Halloween Party by Karen Lethlean
Phone, as always, interrupts. Damn I will never get this mess of forms finished nor reduce patients queued outside in the waiting room. Complaints about waiting time in public hospitals clinics, already enormous will grow gargantuan.
‘We’re organizing a Halloween party. It will be fancy dress, ghosts, monsters, Halloween-ish things. Do you want to come?’ Jill gushes.
‘Should I bring anything?’
‘If you like, bring something for supper. Tracy is getting some circulars out to her flight crew, travel agency friends. So that’ll mean new faces.’
‘No’, I interjected when Jill takes a breath, ‘I really meant to say – anyone? A date, you reckon, bring a date?’
‘Heavens no, there’ll be plenty of single guys. Of course typical of Tracey’s pals some might be gay. Be like a lucky dip, finding out who will fuck what.’ Continued Jill’s normal full-throttle marketing mode.
‘Just a second. My house mate’s been trying to pair me off with a friend of hers – quieten her down a bit if I ask him, okay?’
‘Invite whoever you like. Linda and Paul are coming. He’s moved in with her now. And oh, that’s right, Seddon said, he’d be there.’ Good job my office phone granted enough distance so Jill can’t see tingles creeping up the back of my neck. Do I believe her forced out snippet? Need to get a grip, appear nonchalant, or Jill will figure everything out.
‘What about his wife?’ I tried not to betray anxiety
‘Oh, I asked Faye already, such a stick in the mud, won’t be there. Good thing, because she is a full-on fun-dampener.’
‘You know her?’ I spluttered. Unable to constrain my curiosity.
‘Of course. Faye’s more the one I work for.’
‘Sorry…. Um, I assumed you didn’t know her. I don’t know why. But it’s obvious now.’
‘Actually Faye asked me to go out with Seddon once.’
‘Oh?’ Phew, this is way too much.
‘He brought two tickets, something Faye didn’t want to see. Afterwards we went for a quiet drink at their house. Even though I clean it every fortnight, feels strange. We didn’t do anything though.’
Everyone hears versions of all we did was talk date night recounts; lady-liar-liar-pants-on-fire.
‘Jill, I’ve stacks of work. I’ll come to the party. And I think I’ll ask Peter too. Ok?’
Peter’s pleased with an invitation. I might even be able to depend on him for conversation if, as typical Jill’s pre-event exaggeration doesn’t match reality. Be nice to talk to someone different, not hospital staff, not parents without partner members, not friends of my ex-husband.
As always there’s a quandary about clothing linked to Jill’s parties. Compounded by dress up factors. Contemplating what I shall dress as, gives me headaches. Brain surgeon: no too easy. Nutty professor: No, besides neither are right for Halloween. Can’t afford a proper costume-shop outfit. After being consumed by finding an ensemble solution and rejection days’ worth of options I finally settle on an idea. A Mummified corpse, I remember bandaged cadavers-zombie creatures chasing potential victims amongst afternoon cartoon show heroes. Suitable for Halloween and with refreshing incognito aspects. My work-place will provide construction materials. Clean, recycled and re-rolled bandages end products of patient therapy activities on Wards 31 and 32. Easy to borrow, and then return to dirty linen bag, no one will be any wiser. I fastened ends with clear tape. After all mummies are not safety pin or fastening clip savvy.
With Louise (my house-mate) as assistant – legs, torso, arms, face, hair and all my distinguishing features are hidden under meters of bandages. Only three small slits indicated a human presence. One hole just big enough to sip champagne plus eyeholes. Vari-coloured bandages with a few ends dangling loose added an authentic, aged look.
Safe within this cocoon I grinned all the way to Jill’s. Entertained myself by playing out scenarios of imagined exchanges between police or garage attendants if my little manual car warranted attention from either.
As usual Jill looked magnificent, dressed in tight black vinyl mini skirt, boots and stockings, loose black biker jacket. Chains, pins and silver razor blades adorned leather like Christmas decorations. Orange wig, styled geometrically with chunks stick out in all directions. A smile revealed vampire fangs; she’s a Punk Vampire.
‘Beth? You in there?’
Outside I spied Mortisha Addams, splendidly cloned in figure-hugging bat winged dress, long silver streaked hair; black nails a bag with spider-webbed knitting, a flawless rendition. I couldn’t believe its Tracey’s sister, she’s usually so demure as to be almost invisible.
