by Kristen Houghton
Originally published in "Mused" Magazine, December, 2007
“Look, oh Hetty, look! Isn’t that sweet - she looks so sweet! A fairy princess waiting for her prince to come! Oh! Can you see her, Hetty?”
“Yes, yes, Deirdre, I can see her."
The two elderly women were standing near the open gate watching the “trick-or-treaters” make their way along the street. In a little while it would be dark, but right now the sky was lit with the orange and pink glow of a sun that was just starting to set. The cool, dry air, with a small breeze, seemed to invigorate the children, the little ones skipping along, holding tightly to adult hands, the older ones running boldly ahead. All were laughing and calling to each other.
“Hetty, remember how we used to make those perfect pumpkin cookies with Mother supervising? We’d have all our little friends over for an autumn party, everyone dressed in costumes. We always made so many we had to give them to all our neighbors! Oh, (sigh), I remember it so well.”
“I know, Deirdre, I remember, too.”
“And, oh, Hetty, ‘member that one party we had where we were dunking for apples and that ridiculous little boy, what was his name, you know, he had a big space between his teeth, his father was a dentist, but his own son wouldn’t let him touch his teeth, imagine! oh, what was his name?”
“Peter, his name was Peter Schuyler, and his uncle was a dentist, not his father.”
“Yes! Peter Schuyler. He dunked my entire head into the bucket just to be mean. Then when I cried, he tried to kiss me! And his costume was awful! He was supposed to be dressed up as a pirate but he looked more like a banker with an eye-patch because he was wearing his father’s old suit coat. Yes, his father was a banker, not a dentist. I forgot that. You remember everything, Hetty!”
The sunset was starting to fade and the parents were telling the children that this was the last block. They had enough goodies; it was time to head back home soon. Some of the children protested. It was still early! One little girl had heard that the bakery on the next block was handing out pumpkin and apple muffins. Please, oh please, just a little longer.
“Why, listen to them, Hetty. Pumpkin and apple muffins! I should have made muffins this year! Oh, Hetty!”
“Deirdre, you can’t bake any more, you know that.”
“Well, with a little help I could! Remember when Doctor Hamilton first told me that I had arthritis? I was maybe fifty years old, but I could still bake! It was hard to grip the pans but I managed. I still could if I really wanted to. Don’t tell me I can’t!”
“All right, Deirdre, all right. Don’t excite yourself. Come inside now.”
But Deirdre didn’t move. Something else had caught Deirdre’s attention. A little girl with wispy blonde hair, no more than three and dressed as a pumpkin, sat down on the sidewalk, crying, and refused to budge. She told her mother she was too “pooped” to walk any more. Her father picked her up and, to stop her tears, swooped her up and down like a swing making her giggle with delight. The father put her up on his shoulders with her legs dangling around his neck.
“Daddy, daddy, I can see everything up here! I can see everybody!”
Deirdre smiled and waved at the little girl.
“Look Hetty, that sweet child is waving at me. ‘Member when my Emma was her age? Remember, Hetty? Emma had blonde hair, too but hers was in curls. Beautiful curls. You do remember, don’t you, Hetty? My Emma?”
“Of course I remember Emma at that age. My own niece! How could I forget?”
“I must stop by her place soon. Maybe tomorrow. What do you think, Hetty? The days seem to go by and I forget to go. You’ll remember, you’ll remind me to go, won’t you?”
“Whatever you think is best, Deirdre. I’ll remind you. Come inside with me now. Close the gate.”
The little girl with the blonde hair, no longer tired, had asked her father to put her down so she could run with her older brother. She ran towards the curb saying she wanted to go across the street, maybe there were more treats over there.
“No street for you, Pumpkin-girl” said her mother, laughing as her father again swung her up to his shoulders. “There are plenty of houses on this side and plenty of treats. You know the street is dangerous.”
