Bobbing For Mother

Terry’s fishnet legs come into full view on the staircase, and then her seventeen-year-old body. She pauses on a step, thrusts her chest forward, and turns to wink at Melody on the downstairs couch. Melody sucks in a quick breath. Terry looks precisely like their mother if their mother had ever been a call girl or a hooker in a mining town saloon. The similar structure of their faces, however, captures Melody’s attention.


A black feather sticks out of Terry’s blond hair and her cheeks look bruised with rouge. She licks her lips. She wears one of their mother’s old strapless black dresses and teases it up to her panty line, revealing her black fishnet stockings and a black garter. She kicks her shadowy leg like a call girl and tosses her head back to laugh. The black shoe lands at the bottom of the staircase and Melody shakes her head. Terry even wears a pair of their mother’s shoes.


“What’s the matter, cowboy,” Terry asks. She tilts her head and smiles at Melody. Red lipstick has smeared on her front teeth.


“You’ll freeze to death,” Melody says.


“Not if Chad’s around,” Terry whispers. She smooths the dress over her thigh and slips the high heeled shoe onto her foot, taps her toe into the floor. “So what are you going to be?” Terry asks and sits on the arm of the couch, crossing her legs. It seems to Melody that her sister’s body perfumes the entire room. A five-layered pearl necklace presses against her throat and a solitary pearl rests between her padded boobs. They were their mother’s pearls.


Melody turns away. “I’m not sure I’m even going.”


“Haven’t we been through this?” Terry asks, and she exaggerates a quizzical face. “You can sit in the car all night for all I care, but in half an hour we are both walking out that door.” She picks at the nylon around her calf and then stands. “You know it and I know it.” Terry walks into the kitchen and down the hall. “You’ll be lucky if I don’t leave you in the middle of nowhere,” she calls out.


Melody would much rather be left in the middle of nowhere. Away from the costumes and the sticky red punch that will smell like cough syrup. Even the idea of bobbing for apples makes Melody gag. Plunging your head into a vat of warm saliva and the view from the bottom of the barrel; painted faces plunking into the silence and horse-chomping teeth stretching out of their gums, gnashing for a grip on the waxy red skin.


A knock and Melody walks to the front door and stares out at a man wearing a black hat and mask. Even from her side of the door, she feels the Halloween chill. A cape flows around this man’s shoulders and a black leather vest matches his pants.


Melody opens the door and he swoops in, slides his hand around her waist. “Fear not my dear for I have come to save you,” Chad says swinging Melody out of the way. “And where is Ronald McDonald?” Chad shakes his head. “I am Zorro,” he says. “The king of beers.” He gestures dramatically and smacks his hand against the closet door. He rubs his knuckles, instantly irritated. “Where is she?” With the Lone Ranger. Chad stands with his chin raised like a prince. The eternally famous captain of the football team with the best fake license for buying beer.


“You coming with,” he asks. Their father insisted that Terry could not go unless Melody went with her. Even though he knows this Chad’s tone begs Melody to decline anyway, to say that she won’t be around to spy.


“I wouldn’t miss it,” she says cheerfully and flashes her best smile. Chad lifts his hat and combs his fingers through his perfect brown hair.


“Is that my favorite hero, come to save me from my wretched life?” Terry asks. She walks up to Chad with her limp wrist pressed against her forehead. She tries not to stumble in her high-heeled shoes.


“Zero is here madam,” Melody says with a slight bow.


The couple kisses lightly and turns to Melody. “Isn’t she a riot,” Terry says but Chad stands quiet, his x-ray eyes locked on Terry’s chest. “And what, may I ask, are you to be, little Miss Priss?” Terry asks.


Melody walks to the couch and picks up a newspaper. Terry and Chad smooth and pull at their costumes. They whisper. Terry announces that they are leaving in ten minutes and Melody walks upstairs to the hall closet. She pulls out a worn sheet printed with tiny football helmets, and cuts two holes. Football helmets, she thinks as she cuts out holes for eyes.


She slips under the sheet and opens her eyes, one cut lower than the other. She smells her mother in the fabric and flows down the stairs feeling the sheet ripple and sway against her body.


“And what the hell are you supposed to be,” Chad asks loudly. He wipes lipstick from his mouth and Terry blushes through her make-up.


Melody raises her arms above her head. “I am the ghost of bad acid flashbacks. Beware, beware.” She twirls around the room.


“You really are a freak,” Chad says and Melody follows the couple out the door.


Two months after her mother’s death Melody’s father threw a Halloween costume party. The word had gotten around town, mostly through Diane the sexy therapist, that family suicides were best dealt with quickly, with a definitive step forward. It became common knowledge. At the party Melody refused to dress up or even come out of the coat closet. She sat underneath a growing pile of coats, enjoying the weight. Her father gave up trying to coax her out and closed the door. Melody heard him tell Diane that it was not the way a fourteen-year-old girl ought to act, and Melody sunk deeper into the smell of cigarette leather and perfumed scarves. She curved the arms of a fur coat around her neck and heard the two of them in the kitchen.


