“For some people, Halloween is a holiday. For others, it’s a way of life.”
Leonard wasn’t looking at Kyra or the box that held her dead cat. He was looking down the hill to the street where Marybeth was strolling along with her new friends, decked out in a dress that looked like a black wedding cake.
Kyra didn’t reply, she was still digging the hole. She only had a hand trowel to do it. Toonces had been a big cat towards the end of his life.
The shoebox that held her cat’s body was tied giftwrap-style with twine. Leonard had done that. Leonard had also said he’d show up with a flatnose shovel and help her dig the hole, but he hadn’t done that. He stamped his feet against the cold and looked after Marybeth.
“Are you going to her party later? Could you get me an invite?”
Kyra used the measuring of the hole as an excuse to not answer right away. It was wide and long enough, but was too shallow.
“We’re not really hanging out much anymore,” she said when enough time had passed.
“Oh really? Thought you two were tight.” Leonard looked at her for the first time since Marybeth hove into view. Kyra bent so that her hair hid her face.
“That was the beginning of the year,” she said carefully, “she’s made new friends. A lot of them.”
The earth mounded over Toonces’ box. Leonard lifted his boot to stomp it flat. Kyra winced.
“Toonces was a good cat,” she said by way of services, “I always had to hide him right around this time of year. My dad said people hate black cats. They think they’re the devil. He wasn’t all black anyway. He had that white spot on his chest.”
Leonard finished stomping and scraped his boot sideways to get rid of the dirt. “You have a headstone?”
Kyra held up a chunk of feldspar. “I didn’t paint it or anything. I don’t want to attract attention. You’re not supposed to bury pets, you’re supposed to have them cremated.”
“Too bad, you could’ve done some cool things with the ashes.” Leonard was looking down at the street. “You sure you don’t want to mark it?”
“I’ll remember the shape.” Kyra crossed her arms. She wanted to flick or hit Leonard so he’d look at her, just so he’d stop drifting his attention away.
“You going out tonight?”
“Dunno.” Kyra thought of the black dress she’d been working on since July, identical to the one currently occupying Marybeth Andrews’ person. “Aren’t we getting old for Halloween?”
Leonard didn’t deny it, like she hoped. He did a single-shoulder shrug and left after more forced small talk.
Kyra crouched by the grave. Toonces had not made a very big impact with his passing. She remembered coming home from trick-or-treating, feeling his body wind between her legs, his cold, curious nose pricking her ankle.
She looked away from the street.
Where the hill ran into farmland, she spied a bit of movement. Old man Deakins was in the pumpkin patch, among the withered vines. The pumpkins had long since been harvested, set out on hay bales or clustered together by the tin shed that served as a produce market. Kyra watched as he took a funny little sideways step, kicking loose dirt over a vine. There was someone else dealing with the dregs of the season.
Kyra rose from her crouch.
“Hi, Mr. Deakins!” She called to him from the white fence that separated his farm from the empty land parcels that were carved from the neighboring farm.
Deakins looked up. His hair and mustache were still brown, but there was such an air of ancient-ness to his demeanor that they all reflexively called him “old man.”
“Well hey there, sweetie pie.” Kyra would have bet dollars to donuts that he didn’t know her name. That was fine. At least he was talking to her and not at her.
“Boy that sure looks tedious.” Kyra nodded at the pumpkin vines. Her voice sounded fake, even to her ears.
“Ah, no job that’s worth doin’ is boring to me.” Deakins went back to his procedure. Step-step-scrape. “Some folk burn the fields.” Step-step-scrape. “I like to give back to the earth.”
“Oh.” And because she needed to tell this to someone, anyone, she said, “I buried my cat today.”
Deakins nodded. “Oh boy. I remember putting my first cat down.” Step-step-scrape. “Called him Pudditat. Helluva mouser.” Step-step-scrape. “Fell afoul of a neighbor dog. Not a year goes by I don’t think of him, actually.” Step-step-scrape. “Buried plenty of cats, but none like him.”
“I got him when my mom—when I started living with my dad.” It was nice, commiserating like this. Even when it was with someone so far out of her social phylum he might as well have gills. “He was going downhill for a while, but that doesn’t make it any easier.”
Deakins shook his head. “Nope. I hear yah.” Step-step-scrape.
Kyra watched his peculiar dance for a moment to build up her courage.
“Do you feel—disappointed?” she blurted out.
Deakins stopped what he was doing to squint at her.
“I mean, I used to love Halloween. But as I’ve gotten older, it’s like, well, um, everything leading up to it just really psyches you up for it and then the day comes and it’s like—I don’t know,” she rambled, heart hammering. She had never said this out loud before and Deakins’ face lacked any clues as to what he thought of it.
Deakins cocked his head and looked at her. One boot heel sat on a vine that curled as if beseeching for escape from the soil.
“Sure,” he said, “think I do.”
Deakins beckoned her off the fence. Despite their rapport, she was shy about approaching him.
Deakins gestured to the farm. “You see my farm? I’ve got these fields. Some I’ve got crops going year round. I take out the alfalfa, and suddenly it’s time for the safflower. But then there’s some I only plant but once a year. Like this one.” He kicked his heel into the brown earth. “I don’t make much on the pumpkins. Matter of fact I think I lose a little each year. But the feeling when those orange bastards come out, when the little ones come up with their faces all lit up—boy!” Deakins chuckled. “No feeling like it.”
“But when it’s all barren, like this?”
Deakins looked out over the field, scanning to and fro. “There’s a pang, I won’t lie. That’s why I’m out here. Got to give the boys a sendoff.”
“Doesn’t it make you sad?”
“Sure—a bit. But proud.” Deakins smiled, face creasing like a leather wallet. “You wanna see somethin’?”
He crouched to the ground, beckoning. Kyra came as close as she dared.
“You gotta realize every end is a beginning. I clear the wheat, the clover goes in. I butcher the cows, I feed a family. I plant the pumpkins—”
Deakins’ gnarled hands unearthed the stem of the pumpkin and dug deeper. It took a moment for Kyra to make out the stump that the vines projected from. Even then, she took a moment to process if she was truly seeing this, a purple twist of scarf around a neck. Deakins continued scraping the earth away, uncovering a vest, a jacket, a headless body with vines spewing from the throat.
Kyra did not scream. She backed away, vocal chords stilled by shock. Deakins smiled proudly, as if displaying a trophy.
“See, sweetie pie? Everything gets buried, eventually.”
Kyra ran, vaulting the fence in one go. She kept up a gallop past Toonces’ grave, already birthing a green sprout. Deakins called, his voice chasing up the hill after her:
“Come back in November—butternut squash’ll be ready!”