I have to say my past couple of Halloweens were a drag. Yes, it was certainly good to get out after months cooped up in a very small space and, yes, that crisp autumn air was always so invigorating. But, when you’re my age, the bones catch a chill and start to creak. Sure, I wanted to stay fresh as a daisy until the party ended but, to tell the truth, I’d get cold and achy before dinner was done. I’d start glancing up at that harvest moon, praying for the warm light of morning.
Of course, I’d have enjoyed the evening a whole lot more if they’d brought me inside with the rest of the guests. But each year I suffered the same humiliation, forced to stay out on the porch, the cold breeze rattling my bones. And every year I’d have to listen to the party guests exclaim as they passed me, about how real, how lifelike, I looked.
Lifelike! Forty-eight years dead, finally discarded by the anatomy lab at the college, and they say I’m lifelike! It’s enough that I was left to flap around outside, not invited in to join the fun. But to hear those dummy guests call me lifelike? Really, I didn’t need to be at a party with people like that.
That’s how Halloween had been for me ever since Doc Paulsen took me home from the anatomy lab and put me to work as a Halloween decoration. What made this year so wonderfully, so spectacularly, different was that I decided to take action to change my, er, life.
Now, the decision itself, just the fact of it, was, shall we say, revivifying. I mean, until I understood how fed up I was as a passive decoration, it had never occurred to me that I could decide anything. I never realized that I had a mind to make up. So that in itself was a heartening discovery.
I began slowly, testing out the theory that I had the capacity not only to reach a decision, but to act on it as well. I twitched the second digit of my left hand. Up. Down. And again.
I decided to lift my right arm. Yes, success!
I could both decide and act on my decisions! How many years had it been since I’d lifted an arm, just me, on my own?
Buoyed by an exhilarating optimism, I set about making a plan. A plan is, of course, just a web of decisions, and at each intersection on this web I experienced the delirious joy of decision-making once again. The decisions were all of the same type, a decision to move one limb or another but, by the time my plan was complete, I was raring to put the plan into play.
The Paulsens’ guests began to arrive at seven. I’d been, by then, hanging for four days from a hook on the porch ceiling, letting myself go limp, my body swinging and swaying and knocking alarmingly against the support column whenever a particularly sharp wind whipped along the porch. The jack-o’-lantern glowed from his perch near the door, trying to make me look drab but he sure couldn’t make me feel that way.
The Robertsons were the first to arrive. I wanted to rub my hands in glee but I played it cool, hung limp, looked dead.
“Ah,” old Robertson exclaimed to his wife, the not-very-good-looking Alice. “I say it every year but I think I have to say it again: That’s one really lifelike skeleton, now isn’t it?”
And then, POW! Right in the kisser. A left hook, actually, landed just under his chin. I could hear his dental plates clang.
“Aaaaaaaaaagh!” the unlovely Alice shrieked.
The front door swung open and Doc Paulsen answered her: “And happy Halloween to you, too!”
“Your skeleton. . .” old Robertson began to say, just barely able to move his jaw.
“Yes, yes, I know,” Doc cut in. “You say it every year. Lifelike. Well, yes, that’s why we keep him.”
I could forgive Robertson his stupidity, but Doc Paulsen? A full professor of anatomy at the college?
Next to arrive were the Bigliottis, Angela and Tom. I really like Angela; she’s got great cheekbones. And so it almost hurt to hear her say how real I looked because I knew I’d have to punish her for that. I reached out my right hand and grabbed her plump boob. Just for a moment, but that was enough.
“Yaaaaaaaaah!” Angela screamed, and Doc Paulsen’s wife, Margo, answered the door as if the bell had rung. “Happy Halloween,” she cried, ushering her guests inside just as Tom remarked, “That wind out there is so strong it blew your skeleton thing right into us. Head on.”
Hand on, I wanted to correct, but I let it pass.
I was having the time of my, er, life. By the time that obnoxious lawyer friend of theirs, Boz-something, showed up with his long-suffering girlfriend, Dorothy, I was jumping out of my, er, skin with delight.
“Hey,” Dorothy said, “there’s that thing again. They never get tired of trotting him out, do they? Year after year, the same old thing!”
You can’t blame Dorothy for her sour attitude. Boz Baby is never going to marry her; he’d die first. I wasn’t about to punish Dorothy for a sadness that was not her fault. Besides, Boz Baby gave me all the justification I needed when he said, “Yeah, well, Dotty Doll, you are the same old thing yourself, year after year.”
This was the moment to check out the action in my left leg. I hauled it back, then hurled it forward, catching Boz Baby square in the nuts. Yeah, Bozzy, happy Halloween!
Boz curled over in the usual position, demonstrating the extreme flexibility of the human spinal column. He was speechless, of course, and immobilized. So it was Dotty who rang the Paulsen’s doorbell.
“Happy Halloween!” she sang, when Doc’s wife opened the door. “Bozzy here’s got something caught in his throat. He’ll be okay, though; don’t mind him.”
She handed Margo Paulsen an orange-frosted cake with the usual holiday greeting scrawled in chocolate icing. “Gee,” she said, shaking off her pink rabbit fur jacket, “I sure love coming here every Halloween!”
I managed to land a blow on one member of each couple that arrived for the party that night, and I have to say I had the time of both my life and my death.
So if you’re tired of the same old Halloween coming around every year, or if you think you’re just too old to enjoy this sort of thing, think of me. It’s just not true that you only live once. It’s not over till it’s over, which it rarely ever is.
Susan Pashman, a Sag Harbor resident, is a professor of landscape aesthetics at Boston Architectural College who is finishing a doctorate in her field in the philosophy department at Stony Brook University. The author of the novel “Speed of Light,” she has had stories and essays published in various literary journals, and teaches a class in philosophy at the Hampton Library in Bridgehampton.