Melody pictured Diane laughing in her shiny red bra and cape, and heard her father slurs his words. When the door opened, the outline of a ghost appeared and motioned from beneath a red flannel sheet. “Do you think I could come in,” the ghost asked.


Melody nodded in the dark and the ghost stepped into the mass of coats and pulled the door shut. Melody helped the ghost sit. “You didn’t dress up,” the ghost said. “You really should’ve dressed up.”


“Halloween is stupid,” Melody said. “What are you anyway? The ghost of old men’s pajamas?”


“You should’ve dressed up anyway. It makes it easier to talk, and plus you can’t see if my tongue is sticking out at you or not.”


“Well, you can see mine,” Melody said, pushing her tongue between her lips. Melody waited, listening to the red ghost inhale and exhale.


“Your mom just died, huh?” the red ghost asked.


“So?”


“Well, you’ll probably think I’m stupid but I think you’re lucky.”


“What?” Melody turned to face the ghost but she could only barely make out the shape.


“Sure. I knew you’d think I was stupid, but it’s true anyway.”


Melody pushed the fur coat away from her sweaty neck. “Do you even know?”


“That she killed herself? Sure I know that. My aunt Diane thinks it’s good for me to be here, she thinks I’ll see how lucky I am, but instead I see you’re that you’re the lucky one.” The ghost settled back into the closet until the mound of coats towered in front of them. Melody allowed the ghost’s elbow to rest against her arm.


“So I guess that’s why you’re in here,” the ghost said.


“Not really,” Melody said.


“Why are you in here?”


“Because I hate having to shake everyone’s hand and tell them what grade I’m in. And because my aunt Diane introduces me like she’s saying, ‘This is the one I was talking about,’ and everyone feels sorry for me. It gets so boring, I hate parties like this.” The red ghost rested a knee on Melody’s thigh. “I don’t mean to sound like a jerk, but my mom has been dying for almost two years, and the doctor says it could be another six months, but he’s always said something like that.”


“Why, do you want her to die?” Melody leaned into the red ghost and smelled perfume.


“No, not really. But she sends me away when I don’t want to go. I guess she thinks I need a break, or that my aunt can help me. But I just want to stay home, and they won’t listen. I don’t know, it all sounds so stupid.”


The two leaned against the back wall of the closet. Their shoulders pressed together, and their hands connected. The red ghost’s palm felt warm and sweaty and Melody tried not to squeeze too hard. She heard the ghost’s breaths like the sounds of the ocean. Then the red ghost turned and Melody felt moist cloth lips press against her mouth. She pressed back.


Diane opened the door.


“What are you girls doing in here? Are you back there sweetie?”


Melody felt the ghost’s hand slip away.


“The party is out here ladies. Are you necking back there or what?” She laughed over her shoulder and the smell of cherry liquor seeped into the closet. Diane bent down and her boobs stretched the bikini toward the coats. Melody saw this woman’s blurry face, her dripping smile.


“Now, why don’t you both come out and talk to me. I’m sure I could help.” She moved her hand forward. “Come on now, that’s right, let’s get up. No more kissing for you two, no more girlie smoochie smooch.” Diane’s hand paused inches from Melody’s face.


In an instant Melody leaned forward and bit down as hard as she could on Diane’s salty skin. When her teeth released, she tasted blood run onto her tongue. For a moment there was no sound, just Diane’s dazed smile, Melody’s warm mouth. Then Diane gasped and stepped back into Melody’s father.


“It’s okay, it’s okay,” she said to him.


Her father’s angry face peered into the closet; his head swayed side to side. The red ghost crawled out and disappeared. Her father slammed the door closed on Melody and eventually she fell asleep to the sound of the footsteps in the hall. She woke suddenly and crawled out of the closet and started looking for Terry.


A three-story wooden monster and Chad drops his first empty beer bottle into a bush by the mailbox. The first story windows shine like teeth and pumpkins line the path to the house. Cardboard bats and spiders bounce on strings from the gutters and a paper skeleton sticks to the front door. The inside swarms with costumed people and Chad’s arm slips around Terry’s waist, pulls her into the crowd.


Melody walks quietly, hoping no one can see her. She bumps into an older bear who’d been illustrating a diving catch. She recognizes one of her mother’s co-workers without his glasses. “Excuse me,” says the bear.


And then he asks, “Well what do we have here, the ghost of football past?” The circle of spectators shifts and a group of cheerleaders stare at her. Melody recognizes some of them from high school’s football team and their muscles bulge under their leotards. They squeeze and adjusted their imitation breasts and nudge each other with pompoms. “Maybe you could tell us the scores of the football future,” the bear says. “I bet we could make a bundle in Vegas.”


“And I bet the ghost couldn’t tell us the scores from football yesterday,” Chad says. “How about it? The score of yesterday’s game?” A slight hush falls over the group. Melody notices the hair on Chad’s arm through his fluffy white Zorro shirt.


