CAROLINE ZARLENGO SPOSTO

 

ALL HALLOWS EVE

 

by Caroline Zarlengo Sposto

 

 

 

“Why is my fiancé dressed like a fried egg?” Samantha demanded, her eyes like pots on the brink of boiling.

“It’s Halloween,” Nurse Olivia said, craning her neck past the large pumpkin on her desk. She was wearing black velveteen cat ears. She had also reddened the tip of her nose with lipstick and had drawn whiskers across her cheeks.

“It’s not Halloween to Kyle. He’s in a coma.”

“We certainly didn’t mean to offend you, Miss Ross,” Olivia said. She swiveled her chair toward a gray-haired ward clerk dressed as the Tooth Fairy and said, “Please page whoever has N-143.”

In less than a minute a compact woman with freckles bustled up. Though she was dressed as two strips of bacon, Samantha recognized her as Lindsay, Kyle’s nurse since the accident four days prior.

“Lindsay,” Olivia said while adjusting the hairpins that secured her faux feline ears. “Please take off Mr. Piddock’s costume.”

Lindsay emitted a flat sigh.

“I’m sorry,” Samantha said, trailing Kyle’s nurse to his bedside. “I know whoever did this meant well––“

I did this,” Lindsay said, undoing the velcro fasteners beneath Kyle’s breathing tube with sharp little rips. “Thought he might enjoy a little Halloween spirit.” Then as an afterthought, added, “the fried egg connotation didn’t occur to me at the time. Sorry.”

“It’s just that Kyle wouldn’t be caught dead in that sort of costume,” Samantha said, regretting her words the moment she said them.

As Lindsay folded the sunny side up tunic, an inkling of Bacon and Eggs being a couple’s costume hovered in Samantha’s mind like the first puff of steam from a teakettle. Before this notion could condense into a coherent thought, Doctor Bhatnagar walked in wearing a blond mullet wig and oversized, horn-rimmed glasses. He smiled at the two women, gestured toward his face and said in his lilting Mumbai accent, “Garth from Wayne’s World.” Then, spotting Kyle, he asked, “No costume?”

The light through the blinds told Terry Piddock she’d overslept. She’d been up most of the night googling mothers whose adult children were on life support, hoping to learn why she wasn’t crippled with grief. She pulled on her robe and padded into the kitchen, relieved to find Samantha had already gone to the hospital.

“Jesus,” Terry muttered finding the creamer left out beside a half-empty mug and a trail of crumbs. She needed someone to cry with, but her future daughter-in-law wasn’t that kind of person.

Terry poured a cup of cold coffee from the half-full carafe, microwaved it, and unwrapped a fun-size Hershey bar from the plastic bowl on the table. Trick or treat giveaways always made her think of K’s father, Todd. Their first date had been Halloween night, twenty-some years before. They’d gone to a party as Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood from Raiders of The Lost Ark––for some reason, nobody understood Terry’s costume and she had to keep explaining it.

Six months later, after three consecutive home pregnancy tests revealed a blue plus, she broke the news to Todd, who said all the right things, but did nothing. After Kyle was born, Todd ran out of excuses and disappeared.

Terry wadded the candy wrapper and tossed it in the trash. The black and orange wig was still in its package on the kitchen table. She’d bought it to wear when she handed out treats to the children. She considered leaving the bowl of candy bars on the front porch, but decided against it. Tearing down the paper goblins she’d taped to the inside of her front window, she realized she was crying.

The man in N-143 had no awareness of Kyle Piddock. He was a wordless, disembodied creature underground. He hadn’t burrowed in. He was trapped, wanting to get out, but not knowing how to try.

Hazy vaguenesses of people milled about like the negative of a photograph; light shadows in the dark. The only semblance of tangibility was the steady pounding sound that rose up from somewhere hollow beneath him.

Everything changed while drifting through the sea full of barnacles. They took off the blindfold and a searchlight shone in his face. A massive squid stared at him, its single eye projecting a unique intelligence. It seemed quite a privilege to be so regarded. Car repairs were happening to him. Next, all of that was gone. Those things had only made sense for a moment.

Long, long hair flowed from his head like peachy red lava and was being washed in a drinking fountain in a coral hallway by a beautiful woman with a block of wood for a head. She and her head were not one and the same, but he didn’t know how or why.

President Wesley Snipes sent him a letter of support.

Amy Pepper’s shopping cart crashed into a table in the supermarket deli. Soup went flying, Styrofoam bowls and plastic spoons went flying. It sounded like a small explosion. She flashed an apologetic smile at the pair of stunned strangers whose meal she’d just upended. The urge to broadside their lunch had rushed through her like a riptide. The store manager rushed over. He usually wore a suit, but today he was dressed like a pirate––not a lusty, swashbuckling pirate, but an abashed, landlubbing one, obeying a corporate memo about Halloween dress-up being fun for customers and good for employee morale.

