It’s Halloween and California is on fire. My husband and I at the local hofbrau, escaping the smoke and hiding from trick or treaters. Other than the bartender and us, no one has come in costume. My husband is Marc Antony. I am Cleopatra. He can pass as a motorcyclist. But I am stuck with my black pageboy and Barbra Streisand eyes.
Our table smells of wet rags. Fat men in fan jerseys line the bar. A Tom Petty song, Zombie Zoo, seeps through their banter and shouts at the onscreen action. My husband fumes good-naturedly at the price of my craft cider; returns to watching the game.
I drink my cider too quickly for the burn in the back of my throat, the warmth spreading down. I arrange and photograph squeeze bottles of mustard – Sweet/Hot, American Picnic, Dijon. My baby sister sends me a series of texts from Louisville.
unable to leave aparmnt 4 2 wks
lost temp job
roommate brings food
I feel a deep green echo of dread. I text that she should contact me any time at all. That I’m up for talking any time at all. I know from experience she will not answer. Tonight, I will find a flight to Denver. It’s a delicate matter. I can’t say I am coming. Can’t risk tipping the balance scale it has taken all she’s got to keep plumb. But once I am there, she will let me in.
Ins will cover in CA but cannot brd a plane
Because I am three years older, I was always assigned to bring my sister trick-or-treating each year. Ours was an overwhelming Halloween zone, with teeming sidewalks, creeping traffic, and neighbors out-goring one another. Every year, one set out entrails on platters, rats in birdcages. Creepy characters who left their posts to follow us.
This time of year, the veil between worlds is thinnest. We glide between. Connected. Unconnected. Stable. Unstable. Masked. Passing.
The busboy bangs his cart into our table; I emit a cry. Marc Antony sidehugs me; kisses my temple. “Did you think it was an earthquake, Boo?”
How frazzled I always was, waiting for a car to jump the sidewalk, or my little sister to trip on the dark sidewalk, or recede into darkness. But she loved being out at night, done up like a princess, marching up to doors she’d never dream of knocking upon in the light of day. Accepting her measure of fear and rising to greet it. To overcome and in so doing, become stronger.
She moved a thousand miles away for college. I stayed home. The place where my baby sister held my hand and checked my eyes for the go ahead to approach a closed door. Back then, the air was always crisp. The smell of fire signaled homey hearths and bowls of treats. Now, it is always hot in November. Fire eats the air and drives people outside into darkness.
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