Gavin tripped as he left the bathroom and stumbled into his bedroom. He sat on his bed underneath two posters. One was for Empire Strikes Back, his favorite, and the other for the upcoming Return of the Jedi. The legs on his costume pants were a bit long, and they were in the way. Scissors would help. The mask, however, wasn’t helping. The eye-holes were just a bit too high in the one-size-fits-all clown suit his mother had picked out for him. He pushed it up on top of his head, held there by a thin elastic band stapled to the mask on either side.
Of course there weren’t that many choices at Woolworth’s. You had a plastic clown face, a plastic bum face, a monkey, a werewolf, vampire or mummy face…and then there had been the array of superheroes. All plastic, all crappy. His baggy suit was a clever sewing job by his mother. Patchwork colors and shiny silk, a floppy tie and some old shoes of his dad’s, painted orange.
“Can’t we just paint my face?” he’d asked.
“No, sweetie. That stuff is hard to wash off, and it makes your skin break out. The mask is just easier,” his mother said.
He had grumbled, staring at the floor, hating the plastic, store-bought stuff. Rich kids made fun of the poor kids at Halloween. They had rented costumes or luxurious fabrics, custom sewn at the tailor’s shop in town. His family wasn’t poor, but things were tight so they could stay in that neighborhood, living paycheck to paycheck. His parents did the best they could in those trying times, unable to afford extras like Cable or MTV. The Jones’s always had something new to keep up with. A concept Gavin would understand later.
“Besides,” his mother had said. “Think about the candy, and your friend Gregory’s party tonight. That’ll be fun, right?”
It would be fun, he thought. If they don’t make fun of me. If I can get to my friends before the others make fun. Before they point and howl and slap each other on the shoulders at my expense. If I can just live through the next hour or two of trick-or-treating, please God, let that happen.
He nodded, then pulled the mask back down. The eye holes still didn’t match. Scissors would help. He dug a pair out of the desk drawer on the opposite side of his room and immediately snipped two inches from the bottom of his red, yellow and green pants. Then he looked at the mirror over his dresser. His mother had done a fine job. A circus clown, not too menacing, still kind of creepy, like the one in that Poltergeist film. He wished he’d had a jester hat with jingly bells to complete the look, maybe hide some of that awful plastic mask…or some fluffy cotton candy hair.
A few steps in his dad’s old dress shoes, floppy enough, went much better with the bottoms of those pants cut off. It might upset his mother, but there was no time for alteration. The sun was fading and it was time to ring doorbells. He still couldn’t see quite right, so the mask came off once more and the scissors went to work, helping things. Two much larger eyeholes and he could see again. His eyes were sad and didn’t quite match the brilliant red, up-turned smile or the blue diamond-shaped streaks that went across his eyes.
Makeup would’ve been better.
One last look in the mirror and he grabbed his pillowcase—in which he would carry his loot—and carefully descended the stairs to the kitchen which smelled of caramel apples and popcorn.
“Mom! I’m leaving.”
She came in from the attached laundry and smiled.
“You look adorable!”
“I’m supposed to look like that clown from Poltergeist,” Gavin said.
“Oh. Well in that case, you look…terrifying?”
She hadn’t seen the film. Gavin sighed.
“Yes, terrifying,” he said.
She hugged him. “I’m sorry, honey. I’m so bad at this.”
But it’s so important to me.
“Have fun, honey. Don’t forget, Gregory’s house by 7:30! And behave.”
“I will, mom.”
It was just after 6:30, a late start, but trick-or-treating didn’t feel right until dusk. He only took ten paces to get to the front door. His shoes mad a clip-flap clip-flap sound as he walked, but changed to a ka-thunk ka-thunk when he crossed the threshold of the front door onto the concrete porch and walkway.
The first house was dark. His next-door neighbors were out of town, going to a funeral he’d heard. They had set out pumpkins, but the lights were off. That was a universal sign that said, ‘No candy here kids. Move along’. He walked by with a light ka-thunk ka-thunk and watched as other groups of kids moved on the opposite side of the street. Some groups were kids only, others had parents who watched from the street and others still were made of the tiniest of trick-or-treaters. Those approached the door with parent’s in tow and were met with “Oh, how precious!” and “Adorable!”
