“Just a little bit longer?”
In my mind, the memory of last Halloween draws parallels to the movie Jaws. A little boy runs up from the ocean to his mother, who is lying on the beach with a book. “Just a little bit longer?” he begs with the pleading eyes every child knows and owns. “Alex Kinter, your fingers are beginning to prune,” she snaps, but relents, and sends her son back into the belly of the beast with a homing beam wrapped around his ankle:
Life (and death) can be fickle that way.
Like Mrs. Kinter, I sent my daughter into the jaws of a shark.
We had been outside trick-or-treating for close to an hour when dusk crept along and brought most of the kids inside. A couple of clouds crept in to hint at rain. It was windy and cold; I was tired and wanted to go home. My daughter had other ideas.
Giuliana had these big, brown puppy dog eyes, that if they hit you in the right light, look almost spellbinding. I couldn’t say no to her. I don’t want to offer any offense to the young boy who played Alex, but he had nothing on my beautiful Guilie. My dad used to call her a knockout.
And so I gave into the kid’s pleas. I held her hand a little bit tighter as we turned the corner off White Street. There was no reason to worry at the time. Valley Boulevard was in the suburbs. It was a good area full of good people. But something about the air that night made it feel just a little stiller, a little bit quieter, a little bit deader.
The recipients at the first house smiled and chatted before they stuffed fistfuls of Milky Ways into Guilie’s bag (she hates chocolate). But the second house looked downright annoyed. I checked my watch on the way to the third.
“Twenty minutes,” I announced to my daughter. “Twenty minutes we go home and thirty you’re in bed.”
She pouted and matched off to house number four. I laughed but tried not to let her see it. Because somebody had to lay down some discipline. My wife passed away during her childhood. It was just us.
I’m sorry. I still don’t know how to say that like a normal person. The pain is something that’s still buried inside me to this day. I never found it easy to be a single Dad. People look at you differently. They make assumptions about a woman being present, and it hurts so much more to tell them there isn’t one around.
The recipients of house number four had that patronizing judgment written all over their fat little faces.
“Trick or treat!” My daughter announced happily. Her greetings were always full of pep. The man who answered first, an older guy in shorts and a tee, laughed and called out for his wife to take a look at her costume. She was a princess. My princess.
“Mom’s night out, eh?” The guy chuckled through the doorway. He had one of those annoying mustaches that covered part of his lip. I couldn’t help but stare at it as I ignored his question.
The wife joined him in the door frame, with a nightgown, and a thousand oohs and ahhs. She told Guilie she looked beautiful, and that made me relax a little bit, and then she said something really dumb.
“Did your Mommy help you make that costume?”
I started to notice the mole on her face a lot more.
“My mommy is dead,” Guiliana replied without missing a beat. “She can’t help me from heaven.”
The couple apologized profusely and stuffed more candy into her bag. I didn’t say a word, just turned around with my daughter’s hand in mine, and walked away.
The trip home was quiet. We walked in complete silence until we hit the corner of Valley Drive, our street. It was 8:00 on the dot, and the roads were nearly deserted, but not completely. A flickering lamp post caught my attention. Standing underneath it was a shape in a white ghost costume.
I stared at the shape for a little bit. Something about it didn’t seem right. I couldn’t put my finger on it until we got a little bit closer. This wasn’t just a guy with a sheet over his head. I could see through it – I could see through him, or her, to the point where the bench behind the figure was completely visible.
Guiliana noticed after a moment.
“What is it?” She asked. “Is it Mommy?”
Her question rattled me. Sure, it was creepy, but kids say creepy stuff all the time. Maybe it was the conversation with the neighbors. Maybe it was just this time of year (my wife died in October). But I took a second to respond. And that second changed my life.
Guilie slipped out of my hand and ran across the street. I have no idea why. She tripped and fell halfway. I ran out to get her, cursing all the way, watching the shape, distracted, rattled, tired; and a drunk driver turned the corner, at impossible speeds, and hit us both head-on. I was hurt but physically alright. My perfect little princess died before the ambulance arrived.
Last year I went trick or treating by myself. I didn’t go up to any houses, of course, that would be weird as a lonely thirty-year-old loser. But I just felt like I needed to do it. I needed to repeat our last night together. I needed to feel closer to her. Nothing helped me feel close enough anymore.
I turned the corner from White onto Valley and saw two ghosts waiting under the lamppost. My heart nearly leaped out of my chest. But I blinked, for a second, just a second, and they were gone.
I haven’t seen them since, and trust me, I have checked every single hour of every day since.
But I hope they’re still waiting for me this year.
Because I would die happy just to be with them one last time.