Other residents from 1313 Mocking Bird Lane responded to invitations. There’s a magnificent Lurch. Always reminded me of an aged Peter O’Toole. This version possessed an authentic evil, gravelly laugh.
Witches too were present: Out of woods and into suburbs they came for Halloween night. Resembling writhing, multiple witches from Roman Polanski’s Macbeth. Jill’s Halloween witches dressed in sinister detail down to black lipstick and hollowed cheeks. Some stereotypes of old hags with twisted noses and bent walk also present. However later quite a few witch’s broomsticks will be crossed by young, firm legs, upon return to their covens.
A Pumpkin Lady holds court among a party-guest throng: Linda. Wide hipped with lacy dress, she carries a giant Jack-o-Lantern, expertly carved. Complete with full trimmings paying homage to her Canadian heritage. Unlike the rest of us, Linda was born into a Jack-o-Lantern tradition. West Australians gained yet another retail opportunity, thrust upon us alongside rituals like ordering from McDonald’s menus, which followed our America’s Cup victory, spear tipping a new wave of American imperialism.
Up with video trends Paul created a realistic Ghost Buster outfit. Some recognized the overalls, back-packed with whatever you do – don’t cross beams! ghost catcher laser. An insignia copyrighted by Ghostbusters Inc. finishes his assumed identity. But most of this crowd are, as yet, ignorant of huge cult following this film will gain. Hollywood references aside Jill’s party, for once looks like living up to pre-event expectations.
Responses to my mummified cadaver included. ‘But how are you going to go to the toilet?’
‘I’m not,’ my first reply.
Insistence, ‘but you will need to, eventually.’
Leaning closer I’d whisper, ‘I’m using a catheter!’ Mummy anonymous, I felt able do or say anything.
A man in black approaches. From depths of half-forgotten memories an exclamation sprang; he’s wearing army formal mess-dress trousers! If caught, wearing these as part of a Halloween costume – a sacrilege, at least, if not an outright charge-able offence.
From under his cape appears champagne and two glasses. Instead of an introduction a delicious uncorking snap. This generous man’s identity remained hidden behind his black mask, a silver Z between eyeholes. Dark hair and a moustache, a conquistador style hat swung off in an elegant, exaggerated bow. I held a warming bottle of champagne and felt a wave of bandage covered embarrassment.
Count Zorro. Yet who’s under the mask? My brain whirrs through possibilities. Oh yes, Peter! Right away I am eliminating this possibility. Flourishing a silver sword, high boots, swagger, as well as one-step champagne opening; unbelievable. Peter’s quietly conservative, he would never…is that you, Peter? Without glasses, sporting slicked down, dyed hair. Not since way back at Louise’s Arabian Night party have I seen so much dress-up effort. My ex, borrowed a toy gun, from a neighbour’s, and used his military webbing to make a PLO type Kufiya, keep out hot sun and blowing sand head gear. Then he mixed in enough army issued clothing to make his dress-up also a chargeable offence. Further props included bringing our slightly Arabic looking wicker laundry basket. All these efforts dug dints in my trust. If I didn’t know better I’d swear my husband and Louise had a thing going on.
Peter, alias Count Zorro, became part of our Halloween floor show, everyone riveted to sundry performances. In this case, should be called a back yard suburban grass show, being sans an actual floor. Sword tricks Peter’s first act. Blade swallowed several times. Pretend magic, nonetheless enthralling. Spectators giggling like a busker’s audience. A roast potato then skewered onto Peter’s sword. He brandished this object like an impaled trophy drawing this steaming vegetable ever closer to his lips. Without glasses imminent connection between potato and mouth looked difficult. A mini-mist wafted around his open mouth, as this eatable balanced precariously on a sword tip. Then everything slid down away from his lips. His sword went limp under potato weight. Spud shish-kebab slipped ground-ward like a wilting flower. An audience akin to tiny kids uttered, through gasped laughter, ‘do it again – do it again – do it again!’
