Each autumn, be the nice house. Hang the decorations no one is scared by. Fat happy pumpkins and soft black kittens. Cute patchwork witches and friendly scarecrows. On Halloween, serve dinner while the day is still light: hot dogs and baked beans on cheerful Hallmark paper plates. Sit down just as the littlest kids stream to your door, pulling at the hems of their costumes and tripping anyway. Your own children are mid-metamorphosis, half in their ordinary clothes and half in costume. Spoon out seconds to hungry ghosts and distracted fairies.
Dress your youngest as a clown this year. She is afraid of clowns, and maybe this will help.
As the sun slides behind the houses, arm your children with empty bags and hastily folded UNICEF boxes. Accompany them to every house on your block, up one street side and down the other. You know these neighbors; you see them all the time. You can predict which ones will put coins in the UNICEF box and which won’t. You can predict, to the moment it happens, the seemingly friendly man at 3307 who will mime shoving a piece of candy in the UNICEF box as if ignorant, then give you a hostile glance as you stand at the end of his walk, smoking your Salem menthol.
Mutter to yourself, while flashing him the carefully perfected rictus grin of the assimilated Southern Jew, Bircher. Tightwad. You’re the cheap one, with a heart of tiny shards, and your wife has a perpetual headache from living with you.
By then it’s so dark, you can barely see a thing except the red ember of your cigarette and the filmy fabrics of your children’s costumes, coming back toward you to relative safety.