The second home had the lights on, so he knocked. He could hear the television through the door, see the light flickering in the sidelight window. Then he heard steps and when the door opened, it was Mr. Kaminski. The Kaminski’s were at least a hundred years old. Mr. K. looked at him.
“What the hell you s’posed to be?”
“Trick or treat! I’m a scary clown,” Gavin said.
Mr. K. considered and frowned.
“You a little old for this?”
“I’m only thirteen.”
Mr. K. raised an eyebrow and nodded, unimpressed. When he was thirteen, he was probably already married with grandkids. He grabbed a handful of candy from a bowl by the door and tossed it into Gavin’s pillowcase.
“Yeah, yeah,” Mr. K said and shut the door.
Before Gavin arrived at the third house, a voice called from across the street.
“Look at the clown! Is that Gavin? You queer or something?”
Gavin felt tears pool in his eyes.
“Look at the queer clown,” the same voice said, followed by the laughter of cronies.
He knew the voices, but when he looked, the faces were different…painted like the rock band Kiss. It was Gregory’s older brother Mike and his thug friends. Gavin snapped his head forward, forcing himself not to look back and he tripped over his orange shoes, scraping through the silky fabric of his costume and the top layer of skin on one knee. The tears spilled over and he was temporarily glad for the mask.
A huge burst of laughter came from across the street. Kiss was cackling and slapping one another on the backs.
“Clowns really are funny. Damn, Gav. Thanks buddy. I needed that shit,” one said.
More chuckles followed as Gavin stood up. His palms were scraped and his knee was on fire. He skipped the next two houses and turned the corner so he could put their jokes behind him. His breath came in jittery puffs as he cried and his cheeks were sticky with dried tears. Once around the corner, he tried another house, one he’d passed a dozen times a week but didn’t know who lived there. He checked his watch before knocking on the door. It was almost 7:00. He could get twenty more houses before he got to Gregory’s. Then he could take off the stupid mask. Then he could hang out with his friends and relax.
Maybe I am too old for this.
A young woman answered the door, maybe a college student. The music inside the house was so loud he was surprised she could hear the doorbell. She laughed at the sight of him and covered her mouth.
“A clown?” she shouted before he could say trick or treat.
“A scary clown,” he said weakly.
She tossed something into his bag and shook her head.
“Hardly,” she said.
The tears pooled again, but he didn’t care. He moved from house to house filling his bag and the taunts kept coming. Gavin shrugged them off. The heavier his bag became, the less the insults hurt. His mother made that costume and it was good enough for him. If only he’d painted on the face. It would’ve washed off. She should’ve let him—no—he should’ve just done it anyway. Suddenly, Gavin was angry with his mother. Angry with Gregory’s brother Mike. Angry with the college girl. Angry with Mr. Kaminski. Angry with the band Kiss… Then he was at Gregory’s door. It was 7:25.
He pushed the mask up on top of his head and wiped his eyes, now sore from crying. The doorbell brought thudding footsteps as someone approached. When it opened, Gregory stood there in a Superman costume, not a plastic one, but one stretchy fabric, exactly like the movie. He even had red boots like Christopher Reeve. Gregory’s hair was slicked back with just one curl on his forehead. Except for the muscles, which Gregory was sorely lacking, it was perfect.
Angry with Gregory.
“Come on in, man. Cool clown suit,” he said, but with a snicker.
In the background, Gavin saw Kiss. Mike and his three stooges sat at the kitchen table gobbling up the snacks that were supposed to be for Gregory’s party.
“Hey, it’s the queer clown. How’s your knee?”
The four of them roared again, and even Gregory laughed. As they turned past the kitchen into the living room where the other kids were, he saw they were laughing as well. Laughing at him. Laughing at Gavin. Laughing at his homemade costume and Woolworth’s mask. He dropped his bag of candy on the floor by the front door and reached into his pocket. The scissors were there, slick and cold and pointy. Scissors would help.
~ Dan Dillard
© Copyright 2013 Dan Dillard. All Rights Reserved.