Another man wearing a black cape arrived. This one entered by twirling a fling of black fabric into our faces, vampire bat style. No, not a blood-sucker, reincarnate of Dracula, but rather a Star Wars satanic representation. Darth Vader kept his true identity hidden. One remarkable fact being this Halloween Darth Vader missing a light-sabre. Perhaps Empire’s munitions store won’t sign weapons out for Halloween. Anyway Vader, at an Australian Halloween party unlikely to encounter adversaries. All evil set loose, so on this eve, only good men need weapons and amour.
Circuitry between Count Zorro and his audience became crushed by this futuristic Lord of Darkness’s entrance. From below his dark cape comes a flurry of white carnations. Those zigzagged edges frilled petticoats quivering in night breezes.
I am possessed by Darth Vader. He prefers this corpse to Jill’s live, leather clad punk. For a moment I think, without bandages any lusty man will pick Jill in a heartbeat. Obedient to Darth’s demands I felt as if he’s making a declaration my mummy already used up allocated walk time on a living, now must be taken. To another galaxy, somewhere up beyond the full moon, to Darth’s battle star, probably double parked in heavens, ready for nearly earth bound captives. No, he only wants to dance.
Darth Vader swoops and dives. Sometimes close, then backed away, as if first drawn, then repelled. Wrapped securely in alias bandages I indulge in a suggestive dance. While his plastic face mask grants similar anonymity. Darth Vader suggests just as much lust. Bandages loosen and gaps reveal areas of flesh. Darth Vader’s hands pass above breath close like an artist calling out a sculpture. Wrappings now dangle like thick noodles.
‘It IS you!’ I reach for his mask, which he holds with reluctant fingers. Darth Vader leads me to a dark un-peopled corner. Only then he unmasks - Seddon.
‘How did Darth Vader travel here?’ I gush, trying to hide both relief and surprise.
‘On my bike, from work.’
‘Right. Put your bike in the back of my car. I’ll take you home.’
But my car does not go directly to his hillside residence. Instead we detoured to river’s edge. Where we looked out over near flat water to layers of white, yellow and orange city lights, gentle twerps of night crickets, smelling traces of salt from sea breezes. Full moon’s glow faded behind clouds. Lake like river’s waves shimmer with a hypnotic effect, akin to peering over a cliff and contemplating a fall.
‘I hope you don’t object to a little parking?’ I attempt to eradicate menacing silence.
He sighs heavily. ‘No. I find your company enjoyable, besides which, I’ve no desire to go home yet.’
‘Are things so bad?’
‘Trouble, I always have, only the degree varies.’
‘Do you want to talk about it?’
‘It is not so unusual. If I prolong my departure for home, she will be asleep and I shall be safe.’
Silence again. Then my hand slips into his. He reaches for my face and cups it as if to frame an image, thus preserving an imprint.
I kissed beside his throat. My mouth against dry skin, pulse throbbed over his tendons and Adam’s apple.
‘Beth, you are different, I like you.’ Whispered words demand reverence.
‘I love you,” I say. We looked at each other through a porthole of implications attached to this statement.
‘And I love you,’ his hesitant reprisal.
Sometime later, ‘you best take me home,’ broke breathless silence like an alarm clock.
I disgorge my cargo a safe distance from his tree lined driveway. His house dark, no greeting light burned from within as on my last visit.
As I watched, headlights unilluminated, she might ask, ‘who brought you home?’
I stared at my hands gripping the steering wheel. Rear view mirror, showed his front door closing, vaguely. Nothing more to see here. Eventually I took one last gaze over my shoulder. Not able to leave. Eventually I started the engine, moved away. Yet connections still resisted. I turned my car around three times. Each time I ventured a little closer to his dark house, headlights extinguished, careful not to disturb night. Voices murmured, but I couldn’t decipher their soft shouts. Surrounded by Halloween stillness my needs are only imaginings and reality pushes in from a different direction.
As I cross Louise’s threshold, trailing unravelled bandages in my wake, I’m alone. To draw my loosened mummy robes across door steps takes many minutes. As if I am pulling at sets of dismembered entrails symbolic of potential destruction my desires might evoke. Wait not just mine, took two for this game. Seddon must also be dragging a portion of blame.
Come morning I endure Louise’s wrath. A barrage of criticism about my treatment of Peter, ‘you left him, dropped him amid strangers. He didn’t know anyone at this party, and you tossed him aside. You’ll suffer payback one day. What goes around comes around, you know.’