The little girl’s attention was quickly diverted by the next house where a man and woman were making a big fuss over all the costumes and giving out fancy bags of homemade cookies.
“Do you know Hetty, that I believe this is the nicest Autumn in the longest time? Only thing is that it seems a lot colder now than when we were children. ‘Member the beautiful October days when the whole family had finished raking all the front and back yards and Father would light a bon-fire to burn the old leaves? How delightful it smelled! The smoke rose so high and Mother had hot apple cider for all of us to drink while we sat outside watching the fire. We always got as close to it as Mother allowed just to keep warm. You do remember, don’t you, Hetty?”
“Deirdre I remember everything you do. You are my sister after all. But everything was so long ago. Deirdre, come in now, close the gate. It is almost dark.”
“No, I don’t want to, I want to watch the children. They’re having so much fun. I guess they don’t really feel the cold, Hetty.”
“They feel it Deirdre. After all they are…………”
“Hetty, Hetty, look! There’s a bride! How lovely! Oh, Hetty, what poem did Mother always quote at weddings? Do you remember? Oh, yes, yes she said:
‘Lovely bride, do not hide,
Show your face, soft with grace,
Lift your veil at altar rail,
O’ blessed life! You are his wife!’
“I don’t know who wrote it but Mother always recited it whenever there was a wedding. Do you remember it Hetty? Hetty?”
Hetty was standing a few steps away from the gate, behind Deirdre. She was looking at her sister with an expression of mild concern. Hallowe’en always did this to Deirdre. She began to reminisce about the past. Hetty had listened to her for years now. She supposed she would have to listen to her forever. She looked at the sun which was into its last phase of setting. The sky was streaked with magnificent shades of pastel and deeper colors of amber and gold. The small breeze of a late October afternoon was turning into a chilly wind that swirled the leaves overhead like elegant dancers. “Deirdre, come inside now, close the gate. It is getting so cold. The children will all be going to their own warm houses. Come inside.” But Deirdre was paying no attention to Hetty. She was smiling and waving to all the children, a look of happiness on her face. “The costumes are so nice this year. And so creative! ‘Member when we made our costumes, Hetty? You always wanted to be a queen and I, I wanted to be a ballerina. Do you remember?” “Yes, Deirdre. I told you I remember everything, didn’t I? Now come inside the gate. Come inside.” “Hetty! Look!” “Deidre, I’ve seen enough children in costume. Close the gate and come……..” A cry escaped from Deirdre, she had one hand up to her mouth and was pointing with the other. Her sister turned at the cry, stopped what she was saying, and looked down the street to where her sister was pointing. Several teenage boys, too old really to be trick or treating, were walking towards the gate. Disdaining costumes, they were none the less creative in what they were wearing. White bandages, oozing fake blood, were wrapped around arms, legs, and their heads. Their clothes were ripped and one boy, the tallest of them, carried a long forked branch which he used as a make-shift crutch. It was at this gangly boy that Deirdre was pointing. Her sister stared then shook her head.
“Oh, Hetty! Oh, my dear God!”
“Deirdre, Deirdre, No, now calm yourself, Deirdre! Look at me, dear, please look at me. It isn’t……”
But Deirdre was standing at the very edge of the gate and staring.
“Hetty, look, Hetty! It is….is it? Robert? Robert! Robert!”
Hetty stood close by Deirdre and gently put one hand on her shoulder. She looked again at the boy, who, from a distance, looked older than he was. He did look something like Robert, fair hair and slim build, but as he came closer, a more careful look showed him to be about fifteen, not yet a man at all and certainly not Robert.
“Deirdre, he isn’t Robert, dear. I’m sorry. He is only a boy and he is not Robert.”
Deirdre looked hard as the boys crossed the street, laughing and pushing each other. The fair-haired boy had dropped his “crutch” and was running with the others. A horn honked loudly as the boys cavorted in the street stopping the few cars that were trying to pass. Startled, they all stopped and gave the driver the finger before running off laughing. No, it wasn’t Robert. Deirdre sighed and hung her head.
