We have reached the point in the month of October when I suddenly forgive my (generally) as-yet-childless neighbors for decking out their houses and lawns in spider webs and headstones on the first of the month. Yes, okay, Halloween is fun. Here’s an awful Halloween story:
My little brother Matthew and I are riding in our family station wagon with our father. It’s late October, and the trees are nearly bare, but the lawns of our town are filled with brilliant-colored leaves. Here and there, along the curbs, piles of leaves have been raked into the street for disposal. Our father is shaking his head.
“Do you see that?” He points out the piled leaves I’d already noticed. “That’s one thing you should never do, Joseph.”
I’m not sure what our father is talking about, but we live outside of town, in the “country”, and collect our raked leaves into a compost pile on the undeveloped acre next to our own. Our father works in town, so I’m excited for what he will say next; hoping I’ll learn something which will, possibly, make me seem like more of a “townie” to my classmates.
“Why, rake leaves into the street like that? Didn’t you hear that story on the news?”
My little brother, sitting in the back, leans forward.
“Somebody had a baby they couldn’t keep,” our father continues.
“Why?” my little brother asks.
We’re both adopted, but he asks this stupid question.
“Because it couldn’t cry,” our father says. “So they had to stand over the crib all day, to see if it needed anything, and they couldn’t get anything else done. So they decided they couldn’t keep the baby. But they didn’t know what to do with the baby. So they put it in a cardboard box, and hid it under a pile of leaves, just like that one. And someone parked their car in the leaves…and crushed the box flat.”
My little brother and I are stricken. The station wagon rolls along silently for a moment.
“I bet they felt bad,” I say.
“Who?” our father asks.
“The people who threw the baby out.”
“Never mind them. Think about the guy who parked his car on top of the box!”
And, with those words, our father cuts the wheel of the station wagon to the curb, pulls to a stop on top of a big pile of leaves, and shifts into Park.
The next thing I know, he’s out of the car, leaning back in though the open door with a helpless, dumb grin on his face: “C’mon, we’re late!”
We’re late for Mass. The Catholic church is a block away. The bells are tolling. The sidewalks are filling with little Italian widows, dressed head to toe in black, tottering on their heels like witches. There are piles and piles of leaves between our station wagon and the vestibule. Our father is going to have to be a lot nicer if he wants us to move.