The Kids & The Animals

Here is something I wrote some good little while ago.  It’s  from my second book , that book of days Vacationing in My Driveway. Hoping it might bring people a smile in the wake of all this mess.

Oh, to be young again in autumn, I think on these windy midnights, these short sun-slanting afternoons.

The reports from First Grade come home these days all in headlines. Of course Halloween is a big part of the excitement.

“WE’RE LEARNING TO PAINT IN ART CLASS!” went the headline two weeks ago from our first-grade boy. “I PAINTED VAMPIRES THROWING UP ON EACH OTHER!”

Later there was a witch-drawing contest. “My witch is great,” he hollered that day getting off the bus. “There’s blood in her hair and her eyeball is falling out and a spider is lowering itself down from her eye socket…”

The season just seems to call for such dismantlings and such grotesqueries, though some kids take it to extremes:

“The lunch ladies were really mad today. One stood up at the front of the room and made an announcement,” he said clambering up onto a kitchen chair and imitating the sour outraged face of a disapproving grownup. “’Someone has been doing something really disgusting around here!’” he imitated, and went on to tell a dark tale involving accumulations of spit left close to the food.

Imitation is the name of one game at this season. We do on Halloween what we would like to do all year round: hide who we are; become someone other; prowl past unnoticed; and defy a few rules.

Years ago, when this child was small, I had some say in how he dressed on Halloween. One year he was a fat flannel pumpkin with an orange lid tied like a baby’s bonnet to his unprotesting head. Then, two years running, he was Dracula, with hair moussed back and a tuxedo shirt and a medallion (he really looked like Lawrence Welk.) But this year he did it all on his own; discussed his costume not at all with mom or dad, but came down the stairs sober-faced at five o’clock Halloween night in full regalia: black clothes and an eye patch; a hook hand and Creepy Teeth; scary fingernails and a woman’s wig of black shoulder-length curls. He looked like a cross between Cher and the prophet Isaiah.

“Uh, who are you supposed to be, Michael?,” some bigger boys asked, seeing him later on the moonlit streets.

“A monster!,” he called back over his shoulder, literally sprinting from house to house, his dark ringlets bouncing like Scarlett O’Hara’s.

“R-i-i-i-ght! Way to go, Mike!,” they called kindly after him.

Something big happens when the seasons turn that has nothing to do with the rule book.

Last weekend, as usual, the First Grade met on various teams to play one another in soccer. The wind was warm, yet bare tree limbs swayed like skeletal arms. In mid-game two small boys attempted some soccer moves, then fell to wrestling like puppies, then assumed classical ballroom dance positions and waltzed down the field. Two others wandered toward the sidelines where they found a book, sat down and began reading it.

“Does this mean the game has ended?” asked the perplexed coaching dad forlornly.

No, it just means that autumn is reigning. The air, having turned first to cider and then to applejack, intoxicates us with its tang, especially the more sensitive among us.

I woke to a noise one night last week: willed, not accidental, by the sound of it; unmechanical; just furtive enough to be unsettling. A thwock followed by a swish, and then silence. The same thing again. A pause, then two such sounds together. I looked through the whole house for the source if it. A silence grew as I searched; and came at last upon the cause: our black cat hard at a game of street hockey with a Tootsie Pop, her chosen booty from this pagan feast called Halloween.

It’s the season that does it. I lie on the carpet in my upstairs study and look out the just-washed windows, on the inside stripped of curtains, on the outside stripped of the framing fringe of ivy. I watch the sky go by, muscular arms of wind pulling clouds past by the handful. The world is trying to turn a new way, it feels like. Stop rotating to the right, and begin again to the left, maybe. Turn itself inside out, like a sweater pulled off over the head.

Something happens at this season of the high winds and the swirling oak leaves that makes us restless. We wake at night and ask, “What is it?”

Only the kids and the animals know. And the kids and the animals aren’t talking.

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