Late party

The party was in an unfamiliar suburban neighborhood in the Midwest, probably Kentucky or Illinois. The tree-lined street was well-shadowed, and the streetlights lit circles of ground littered with the browns and oranges of fallen leaves. Clearly I wasn’t in Miami.

I walked up the steps to the front door of the old wooden house. A grinning jack o-lantern stood watch on the porch, and the front door was open, with just a screen door to keep the bugs out. Jazz was playing, and further in I could see costumed revelers mingling, drinks in hand. I opened the door and entered.

Everyone was masked: witches, mummies, vampires, werewolves, skeletons, salted with the occasional spaceman or hobo. The host had gone to truly remarkable lengths to make this an authentic 1950s Hallowe’en party, black and orange crepe paper and all.

A man in a leering devil mask shoved a glass in my hand. “Have a drink, boy, it’ll loosen you up!” He leaned back and laughed, a hearty guffaw that sounded strangely familiar. “You need a little loosening up, son, you sure do! We all do!”

He stumbled a bit as he turned, his red plastic pitchfork nearly tearing the wing off a nearby fairy. It was becoming more crowded by the minute, , and I started looking for a side room where I could breath for a minute, before my claustrophobia kicked in. I found a closed door decorated with a dancing paper skeleton, brass rivets for its joints. I knocked, and when there was no reply, opened and entered.

The dark room was small, a child’s bedroom. A candle shaped like a black cat burned on the windowsill, its back arched and yellow eyes wide and staring. Under the window was a small bed, and on the bed a grey cat lay curled, sleeping. “Hello, Lady Gray,” I whispered, and then paused. How did I know this cat’s name? Wait, how could this be the same cat? She disappeared a couple of years ago, in Miami. Still, she slowly lifted her head, yawned broadly, and looked directly into my eyes. It was her.

There was a scratching at the door behind me. As I turned it swung open, yellow light spilling in. Silhouetted by the lights of the party sat a stocky orange cat. The candlelight flickered in his eyes as he stared at me, then turn and walked into the forest of legs. I followed.

The party was in full swing. I heard children laughing in another room, and splashing water, while be-bop bubbled from a hi-fi on a table. I followed Colonel Hoppy — it had to be him! — through a maze of rooms lit by lamps or candles or jack o’lanterns, past ghosts in old sheets and Frankenstein’s monster in a floppy rubber mask. Eventually — just how many rooms were there? — he walked down a dark hallway, and stopped in front a closed door. The music was distant now, the incandescent yellow glow from beneath the door the only light. Hoppy turned and look at me, patiently waiting for me to turn the knob.

Old white enamel appliances ringed the room,  and the smell of baking pie was overwhelming. Pumpkin pie, of course. I wrinkled my nose; I don’t like pumpkin pie.

But wait, I love pumpkin pie, I have for years. I didn’t like it when I was a kid, sure, but… Wait.

I knew this room. This was Grandma Hall’s kitchen. There’s the door to the back yard, a couple of steps down and then there would be a steel glider and two shell-shaped motel chairs. A square, Formica-topped table filled the center of the room. A very, very old woman in a tidy checkered dress sat primly in one of the vinyl covered metal chairs, deep in conversation with a woman in a broad witch’s hat, a high black wig spilling from under it, and green makeup smeared over her face.

My mother, talking with my great-grandmother.

My mother looked up at me, one eyelid drooping just a bit from the Bell’s palsy she’d suffered when we first moved to Florida. She shook her head at me.

“You don’t need to be here. I know you mean well, but there’s no reason for you to be here talking to the old women. There’s no point to it. Go be with your friends. I’ll take care of things here.”

But of course, my mother is dead, just like everyone else at the party. Even the cats, most likely. Why was I there?

I opened the door to the back yard and stepped down: one, two, then soft grass yielded under my shoe. It was dark, but there were clusters of fireflies dancing through the night sky.

There was a polite cough behind me, where the glider should be, and then a deep, even voice.

“Sit down and rest a while. We’re about done here.”

The fireflies moved closer, as I fell away.