pumpkins & other things

When we were very young, my father picked pumpkins for us while he was grocery shopping. My father fretted as he spread the table with newspaper and found the perfect knife. I remember the cold mucus, the strings and gore, the firm vegetable flesh that gave way with a fathers’, but not a daughters’, hand. We roasted the seeds with salt.

But more often, he baked hard green apples—they have to be hard enough to kill a man if you threw it at the back of his head when he wasn’t looking—until they were sweet.

The baked apples were quickly eaten, but the carved pumpkin sat on our windowsill until the bottom collapsed and softness oozed. We had not noticed until the day I put clementine peels on the radiator, and the smell of hot iron pipes and mold made me step back. My father fretted as he cleared the mess away.

But Halloween in the city was mostly a frantic stapling of my mother’s silk scarves to a sweater and a newspaper beak, and the stroll through the apartment building, begging for birdseed: save for sixth grade. I was invited to a party, and the most popular girl in the grade had asked me.

Determined to be a cow, I magic-marker-ed black splotches and a tail to scotch-tape to my mother’s turtleneck sweater, while my father punched a hole in the bottom of an old tea-box and somehow hung a bolt on the inside for an authentic clank to my cow-bell. A Russian officer’s ribbon hung it around my neck, and we merrily clanked our way to the party on the cross-town bus. What I remember is that most of the night I didn’t know where her parents were, and that the apartment was too big for me to find them or her when I wanted to say good-bye. This was the first time that I realized that we were coming to the age where we could show our legs or our new chests and not care what others thought of it.

This was also the first time I realized that perhaps the bovine was not as fashionable as I thought.

(These days, when I tell people that the first cow that I ever saw was at the Central Park Children’s Zoo, they don’t believe me. Apparently, cows are not usually found in zoos.)

A few years later, I wore the beautiful mask my parents bought in Venice before I was born, when they were on one of those travels they always speak of with bright eyes. Glossy black plaster, rounded brows and a long nose with a mole. Another party, and a boy of that faith asked me if I was a Jew, pointing to the long nose. This was the first time that I realized that perhaps there were questions I didn’t know how to answer.

A few years later, when we were still very young college freshman, we were six young ladies on an October night out for a birthday dinner. I almost stole a pumpkin, but put it back as they squealed, and was content with making them squirm as I smirked. Behind us, tipsy students stole the same pumpkin, another for good measure, gave us their theft, not even stopping to ask if we wanted them, as they bounded off into the inebriated night.

It was a question we would not have known how to answer, even if they had asked it. So we carried our unearned plunder into the night.

That weekend, we carved them and roasted the seeds with salt.

A year later, my friends went to Florence. It is not Venice, but they brought me back a black mask, gilt with glitter. It has no features out of proportion to nature.

This year, we went to movies the day before the hallowed eve, a long car drive through the cornfields at night, watching for deer and keeping an eye on the lights in the farmhouses. Fond memories of stolen pumpkins, and a promise that I’ll love you forever if you steal a pumpkin for me.

And the first time that I realized that I was afraid of this night, a horror movie, what if a man gets it into his head to shoot up a theater. The whispered reassurance of statistics, of demographics, of laws, the knowledge of the exits, of being only a phone call away as they waited for us in the car.

And the only true fright was the man who took the tickets wandered in halfway through the movie, to check the fuse box on the side of the theater. I never gasped so hard.

As the car pulled up, a pumpkin, small and perfect, lay in the front seat.

I never gasped so hard, and we rode off laughing into the night, relieved the only violence was a stolen pumpkin.

And now, I wait for my pumpkin to rot.

Perhaps I will roast the seeds with salt.

© 2015 Anna-Christina Betekhtin, All Rights Reserved.

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