“Is everyone okay?” he asked.

“I think so,” Amy said. “I slipped on something greasy.”

The couple, wiping their splattered clothes with paper napkins, said nothing. The manager assured them he’d pay for dry cleaning, and escorted Amy to the express lane checkout.

Amy glanced at her watch. She still had time to drive home, put away her groceries and change into her costume before her three to eleven shift in the Saint Vincent’s Hospital kitchen. En route, she waved a bicyclist into the crosswalk at a four-way stop. She felt the urge to slam her foot down on the accelerator as soon as the child was dead center.

She again thought back to Oktoberfest and the lone stranger she’d spotted smoking a cigarette on the fire escape outside the brewpub. The impulse had hit her like a freight train. How easy it had been to shove him down the stairs. How curious to melt into the crowd, watch the ambulance arrive, and wonder if she’d killed him. She had planned to keep an eye on the obituaries, but the next day, a coworker happened to mention a guy who’d fallen down a fire escape and been sent up to Neuro.

When Terry entered Kyle’s hospital room Samantha looked up from her iPhone and said, “His idiot nurse had him dressed like a fried egg. She’s dressed like bacon.”

Terry wondered how much Samantha knew. Then it occurred to her that Samantha may have simply found Lindsay’s bacon costume distasteful because she was Jewish.

The internist showed up with the toxicology report.

Lindsay pretended to adjust her bacon tunic in the bathroom mirror while she scrutinized her face. Had she changed so much in 10 years that Terrry had forgotten her? Granted, they’d only met a few times, but it felt weird to be treated like a stranger. Maybe Terry had never liked her. She did seem awfully chummy with Samantha.

Whenever Lindsay touched Kyle, she thought she saw his pupils dilate a little. Not enough to measure, mention, or chart, but enough for her to notice. Suppose her face were the first thing Kyle saw when he woke up? Suppose his traumatic coma caused him to forget the past 10 years of his life?

Kyle was one speck among thousands on the wing of a Technicolor butterfly soaring through the air. He saw the truth absolutely––first from far away and then close up––knowing it had actually happened before instead of now.

The sun hurt his eyes which put him in a powerless rage because he was a marble statue fused to the ground near a bush that turned first into a hand and then into Johnny Cash wearing a chef’s smock that pawed at him with sticky fingers.

Someone in Jamaica announced all the manatees had been poisoned six years before. This wouldn’t matter except that an angry baby––who was actually a tiny old lady––had left the ocean door open with the orchestra plugged in and the oven light on.

Everybody in the Chinese restaurant hospital prison got locked in the basement overnight where it was dark and cold. He was among them, glued to a firewood pallet, shivering.

Doctor Bhatnagar stood up straight and did his best to pull in his stomach. He hoped nurse Olivia liked his costume. He fished through his medical satchel for the fancy bag of pumpkin-shaped candies. He had to buy one for every nurse and ward clerk on the floor in order to give one to Olivia, but that was okay.

He longed to tell her, “I thought I was an expert on the human brain until I found myself both happily married and desperately in love with you.” If his wife were to die unexpectedly, those would be his exact words.

Would it turn Olivia on to know he thought about her when he was in bed with his wife? The thought of any woman thinking of him when she was in bed with her husband turned him on.

Olivia glanced up from her chart. “Anything I can do for you, Doctor Bhatnagar?”

“Have a piece of candy,” the neurologist said, feeling violently aroused and flustered.

Amy Pepper reported to work in the hospital kitchen dressed as a Mouseketeer. The hairnet worked okay under mouse ears.

When she was four years old, she had a set of hard plastic Disney characters. One day she pounded Jiminy Cricket into dust with her father’s hammer. She liked Jiminy, but his toolbox was sitting open when the notion came over her. When she was done, she ran her chubby fingers through the pile of dust, knowing Jiminy would be gone forever. It seemed like a fair trade.

A ketchup bottle sat at the edge of the dishwashing station. Amy turned on the garbage disposal and threw it in. Gorgeous blood-colored splashes dotted the steel around the drain hole. When her supervisor came over, Amy pointed to the crunching sink and said, “ice.”

No further explanation needed.

Terry Piddock insisted Samantha head back to her house to get some rest.

Now she could finally talk to Lindsay.

Olivia sat in the break room eating the candy she’d gotten from the squat little doctor whose name she could never pronounce. She checked her smartphone to see if anyone had gotten back to her about the job at the resort in Cancun. She hoped she’d worded her resume to best advantage, stressing her E.R. experience and two years of college Spanish.

Samantha struggled with the lock on Terry Piddock’s front door. Up until now, she had loved Halloween, but tonight every emulation of blood, gore, and death unsettled her.