“He went away, do you remember Hetty? He went away to the war and never came back. He was twenty-two. He left me and Emma to go to that horrible war. He never came back, Hetty.”
“I know. War is terrible Deirdre. So many young men never came back. Hugh, well my Hugh, you know….”
Deirdre looked up at her sister in sympathy.
“Hugh? Oh, yes, Hugh, dear Hugh. You were so in love. Would you have married him, do you think, Hetty?”
Hetty was silent for a moment remembering the sweetness of youth, of holding Hugh’s strong warm hands, of his kisses and caresses that had excited such deep passion in her that, after him, she knew there could never be another man for her. That was why she had remained a spinster, an old maid they used to call it. Why she had helped Deirdre raise Emma and taken care of their parents when they became old and sickly. What else could she do, where else could she go? They all needed her and she had taken care of them all of her life. All of her life. Even now, she still took care of Deirdre. Dependable Hetty, caring daughter, sister, aunt…..lonely spinster. Spinster, a woman with no life of her own. Yes, she thought without answering Deirdre, I would have married him. Oh yes!
The wind was kicking up the leaves and the branches of the trees were bowing and swaying. There were only a few children passing by now, most of them gone to the local fast food place with their parents or home to eat. The little blonde “Pumpkin” girl was being carried by her father, her head snuggled into his shoulder, almost asleep.
“Lady waved to me, Mommy. Across the street.”
“There. ‘Cross the street.” Her mother turned to look.
“She’s really zonked out, Mommy, in dreamland,” said her father.
“Let’s take her home and order ourselves a pizza, okay?” He gestured towards their daughter and smiled.
She smiled back and brushed the wispy hair on the child’s forehead. They started towards home.
“Deirdre, there’s no one left to see. It’s dark and we should go inside now. Close the gate. Tomorrow will be busy.”
Deirdre took another look down the street. It was practically deserted except for a few cars passing by. Hetty was right. It was time to go inside. Tomorrow would be busy. That was the day when all the pretty flowers arrived. She sighed and closed the gate.
“Remember Hetty, all the beautiful flowers there were in Mother’s garden? Emma loved them. I must visit her place, maybe tomorrow. ‘Member how she loves those marigolds, Hetty? ‘Member Hetty?”
“Yes, Deirdre. I remember everything.”
The two women walked towards the low bushes bordering their property. Deirdre suddenly turned and kissed her sister.
“What was that for?” Hetty asked.
“For remembering with me, Hetty. You’re the only one who remembers." Deirdre smiled at her astonished sister and went on ahead.
Hetty paused for a bit glancing up at the sky. The wind had settled down and was once again just a breeze. She looked towards the gate to make sure it was closed. Everything was peaceful. Hetty sighed a deep, ragged sigh. The night was sweet with a half moon shining through scattered clouds. She remembered a sweet night like this with Hugh long ago. If she could just stand here for awhile and remember only for herself. “Hetty?” Deirdre was calling her. “One of the flower pots is overturned. There’s dirt all over everything!” Her reverie was broken. Deirdre needed her. She smiled sadly and walked towards her sister.
“I’ll take care of it, dear. You go on. It won’t take me but a few minutes.”
“All right. Hetty? You’ll remember about tomorrow and Emma’s, won’t you?”
“Yes, I’ll remember. I always do. Go on now.”
Hetty bent and picked up the overturned pot. Probably a rabbit or a cat had upset it while running through the night. With her hands she swept the dirt away from the stones that read:
HENRIETTA “HETTY” MAITLAND
Beloved Sister, Always Remembered in Our Hearts
DEIRDRE MAITLAND DOWNEY
Beloved Wife and Mother
Tomorrow, Hetty thought, tomorrow we’ll go to Emma’s grave across the way. I’ll remember.
I always do.
©2011 copyright Kristen Houghton, all rights reserved.