HALLOWEEN COSTUME • by E.V. Zukowski

Sasha asked if I would take her trick-or-treating this year, and what could I say but of course? It would be a cruel thing to say no.

It was a frigid night; I knew I should tell her to wear a coat. Mom would. But she didn’t want to ruin her fairy costume. The iridescent chiffon wings wouldn’t stay on right. The tiny elastic bands would slip down her coat’s puffy pink sleeves. In the end, I carried it for her, for when she got cold later. That’s what Mom would do.

Before we left, I donned my own coat, the black wool jacket Mom and I both had. We’d bought ours at the same time, because we both liked it and couldn’t decide who looked better in it. “I’ll stitch our initials onto the tags so we can tell them apart,” Mom offered, and she did.

As dusk settled in, Sasha and I headed out, going first to the next-door neighbor. The old woman sat in her driveway on a green camping chair, bundled in knit gloves and a fleece blanket. She cradled a large plastic bowl on her lap, emblazoned with pumpkins and skulls and filled with a mountain of fun-sized candy. She smiled as we approached. “Who do we have here?” she cooed.

“I’m a fairy!” Sasha beamed.

“And a beautiful fairy you are.”

“Trick or treat,” Sasha said, and the neighbor dropped a handful of chocolate into her empty pillowcase.

“And what are you supposed to be?” the neighbor said, turning to me.

“I guess I’m just an older sister.”

“But that’s not a costume!” Sasha giggled.

The neighbor smiled wanly as we turned to go on.

***

There were fourteen years between Sasha and I. She could’ve been my own child, and often, strangers mistook her for it. I never used to mind. It made me feel grown up. But now, I loathed it. I didn’t want to be the adult. I wanted my mother to hold me, comfort me, tell me what to do when I had no idea, which was often.

***

The crisp breeze tickled my nose, tossing up crunchy leaves on the sidewalk. Mom had always hated Halloween night. Walking around in the cold, collecting treats that would rot her children’s teeth. Socializing with far more people on a given day than she was used to or comfortable with. And when she returned home after, her night still interrupted by ceaseless visitors in pursuit of candy.

She loved the season, though. The house always smelled like cinnamon and apples this time of year, decorated with pumpkins and gourds, skulls on kitchen towels, leaf-printed fleece blankets tossed over the couch. It was a cozy season, the beginning of slow-cooker soups and hot cider. My stomach dropped as a thought suddenly occurred to me. Who will make the soups this year? I supposed I’d have to learn how.

***

Sasha was a determined trick-or-treater. Strategic. She knew which streets to take first, which houses would have the big candy bars, which would run out quickly. We wove through the neighborhood with precision and skill, like cats on a mission. The neighbors who knew us, who knew what had happened, offered sad smiles. What a tragedy, I could imagine them thinking. They all gave Sasha extra candy.

“And what are you dressed as?” Mr. Yates from around the corner asked me.

I smiled. “I suppose I’m just myself tonight.”

Though that didn’t feel right. I hadn’t felt myself in quite some time.

***

For seven months now, I’d been the one to dress Sasha for school, make sure her homework was finished, cut checks to pay bills, using money from the life insurance policy. We were able to keep the house, the one in which we’d both lived all our lives. But could I raise her on my own? At twenty-two? The courts had seemed to think so, evidently at a loss for other options.

Her father was a mystery, a secret my mother never shared with me or anyone, not even named on the birth certificate. It had never seemed to matter until now.

***

Halfway through the night, I noticed Sasha begin to shiver. Her little chin wobbled as she tried to suppress her chattering teeth. I held the coat out for her. “I can carry your wings,” I said.

She shook her head. “People won’t know I’m a fairy.”

“You can be a princess in a pretty pink coat instead.”

She nodded, and shrugged out of her wings.

Mom would have come up with something more clever.

***

Mom had always seemed invincible, an immovable force. She had all the answers and knew just how to respond, no matter what. I had never prepared myself to accept her mortality. And I didn’t have time to.

One moment, she was here, leaving to meet an old friend for dinner. The next, it seemed, we were planning her funeral.

Her compact sedan had been no match for that eighteen-wheeler on an icy night in March. Too icy for March. None of it ever should have happened.

***

When we returned home from trick-or-treating, Sasha dumped the contents of her pillowcase onto the living room floor to assess her loot. It was far more candy than she’d gotten before. Mom would be worried about cavities. I was just glad to see her smile.

I removed my coat, and reached for a hanger in the front closet. As I did, I noticed something different about the coat I held. It wasn’t quite right. I looked closer, and saw on the tag, my mother’s initials stitched carefully.

It turns out, I was wearing a costume tonight, after all.


E.V. Zukowski is a writer from Michigan. She is currently studying fiction in the MFA program at West Virginia University, where she also reads for Cheat River Review. Her work has appeared in Every Day Fiction and 101 Proof Horror.


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