Last Halloween, Leonard and I took the bones from the forest, strung them on a string, and wore them like tribal necklaces. This year, Abigail, Izzy, and I are the Chipettes. Abigail is Brittany, the selfish, pretty one; Izzy is Jeanette, the clumsy, smart one; and I’m Eleanor, the pudgy, loveable one. Leonard is wearing a dress and has a folded pillow taped to his stomach. He wants me to smudge purple eye shadow on his face so that he’ll look like a pregnant woman who gets her ass kicked by her trailer-park husband every night.
“This is a really insensitive costume.”
“OK, can you, for once, just relax? Try not to take everything so seriously, and you might be in a better mood, for once.”
“Who said anything about being in a bad mood? I’m saying that this is fucked up. There are actual women who get their asses kicked every night and you’re taking their shitty lives and turning them into something to laugh about.”
When we get to Izzy’s Halloween party, we’re still not talking. I feel stupid wearing my dad’s tie and people keep coming up to me and asking me who I’m supposed to be.
“A fat midget,” I tell them. “But my sisters love me.”
On my way to the bathroom, I see Leonard dancing with Kathleen Mitchell to the Cure. When the song’s over, he walks up to me and asks me if I want to touch his pillow baby.
“It’s ours,” he says, grinning.
“Did you have fun dancing with Kathleen?”
“Her swan costume is the best thing I’ve ever seen.”
“Why? Because she happens to have super graceful arms and a neck like a swan?”
“Wow,” I say. “You just admitted that you’re insanely attracted to Kathleen.”
“Didn’t I say earlier that you’re in a shitty mood tonight? Look at yourself. You look like you want to fight me and all I said was that I liked her stupid costume.”
“Answer me,” I taunted him. “Answer me.”
“Let’s talk when you’re not insane.”
“I’m not insane,” I say. “I’m already not insane.” Leonard walks away from me and I follow him for a second before feeling disgusted with myself. I find Abigail and ask her if she knows where we could get some drugs.
“Drugs?” she repeats. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you seem sort of crazed out. Are you OK?”
“I’m fine,” I say. “I just need to find Izzy.” I find Izzy and ask her if we can shut down the party as a pretend thing so that we can kick out Kathleen Mitchell, and then we can totally start the party again, and Izzy looks at me like I just strangled ten puppies.
“You’re joking, right? We don’t hate that girl that much, do we?”
“Where do your parents keep notepaper?”
Izzy pulls some out from a drawer and hands it to me. I scrawl the words, “WHAT WILL IT TAKE TO MAKE YOU CARE” on piece of paper and crumple it up into a ball. I find Leonard sitting in a corner, putting scratch-and-sniff stickers on Kathleen’s knee, and I throw the crumpled piece of paper at him and run out the door.
Chase after me, motherfucker, I say to no one as I’m running past the houses with all the Halloween lights. The jack-o’-lanterns that looked so cheerful this morning when I thought I had it all now look positively disturbing, and all I can think of when I run past them is how someone cut the top off of all these pumpkins and tore out their insides and tossed them in the garbage like it was no big thing. Chase me, motherfucker, I say to the houses on Izzy’s block that all look like one another, but also don’t look like one another, because who knows what goes on inside these houses? Who knows what’s really there, in those old Dutch Colonial houses that might be home to families who, against all odds, were created to create more families, and I wonder how many of those families began with a girl like me—so lonely even ghosts won’t follow her?
Halloween is over and there’s smashed pumpkins everywhere. It’s Saturday afternoon and there’s already a sliver of moon in the sky. In an hour, I’m taking my brother to a birthday party for a kid in his third-grade class. My mom ties a little-kid bowtie on my brother, and he looks so cute that I decide I want him to stay little forever, or if that’s not possible, then I want to one day have a son exactly like him on exactly the day that he’s no longer cute and little, and when my son grows up, I want to have another son also exactly like Dennis to replace my first son, who is no longer as cute as Dennis, and when my second son grows up, I want my first son to get his wife pregnant and have a baby exactly like Dennis, and the cycle can basically continue in its perfectly conceived way until I’m dead.
I brush my brother’s hair to one side to make him look like a mini mogul. “He’s so little,” I say to my mom, and immediately Dennis says, “I’m not little. Hey, I’m not little,” and my mom, who I think is afraid that we’ll one day see ourselves the way other people see us, says, “You’re not little. You’re big. Your sister is not saying true things.”
“We should change your name to Walter Benjamin Maximilian the third,” I said.
“Why?” he said.
“Because it’s funny and you look like such a rich kid in that bowtie. Richie Rich.”
At the party, my brother is the only one in a bowtie and sports jacket. All the other kids have dirty fingernails and grass stains on their jeans.