She shakes her head.


Terry sits on the edge of a couch talking with one of her beautiful friends. The friend wears a silver bikini and wolf ears stretched across her head. Dark whisker lines are drawn across her cheeks and a plastic nose covers her real one.


Melody turns to speak to the red flannel ghost. “They should be frozen by now,” Melody says. Terry and her friend stop talking and look at Melody. Terry shakes her head, covers her face in exaggerated embarrassment, and the two girls giggle. The playboy girl snorts and as she walks onto the porch Melody wonders if a plastic nose would feel anything like regular make-up and make it hard to breathe.


Melody stands outside and shadows shift on the lawn. She sits on a wooden porch swing and laughs. “I’m not really a football ghost, you know? And you’re probably not the ghost of old men’s pajamas.”


Melody stands and waves her arms in the air, careful not to lift the sheet above her ankles. “I am the ghost of bad acid flashbacks.” She pauses and laughs, “And I’ll bet you’re the ghost of feverish nights.” Melody dances and twirls and laughs until she stops and grabs onto the porch railing. Her stomach aches from laughing and air chills her throat. She tastes blood. Her eyes fill and she shuts them, shakes her head. “Your mom is probably dead by now,” she says to her invisible friend. “Probably sitting up in heaven talking to my mom. Watching us I bet, laughing at how we all dress up like freaks and walk around in the middle of the night. Did your mom used to wear a lot of make-up?”


A group emerges from the door and Melody sees Chad and Terry walking with a group of hairy cheerleaders.


Melody says, “Finally, what we’ve all been waiting for.”


Chad picks up a pumpkin and hurls it into the street, where it lands with an un-dramatic thud. A cheerleader shouts, “FORE!” and hits it with a baseball bat. Some cheerleaders have lost parts of their chest and a few swing bottles to their mouth. “Bring out your dead,” a girl shrieks.


Melody trails at a distance. She says, “They are up in heaven probably saying what funny creatures we humans are. They must wonder what drives us to dress up in bikinis and walk through the winter streets smashing fruit.”


Chad slides behind Terry like a night animal and hugs her, pinning her arms to her sides. They begin to spin and Terry’s shoe flies onto a lawn. A bottle breaks. Terry shouts for him to stop.


Melody sees her sister’s face appear and disappear. Her cheekbones and nose highlighted by the street lamp as she spins around in Chad’s arms. She remembers seeing her mother’s face in the mirror, withdrawing the lipstick from her mouth and saying, “I think we have a winner.”


Melody closes her eyes and spreads her arms. She twirls in the middle of the street and she remembers the red ghost’s lips. She wishes Diane had not opened the closet door, had not spoiled everything. That the ghost’s mother would be dead by now just like her own mother, and the ghost probably did not feel very lucky at all.


When Melody falls to the ground nothing hurts and a strange warmth floods her body. Like she could curl up and disappear into the road. She lays on the pavement until she hears Terry’s scream crash into the street.


Melody jumps up and runs toward them. Chad struggles to stand and Terry lies beneath him with her face pressing into the pavement, with her arms twisted to her sides. They turn her over and Chad trips backward. “Oh Jesus,” he whispers. His breath stinks. “Accident,” he mumbles. “Oh God.”


Melody shouts for someone to get help, and two of Terry’s friends carry their shoes and help each other run back to the house. Melody looks down at her beautiful sister. Terry’s nose sits loosely on her face, crushed to one side, and blood pours from her forehead.


“It’s okay, I’m okay, help me up,” Terry says. Her words bubble out from somewhere beneath her lip and a few teeth have disappeared. Melody hears Chad getting sick in the gutter.


Eventually, the flashing lights come around the corner and two paramedics in white uniforms hop out of the ambulance to examine Terry. They pull a stretcher from the back and tell everyone to step back. Melody brushes her sister’s hair away from her face. “I’m sorry,” she says. “I’m so sorry.” Melody’s throat tightens when she stands and she holds Terry’s hand while they fasten her to the stretcher.


“Don’t worry,” Melody says. “You’ll be fine.” Melody rubs her sister’s arm and says, “I didn’t like you with all that make-up anyway, and those horrible shoes.” Terry’s green eyes flash. She offers a feeble smile. Then she closes her eyes and remains still except for the slow movement of her chest. Before they shut the ambulance doors, Melody looks out at the group. Chad sits on the curb, his head between his knees, and a huge cheerleader nudges a pumpkin bit with his foot. A few girls cry with their arms around each other and sadness loosens in Melody’s chest. She looks down at Terry, wearing her mother’s bloody and disfigured face. Tears pour down her cheeks and Melody winces and smiles at once. As they drive away, sobs erupt from Melody’s body, shocking her chest like ice water, and she kneels with her sister’s hand in her lap. She stares at Terry’s face, perfectly still, with drying blood around her nose and mouth. Someone touches her shoulder and Melody soaks the sheet around her face.

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