the colored bands of candy corn in order, and hiding homemade fudge from my sisters. Yet candy was only an excuse to create a bigger, better thrill. Racing through the darkness, surrounded by demons and other night creatures, pumped adrenaline and dread in equal parts through me. I breathed in the dead-leaf, burnt-pumpkin autumn air, feeling it pump through my veins, and knew heaven.
I count the year in holidays, trading wintry resolutions for pink-and-white love. Pastel eggs and new shoes replace Irish green. Spangles and sparklers make way for turkeys. Pine boughs and candles evoke goodwill and cheer. But when black and orange and autumn brown touch the fading year, I tingle. I track the dwindling days with delight. My fingers itch to carve a jagged smile and a winking eye. I rummage for beads and looped gold earrings and fanciful scarves. Halloween is here.