Saturday, July 11, 2009

Halloween, 2003

Halloween, 2003

Sarsaparilla and Sassafras, along with their twin brothers, Larry and Lawrence, grew their own pumpkins every year and sold them there on County Road 272 starting about October 3. It was the Devil’s holiday is what Mizz Lily at church always said. She said nobody ought to celebrate the Devil’s holiday, but especially good upstanding Christians shouldn’t. “It would send a mixed message,” she told them.

“Something bad’s bound to come of it, sooner or later.” It didn’t fully convince her when Larry argued that “God grew them pumpkins, He’s likely right proud of them,” but it did ease her burden some.

Larry took to calling Sarsaparilla “Sars” after that deadly disease broke out, and especially after Halloween of 2003. Most people called her “Rilla” which was okay, but there really wasn’t anything good you could make out of Sarsaparilla. Of course, everybody called Sassafras “Sassy,” and Rilla wondered how much sway a name actually held over a being. Rilla lay awake some nights pondering such twists of fate as her getting stuck with Sarsaparilla and Sassy getting Sassafras. If it had been the other way around, maybe Rilla wouldn’t have ended up the plain, shy, responsible one. Plus, it was easier to spell Sassafras. So, apropos of her station in life, they blamed the whole thing on her when it really wasn’t all her fault.

They were supposed to take turns at the stand on the highway, but Sassy took extra turns because she liked to flirt. Well, she had that strawberry blonde hair, and those freckles, and she was just coming on fourteen that year, so she’d begun to sprout some mentionable breasts, as well as some other unmentionable parts. The others didn’t mind her taking extra turns because she usually sold out all they grew by about October 29, but it made them mad that she’d get out of totin’ the pumpkins to the stand because of it.

Lawrence drove a load out there first thing in the morning with the tractor. Their daddy wouldn’t let Larry drive the tractor for a month that year, on account of him cutting off Lawrence’s little toe by goofing off and chasing him around the yard with it one day. The dogs got into the chase, and Larry had to either hit Reb or Lawrence, and he figured Lawrence had a better chance, so that’s how he ended up losing his toe. “It was only the little one,” Larry said. “Shoot. Ain’t like he’s gonna need it overmuch.”

Lawrence was still a little tender footed on the left side, and, of course, when the pumpkins had to be pulled in from the field, why, he’d get all the more tender footed, and Larry reckoned he deserved the extra work, even though he never did it on purpose. “If I’d a got Reb, he’d a died,” Larry explained to Lawrence, and Lawrence agreed he’d done the right thing.

So up Lawrence would come with the tractor, and a wagon full of pumpkins and Rilla and Larry. Sassy would toss her hair and smooth her dress and say how important it was to be pretty and clean if you wanted to make a sale. So everybody but Sassy would unload the pumpkins. “It’s just that ya’ll are so dirty, is all. I mean, it ain’t even just the dirt, which is all over your hair and your faces and most of all your shirts, but it’s that you can’t wear decent clothes when you’re bringing in the pumpkins, so even if you weren’t dirty, you’d still look common, and common never sold no pumpkins.”

This year was the biggest crop, yet. Daddy’d let them have another acre, seeing as how they were almost grown now, and they proved every year how responsible they were to keep up with their school work, then come home and tend the pumpkins.

They raised their prices and made a killing that year. Each one collected three hundred and forty nine dollars and eighty cents, except for Sassy who collected an extra two hundred when nobody was looking. Cash money. Under the table.

They saved the biggest and best one for themselves. Actually, they saved three each, plus the biggest and best. They named it Gordon this year and fought over how to carve it. Gordon had a flat spot in the most inconvenient place, and he wouldn’t stand upright, so Sarsaparilla, who someday wanted to be an engineer, pushed some metal stakes into his back to keep him propped up. She also wanted to someday be a designer, so she was the one who shrugged all the hay bales and the eatin’ pumpkins that didn’t get carved and the Indian corn to the front porch. She spent a week setting up the scene with the two scarecrows and last of the sunflowers, and every morning before school, and every afternoon when she got home, she’d fluff and priss over it, making it fresh looking, and just so.

The children always argued over how to carve the big one, and 2003 was no exception. Rilla thought Gordon looked stately, after he got propped up right, but Sassy and Larry and Lawrence thought he looked mangled, what with the divot in his forehead. Sassy lodged a hatchet in the divot, and that’s how Rilla found it when she got home from school on Halloween afternoon. It ruined the whole atmosphere of her happy harvest scene. She was used to it, though. Every year it happened like this, so she didn’t even let on that it bothered her.

Sassy started the carving with the eyebrows. She used a BB gun to get the right effect. Larry and Lawrence fully supported her artistic vision and ran inside to get their guns in order to help her carry out that vision. Lawrence got too excited and missed and accidentally shot Gordon right between Sassy’s carefully outlined eyebrows. It made her so mad that she shoved him hard and he bumped against Larry just as Larry squeezed off a shot. Fortunately for Larry and Lawrence, the botched shot went wide and didn’t further damage Sassy’s artistic statement.

“Now you’ve gone and made him a mono-brow,” she yelled, bruised and maligned by Lawrence’s accidental molestation of her creation.

“Awww, c’mon, Sassy,” Lawrence slunked, digging the toe of his good foot into the dirt. “It ain’t like I done it on purpose. Besides, it’s just one. It could be a zit.”

Sassy noticeably brightened at the idea of Gordon having acne, so the woe passed and balance was restored to the universe.

Larry came up with the idea of making Gordon drunk. That was the theme they aimed for. A drunk with a hatchet in his forehead. Then Sassy came up with - the - perfect - accouterment. Gordon would barf. They carved his mouth extra-wide, then carefully arranged all the guts they had scraped from all the pumpkins so they fell out his mouth. This was just too much for Rilla. She couldn’t stand it. She told them to go close up the stand and she’d meet them there with the car so they could go over to Dover Heights for their trick or treating. That’s where the good stuff was.

After they left, she heaped straw over the barf-guts. She tidied it and messed with it and kept putting on a little more and a little more, moving it to and fro until Gordon looked at least presentable, hatchet in the forehead notwithstanding.

Well, it was a breezy night that year, and as luck would have it, the coffee-can sized candle with the three wicks they used to light up Gordon burned deep enough little wells that when nightfall fell, and the breeze turned to a wind, the flames didn’t go out. But the straw blew in, and one piece of flaming straw led to another until the fire engulfed Rilla’s carefully coifed tender box of hay bales and scarecrows.

All three children pointed the finger at Rilla, but they didn’t leave her stranded. As soon as it became apparent that their parents shared the children’s perception that it was all Rilla’s fault, they jumped to her rescue.

“It could have been so much worse,” Sassy cooed to her tearful mother.

“That’s right,” Larry agreed, aiming his comment at their father. “Sure, we lost everything else, but we didn’t lose ya’ll. It’s a miracle ya’ll got out in time.”

“If you look at it right,” Lawrence added, “we’re all okay, and Rilla didn’t do it on purpose, and that’s what matters most, ain’t that right, Rilla? Ain’t that right?”

Rilla peered into the still smoldering coals that used to be their home, and somehow it didn’t quite seem as right as Lawrence hoped it would.


Author: Errid Farland

Errid’s stories have appeared in Barrelhouse, Thieves Jargon, Word Riot, storySouth, Pindledyboz, GUD, and other great places. She owns, a website which sponsors a weekly flash contest.