Monday, October 25, 1999

Hollow Missing

To be booed takes on a whole other meaning during Halloween. Self inflicted jeering turns to deeper reflection with thoughts and feeling that are intense enough to scare even yourself. It is the time of year of being haunted, of remembering a ghost that escorted the boy with a pith helmet down Summit Avenue through the gigantic neatly manicured lawns up to the big wooden doors at the end of impressive porches, attached to substantial houses. The ghost who was never to leave the boy couldn't quite make it back home with all her candy in tact. There was a desperation in her actions. "What tastes sweet now turns so sour," she said. Although she had eaten too much already and was suffering from an all too frequent sugar overload she had to sample each and every treat they were handed by weary homeowners who thought they looked a little too old for the annual custom.

Many years later, now a homeowner, the boy had his own annual tradition come October 31. He would pick up his usually affable but semi-neurotic if not usually comatose cat, Mr. Max, under the cat's ample belly and take him to the kitchen where a vat of black shoe polish awaited. Gently dipping Mr. Max into the vat the gray striped short haired kitty with a butterscotch underside took on a brand new look- the fearful feline whose path one wasn't supposed to cross, especially on this particular day. The tradition had begun the first year the two moved into the brick house on a busy St. Paul street where every trick or treater's ring of the door bell had Mr. Max at his wit's end. The boy found the change of appearance, the shiny costume was enough to distract Mr. Max's mind and scare the kiddies at the door all at the same time. A costume, a slight change of appearance was enough to get Max's mind thinking not of soul's lost but of a potential brand new beginning.

But this year was different. It had been a year where events dictated a certain draining of the spirit, where as much as possible one wanted to hold on to things relied upon in the past as much as the need to change the routine so as to start anew and somehow, some way move forward again. It was exactly a year ago to this time when the boy left Mr. Max alone for a night and through the gentle encouragement of one who always seemed to know when that gentle encouragement was most needed found himself driving north past the fallen leaves (having just missed their wondrous colors) to see a performer perform in his Iron Range hometown city. The night was special as the boy roamed the barren downtown streets on a brisk afternoon eventually ending up at the edge of Lake Superior where a couple of ghosts accompanied him with an endless marathon stinging.

On his drive home the boy felt an undying temptation to just keep on driving- somewhere- anywhere and leave his trivial troubles behind. But there was a responsibility if not a job, and there was a cat that needed his presence. This year thus marked an anniversary of sorts and the boy and Mr. Max had to do something a little different from the norm. So fighting the ever creeping agoraphobia the two decided rather than stay at home and hand out bags of Reeses Peanut Butter cups to the never ending stream of elf like mitts, they too would join the crowd and venture through the streets.

It had been awhile since the two had taken a walk together. Back in days when taking small steps was a constant meaningful reminder of how far the two had come from nearby days, they would venture outside the small efficiency that housed all that was left, and stroll through the neighborhood with the boy puffing on his long forgotten pipe. While patiently allowing the strapping on of the thin black harness attached to the leash, Mr. Max's anticipation was visible. After the securing procedure was complete Mr. Max headed immediately to the door and stood with his nose pressed against the wood until the boy finally was ready to open it. Once outside he occasionally would forget he was attached to the leash and as he caught whiff of an odor carried by the wind, he would take off full speed only to be yanked back unmercifully by the leash. The boy would try to keep up with the speedy Mr. Max but inevitably the cat would tumble backwards.

So as the evening lights settled the two headed out one last time. The last door they came across was opened by a girl that seemed to have been waiting for their arrival. The boy took off his mask. The girl, who knew how to fix up broken homes, offered her hand, unafraid, unobtrusively, and with a sincerity that was equally as comforting as it was unexpected. "I've forgotten more than you ever knew," she said with a snort. "And that wasn't all that much to begin with." Though he knew it wasn't always going to be there and that he didn't dare hold on too long, the boy was grateful for the assistance. He was glad that he was still able to smile. As they left her door there was a palatable renewal of spirit. Still more than a tad unsteady the boy nonetheless felt glad for having met her. To survive the fall that was could only make him stronger.

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