Today's Tale is inspired by Halloween last week. While not as big as it is in the US, Trick or Treating is gaining a steady foothold by kids who'll do anything in pursuit of lollies. Not every house is prepared, however, so you can often catch a surprised yet well-meaning adult at home who'll grab whatever is lying around. My daughters once came home with 2-litre bottles of juice, artificial flower arrangements, jars of salsa and a can of lentils.
Auntie says we're too old for Trick or Treating. But Mama doesn't care. Any good excuse to get us out of the house is fine by her.
So Brody and me grabbed whatever black jumpers and capes we could find, pulled the cases off our pillows and ran whooping into the night. Other mamas must have felt the same as ours, because a whole lot of Brody's friends were also out. He joined up with them and I had no choice but to tag along.
Brody's tall like any other fifteen year old, but I'm short for my age. I figure I've got another good five or six years before people start giving me the same scornful looks he and his friends got from door to door. Still, the people handed out candy to a bunch of teenage boys and me.
Tall boys got an advantage: long legs. Boy, do they know how to use them! Brody and his friends ran from house to house. Me, I could barely keep up. Still, I followed them from street to street, sometimes making it to the back of the group before they ran off, other times, missing out on a house because the door had closed and the boys were already on their way to the next.
Mama would have killed me if I went off on my own. Don't think I wasn't tempted.
Someone in Brody's group must have had brains, because they by-passed the houses in our neighborhood and took us the next one over. Best. Idea. Ever.
This was the nice neighborhood, the one with all the guys who wear ties to work and carry briefcases, not lunchboxes. Big houses with nice yards and too many steps to climb to get to the door. It was worth it, though. These places handed out the big candy bars.
I'm completely coming here again next year.
My bag got heavier and heavier and the boys got faster and faster. They must have cut in to their stash, though we're not supposed to until we get home. The only thing worse than boys on sugar was boys on alcohol.
They zoomed up a hill and knocked on a really nice door. I hefted my bag up the steps, those big candy bars taking their toll.
They must have been handing out some really nifty stuff, because the boys all whooped and hollered and ran off, leaving me behind on the steps.
Maybe ditching them was the best idea, seeing they looked to be ditching me. Mama would never know the difference, unless the night ended up with me in a ditch.
Still, greed and tiredness stopped me from following them. I stood there, two steps below the porch and watched them run off.
"Abandoned you, did they?" came a strange voice. I looked up into the brightness of the porch.
The lady of the house stood there, her skinny arms folded across her well-dressed chest. She held no bowl of candy. Her hair was a mess and her eyes were red. She sniffed. "Get used to it, honey. They're all like that."
Did her words have to sting so much?
I didn't want to follow after Brody and the others. But it felt shallow and greedy to hold open my bag to her. We stood there and stared at each other, her and me.
Eventually, she looked around inside. Then her gaze fell to her hand. With a tug, she pulled off a diamond ring. "Might as well take this. Save you the pain of having a man give you one."
She dropped it into my bag. Before I had the wits to say thank you, she closed the door and turned off the porch light, leaving me in darkness.
It was a miracle I got down those steps without breaking my fool neck in the dark.
The boys were long gone. Even their sugar-fuelled noise had faded away.
I sighed. My bag was heavy, but I couldn't go home. Auntie'd chew me up for going out in the first place and Mama might ask questions why I was home early and where was Brody. (Answer: don't know, don't care.)
So, I struck out on my own. Amazing how nice people were to a lone girl. You by yourself? they'd ask. No, I'd reply, gesturing behind me. Mama didn't want to climb the stairs. Not that they could see anything peering out into the dark. Sometimes they'd be nice and throw in an extra candy bar for Mama.
This stash will last me to Christmas, if I can keep it well-hidden.
By the time all the porch lights were turning off, my bag was so heavy I had to stop every half block to set it down and rest. No way was I abandoning my loot.
Brody had gotten home before I did and Auntie let loose her sharp tongue on me. Where had I been, why was I late, why wasn't I with Brody, and so on.
Naturally, I blamed Brody. He's too tall, he's too fast. I couldn't keep up, though I tried. Then she turned on him, 'cause it was his fault, and I was able to escape. Had to hide my well-gotten gains. The candy went into my usual hiding spot, but the ring? I rolled it between my fingers, studying the glitter of the light off the diamond. I think it was a diamond, though I didn't think they got that big.
Maybe it wasn't. Who'd give a diamond to a kid?
The same person who'd give a car to a teenage boy.
Brody never could keep a secret. It wasn't a candy bar that lady gave to him, but a set of car keys. Brody took 'em to school and bragged about 'em all day. That lady gave away a whole lot of other fancy stuff to the other boys: mobile phones (which they wiped), fancy ornaments, (which they broke) and one even got a bottle of alcohol. What kind of idiot gives a bottle of hooch to a teenage boy?
But Brody, he got the best thing. I'm sure if he had had two wits about him last night, he would have driven off in the thing then and there. But nope, not him. Got the keys, said she said he could have the car, it was all his, and he forgot to take it with him. (Not that he can drive.) Later on today, he said, he'd go claim "his" car. Drive around like he owned it.
But he didn't. That afternoon he chickened out and went home on the bus like the rest of us. He never did shut up about that car.
Me, I said nothing about the ring. I stuck it on the little crystal tray where I kept all my cheap trinkets, the broken steel necklaces, the peeling little rings that turn your finger green. Maybe nobody'd notice.
The next day we got a knock on our door. The police work fast if it's rich people complaining. Work even faster if your envious mates grass on you.
At least the police were nice about it. Maybe because one of them was a woman. Mama answered the door and called for Brody. Brody showed up. Moment he saw the police all his bravado hissed out of him like a balloon. "I didn't steal 'em," he whined.
"We know," the woman officer replied.
But Mama didn't tell Brody to go get the keys. (Not that he had to. They were in his pocket.) "May I ask what this is about?"
"No, ma'am," the man officer said. But the woman officer ignored him. "Domestic dispute. Baby girl thought it'd be funny to give away her cheating boyfriend's stuff to Trick or Treaters." Naturally, the officers were here to collect it back.
They made Brody give back the car keys. (Would he have actually gone driving?) Not that he'd have been able to keep the car. He claimed he had no idea what the other boys got, or what they did with it. I believed him. I suppose the moment she dropped those keys into his bag, he completely forgot about his mates, the way he'd forgotten about me.
To our relief, once they got back the keys and took down a few details, they went away. Never said they'd be back.
Me? I kept my mouth shut. I kept the ring.