She threw her coat and purse on a chair and heated a can of chicken noodle soup. The house was too quiet. She turned on the television, flipped through the channels, and turned it off. She found a large photo album from the bookshelf. Poring through Kyle’s childhood pictures felt comforting. Next came snapshots from his high school and college years. He looked scrawny, had a penchant for Hawaiian shirts, and wore his hair longer. Then she saw it––the polaroid from the Halloween at the frat house ––Kyle and his beaming date, Lindsay, dressed as bacon and eggs.

In hospital the corridor, Terry Piddock passed Reverend Wells, the chaplain––who was dressed like a chaplain––but they missed each other. She was busy digging in her handbag for her keys, and his head was down as he glanced at the report scrawled by Chaplain Brown, who’d covered the previous shift. According to the notes, the patient in room N-143 was still unresponsive, meaning this was a time for hope.

Reverend Wells stood by the bedside and greeted Kyle as if he could hear him before bowing his head, and offering a silent prayer.

In the Five Point neighborhood, Brandon Marks, owner of the Hopp Inn Brewpub, was dressed like the Opera Ghost from Phantom. He and his girlfriend Erlinda, who was dressed like a sexy policewoman, were busy serving throngs of costumed customers.

He felt relieved that the recent accident hadn’t hurt business. Brandon’s attorney and insurance agent seemed to have it covered. He’d also sent over the largest fruit and cheese basket available, and put an emergency alarm on the fire escape door to discourage customers from milling about there.

Whenever customers mentioned the accident, he said, “Yeah. It’s intense, man. Incredibly intense.”

Shedding tears about the accident when he was alone with Erlinda seemed to turn her on.

Terry Piddock entered her house through the garage. She ached with exhaustion, but otherwise, she felt numb.

Before she could hang up her coat, Samantha confronted her with the Halloween photo. “Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked.

“I thought you knew,” Terry lied.

“How the hell would I know? She’s been touching Kyle. Bathing him. She dressed him like an egg!”

“It’s her job,” Terry said, then seeing Samantha’s face added, “Kyle never mentioned Lindsay?”

“He mentioned her, but he never showed me her picture. He said he didn’t want me to compare myself.”

Terry looked Samantha up and down, and said, “That makes sense.”

The distant murmurs of voices and blurred shadowy faces peering down at Kyle grew clearer. He doesn’t recognize anyone, understand what they are talking about, or know where he is, but he has an overwhelming sense they all want something from him. If he wasn’t so hungry and tired; if his head didn’t hurt so much, he’d want to go back to the wing of the Technicolor butterfly.

Samantha and Terry were awakened by Doctor Bhatnagar’s phone call. They hugged each other, screaming, crying and jumping up and down. They raced to the hospital.

The newspaper said November 1st. All Saints Day, which commemorates the blessed and re-affirms the bond between the souls in purgatory and heaven. Chaplain Wells sent up a prayer of thanks for not having to face Halloween costumes for another year.

Olivia sat in the nurse’s station glancing at her iPhone. Still no word from the resort in Cancun. She read N-143’s chart, and per Doctor Bhatnagar’s order, told the ward clerk to order up a clear liquid diet. Maybe she’d hear tomorrow.

At the Cancun resort, administrative offices were closed for the public holiday: The Holy Day of the Innocents, first Day of Day of the Dead to honor souls of babies and children. Families gathered at gravesides with offerings of toys.

In Saint Vincent’s Hospital kitchen, a vendor gave out free bottles of balsamic dressing in honor of National Vinegar Day. Amy Pepper poured hers into the potted chrysanthemum in the hospital lobby. It pleased her to see the plant drooping by the end of her shift.

The teacher at the hospital day care center read the children a themed storybook given to her by the same vendor: a cheerfully illustrated British fable called, ”The Old Woman Who Lived in a Vinegar Bottle.” The story was about a woman who lived in a vinegar bottle who kept wishing for better and better houses to live in, but got no happier each time her wish was granted. The children enjoyed the story, though the moral was lost on them.

As Doctor Bhatnagar left the tearfully jubilant family in room N-143, he was struck by a sudden horror that something had happened to his wife. He ducked into an empty room and phoned her. The sound of her voice made him smile wide and warmed his heart. Uw


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Caroline Zarlengo Sposto is a writer and actor. Her work has been published by The Saturday Evening PostFamily Circle Magazine, and an assortment of literary magazines and anthologies in the U.S., the U.K and Canada. She is a Memphis correspondent for Broadwayworld.com, and Poetry Editor of the Humor in America blog. In 2013, she won second place in The Great American Think-off––an amateur philosophy competition that culminates in a public debate in New York Mills, Minnesota. In 2014, she was chosen to spend the summer as a writer in residence at the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, New Mexico.

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