“See, you’re gonna have fun,” I say to Dennis. “Go be hyper with your friends.”
“Can you stay here and watch me, Christine?” my brother asks.
“What do you need me to watch you for?”
“Can you watch me dig a hole?”
“You don’t need me to watch you. I’m going to go see my friend, and you go with your friends.”
“But you watched me yesterday.”
“Right, but today’s not yesterday. Today’s today. Yesterday doesn’t tell today what to do.”
“Mom tells you what to do.”
“Yeah, and she told me to drop you off at Aaron’s house, and then she I said I can do whatever the hell I want.”
“The hell you want?”
“Yeah, whatever the hell I want. Come on, you little gangster. They’re all waiting for you. Go have fun. I’ll check back in an hour and if you aren’t having fun, we can go home. OK?”
“OK, Christine.” He holds out his hands to let me kiss each finger goodbye. He lets me do it in front of anyone, but sometimes I forget to do it when we are alone, and then I feel sad because I know, one day soon, he’ll let me do it only when we’re alone, and after that, never. But today, I remember, and when I kneel down to kiss his fingers, I notice the big blisters on his index and middle finger.
“Did you touch the stove again?”
“Then why do you have blisters from touching the stove on your finger?”
“They’re not from touching the stove.”
“How’d you get the blisters, then?”
“What?” He holds up his index finger so close to his face that his eyes look crossed. “Do you mean this hit?”
“Yeah, where’d you get this hit?”
“I don’t know.”
“OK, let’s talk about this later. I have to go meet the luh-ove of my liee-ife.”
“Can you just watch me for a little bit?”
“Does your hit hurt?” I ask him.
“No,” he says. “A little bit.”
“Then you’re OK to play by yourself.”
“Wait. Actually, it hurts.”
“I’m going. I’ll see you in an hour, OK, Maximilian the third?”
After I leave my brother, I run all the way to Leonard’s house. His mom lets me in and tells me he’s on the phone.
“I love you, man,” I hear him say into the phone.
“Is that Joey?”
“Yeah,” he says. “Jo-Jo, king of kings.”
“That’s nice that you guys say things like that to each other. I usually save that kind of thing for my parents or someone I love romantically.”
He puts his hands over my ears and says something to me I can’t make out.
“What?” I ask. I take his hands and hold them to my chest.
“I am,” he says.
“I am in love with you.”
For the next few hours, no one exists but us, and when Leonard’s mom knocks on his door to ask if we want any dinner, I remember my promise to check on my brother after an hour.
Leonard walks me two blocks in the direction of Aaron’s house before I stop him and tell him that this is where we say our goodbyes.
“Let’s always be good on our byes,” I say to Leonard and push him a little in the direction of his house.
“You are good to be by,” he says.
“You are good by the tree where I am by,” I say and then, “Seriously, I have to go,” and I fast walk it to Aaron’s house, the whole time replaying the last few hours in my head.
When I get to the party, Aaron’s mother runs to up to me and tells me that Kenny found my brother sitting on the bathroom floor with his pants around his ankles, holding a pair of scissors, and now my brother won’t stop crying, Aaron won’t stop crying, and Aaron’s little sister won’t stop crying because she cries whenever Aaron cries. I take my brother in my arms and I apologize several times to Aaron’s mother.
“He’s going through some things right now, Mrs. Newman. I’m so sorry you had such a hard time getting a hold of us. My parents are probably still out on their Saturday date thing. I guess this is a pretty good time as any to look into cell phones. I’m sorry for any trouble we’ve caused here.”
I carry my brother all the way home, and by the time we get through the front door, my arms are burning like someone’s roasting them on a barbecue. My parents aren’t home yet, and I wonder what I’ll say to them when they get back. I undress my brother and get him ready for bed. I promise to stay with him all day tomorrow and make sure he doesn’t do anything to hurt himself, and I tell him not to worry because us two, we’re going to stick together. I tell him that we’re going to figure this out, one way or another, that I plan on being the last person he sees before bed and the first person he sees when he wakes up, but I know what it takes to become the person you really want to be, and I know what it’s like to need more time to become that person, and unless all the time I need is tonight, I know that tomorrow my brother will come to my room in the morning and I’ll be gone. I’ll have already walked to Leonard’s house in the middle of the night, looking for him and asking if he really meant what he said, if he really does consider me his best friend, if he really does think he could one day take care of me, if he really does believe we should take acid together, if it really will make us feel as connected to each other as the sea is to the earth, if I really am the most important person in his life, if he really is afraid of losing me, and if he says yes to all that, if he says he can’t believe he didn’t chase after me on Halloween, then I know I’ll have to wait a little longer before I start to become the person I want to someday be. ♦