My first post in weeks--I've been lazy, stockpiling all of these on my computer and forgetting to put them up...
The sounds of the party echo across the empty cornfield separating our backyard from Farmer Harris’s slanting barn, whose humped shape looks as if it’s bowing down to the stars above as I squint at it through Warwick and my bedroom window. Next to it, the night’s festivities seem like a little society of ants, with their candied crumbs and miniature wooden crafts intermingled with incongruent dancing—some humiliatingly out-of-date, some stolen straight from MTV, and some that can’t be classified as anything under the sun. That, my friends, is the world-famous Wildewood Fall Festival.
Okay, not really. But from the way people flock to the revelry like kindergartners to cupcakes, you would certainly think there was something more to the thing than a small-town get-together.
Despite my sarcasm, I’ve never actually skipped the celebration before tonight. When you live in a place like this, anything out of the ordinary seems like New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Eloise used to get all dressed up for it—more dressed up than usual, I mean. The first time I ever talked to her, she was twenty-something years old, lingering next to a tub of tooth-marked apples, garbed in a strawberry gown that was so tastelessly out of place that I couldn’t help but start up a conversation with her. She already bought this year’s masterpiece: a new autumn dress, brown ankle-boots, lacy gloves, and gold earrings that brushed the tops of her shoulders. She had been so excited for it to arrive in the mail that she had stayed perched in her bay window from nine in the morning to four in the afternoon last Monday until the postman finally moseyed up to her door with a box as wide as he is tall. The whole ensemble’s probably collecting dust in her closet right n—
The sound of gunshots drives me out of bed and onto the chilly floor, where I huddle in a heap of spilled sheets until I realize that the supposed bullets are actually fireworks. They usually save some from the 4th of July to use for the Fall Festival.
Rolling my eyes at my own jumpiness, I tug myself back onto the mattress to watch the remainder of the undoubtedly short show. My eyes find the window again, only to find that the fire is on the wrong side of the horizon.
No sooner are my feet back on the ground than the screams begin, and chaos fills the scene as everyone tries to escape the flames by swerving in different directions, causing collisions left and right. Was that Elizabeth’s voice? Hannah’s? Caleb’s? Are my children in that disaster?
Wearing only a pair of pajama pants and a thin camisole, I dive through the bedroom door and down the wide stairway, which seems to take an eternity when I’m imagining how quickly a blaze can spread across a dry field. I stumble a bit in the lightless void that comprises kitchen, but I’m able to make it all the way to the garage before I realize that I don’t have my car keys.
Keys…keys…what the heck did I do with those demonic little gremlins?! There are a thousand and one places I could look, but I have neither the time nor the patience to play hide-and-go-seek tonight, so I grab the only pair of shoes within eyesight—I never thought I’d actually thank God that my son leaves his sneakers loafing about the house—and dart into the crisp night air.
A plus of forcing myself onto the treadmill every day: I’m in pretty good shape when it comes to running. Add that to a sudden burst of maternal adrenaline and you have yourself a golden tri-athlete with the motivation of a distressed hippopotamus. By the time I’ve hacked my way around the cornfield to the inferno, though, my sockless feet are wailing with anguish over a new generation of cherry-colored blisters. I allow myself a moment to catch my breath only because it is obvious with one look that the situation here is not as bad as my overactive imagination believed. The misdirected fireworks haven’t caused too much damage, as most of the fire has either been put out or is currently holding on to its last breath. The worst of the trouble is occurring in the crowd, full of panicking people acting as if the apocalypse is upon us. With the heels of my hands pressing heavily into my knees while I soothe my irritated lungs, I squint into the darkness to spot my kids. Is that them? No, those are the people who live in the green house… Wait, there th—no, that’s not Hannah. This is impossible.
My spine snaps to attention reflexively at the sound of Caleb’s voice, uncharacteristically nervous. That’s not to say that he doesn’t immediately shake me off when I yank him into my arms, but I consider this normal for a thirteen-year-old boy.
“Mom, what are you doing here?” he questions in astonishment.
“I’m here to make sure I still have a family,” I mumble. “Where’re your sisters?”
Ignoring my question, he sighs, “That’s ridiculous. You’re overreacting.”
“And they aren’t?” I reply, raising my eyebrow as I gesture towards the bumbling population of Wildewood.
“You have a point.”
This time, the voice calling me belongs to my youngest daughter, Elizabeth. Expecting a hug from my six-year-old, I’m completely thrown off guard by the sight of blood.
“Elizabeth!” I screech, not caring enough that I just exhausted my running ability to stop from shooting to where she sits shivering on the ground, her left arm limp at her side.
“She’s all right,” Warwick assures me. I didn’t even notice him standing there. Right next to Jezebel, of course.
“All right?!” I yell. “All right?! She’s bleeding through her coat! How can you possibly say she’s all right?”
Grimacing, he retorts, “It’s a scratch—it’s not deep at all. The thing just grazed her, and it was one of the tiny ones. The same thing happened to a lot of people. Someone screwed up the fireworks this year.”
Probably trying to be helpful, Jezebel adds, “All she needs is some Neosporin and a Band-Aid—”
“She needs to get it washed, cleaned, patched up, and possibly stitched,” I growl furiously, picking my crying daughter off of her straw seat. “And I’ll need to talk to the doctor to see if she should be getting a Tetanus shot, too, because who knows what they put in explosives? So, no, I don’t think Neosporin and a Band-Aid are going to be much help.”
I spin around, my hair shooting poison-tipped arrows at them as it whips behind my head. I take two steps before I realize that I’m going to have to walk all the way back to the house, so I swallow my pride and turn around yet again, ordering, “Drive me home.” Warwick glances at Jezebel, then opens his mouth to say something. “Now.”
Nodding in awe of my startling tone, which would undoubtedly put even Hades to shame, he follows me to the car like a scolded dog with its tail tucked between its legs. Caleb and Hannah pile into the back, and my husband pulls out into the street without saying goodbye to Jezebel.
No one is brave enough to utter a word during the short drive home.