Falling Faintly by Kelly Jarvis
Editor’s note: Can you take one more Halloween treat? I know you can. The veil will be thin between the living and the dead for a day or two longer, so enjoy this gorgeous offering from our splendid Kelly Jarvis. It’s about trick or treating and love and Halloween, but you will see that it is still timely. That’s why it’s publishing at midnight. It’s all about the veil.
The wheezy doorbell chimed as Old Pete shuffled across the threshold with his bowl of candy. The trick-or-treaters had been steady all night, and Pete happily dropped the last of his chocolates into their pillowcases. One of the mothers who trailed behind the group of children smiled and called out to him. “Are you ready for the snow, Pete? They say we haven’t had October snow in over thirty years!” Pete nodded silently. He had always loved snow. He had smelled it coming all day long in the air that blew through his open windows. Pete closed the door, knowing that this would be the final group of trick-or-treaters. Next would come the teenagers, ready for Mischief Night. Every year they would run round and round the ancient maple tree that grew in his front yard, draping its barren branches with rolls of toilet paper. Pete didn’t mind. It reminded him of his own boyhood mischief in the old country. Pete had left Ireland as a young man, just after his mother died. She had been a healer in their village, and people had come from all over the countryside to seek her magic elixirs. But after she passed, Pete had heard whispers behind his back. “Son-of-a-witch,” people called him, so he had set sail for America and settled on a small farm in North Massapequa, Long Island. Pete’s magic had always been a “growing” magic, and even in the rockiest soil he could bring forth plentiful crops. He loved the feel of dirt in his hands and the smell of young plants pushing up through the ground. He loved the sight of his rolling fields when the shadows of clouds traveled over them like boats on the open ocean. Now, when his great-grandchildren came to visit, they didn’t believe he had built his tiny house on farmland. They peered out the windows at the crowded neighborhood, trying to picture the rolling fields of their Grandpa Pete’s memory, but all they could see were the cars of the present as they sped up and down Boundary Avenue. Pete moved into his miniscule kitchen where pots were bubbling on the stove. The kitchen had once been full of life. Relatives and friends had crowded into it on holidays, so Pete built a dining room addition that was as big as the house itself. In the corner of the dining room was a grandfather clock, and, when Pete remembered those festive celebrations of the past, he could still hear the steady ticking of the clock beneath the joyous laughter. The clock was broken now. Pete shuffled to the dining room where he had already set the table and decorated it with candles. The sideboard was loaded with platters of spiced beef and whipped potatoes. There were bowls of nuts and a pyramid of late season apples. Pete had even set out a pile of foil wrapped chocolates for his wife. Sweets were her favorite, and in their golden years, she had grown as round as she was tall. He delighted in taking her in his arms and kissing her rippling cheeks. Pete dished out two plates full of food and set them on the candlelit table. He took a letter from his pocket and laid it at his wife’s place. Then he lowered himself into a chair, took a long sip of whisky, and waited. *** Pete had met the love of his life long ago at a Harvest Festival. Her tiny stature and delicate features caught his eye. She reminded him of the fairies of his homeland. Pete watched her walk from booth to booth, snacking on sugared raisins and mincemeat pies. She stopped to play a game at one of the fortune-telling stalls, peeling an apple in one long strand and tossing it behind her to divine the name of her future husband. When she dropped her strand on the ground it formed the shape of a P, and it was then that Pete went up to her and boldly introduced himself. His name wasn’t really Pete, but he knew a little trickery was acceptable in matters of love. Since that day, everyone called him Pete. Now, he could barely remember his childhood name. They were married in November and their two children, a boy and a girl, followed quickly. Pete worked his magic on the farm until he was forced to sell the land and go to an office. His wife taught the neighborhood children to sing and play piano. She’d had the voice of an angel. Pete silently sipped his whisky, letting the thick amber liquid slide down his throat. *** He had finished more than half the bottle when he heard a distant music, the trill of a soprano voice and the tinkling of piano keys. The rustling of a dress followed, and Pete held his breath in anticipation. When she entered the dining room and took her seat at the head of the table, she looked as beautiful to him as she had on the day they had met. He supposed that was what they meant by the phrase “true love.” Pete ate very little these days, but the sight of his wife brought back the appetite of his youth. He smiled as he dug into the potatoes, carefully chewing the tender beef with his worn teeth. His plate was almost empty before he stopped, suddenly realizing he did not want their silent supper to end. Samhain was the one night of the year when the living and the dead could mingle, and it was almost over. Pete looked at the shade of his wife through tear-stained eyes as the past and the present collided. Yes, they were sitting silently together in the dining room that he had built, but they were also young and stealing kisses at the edge of the sea. They were dancing in the moonlight while their newborn baby slept in his cradle. They were toasting marshmallows beside a roaring bonfire, their grandchildren playing at their feet. He was holding her hand as she took her last breath. With a sigh, Pete opened the letter he had placed on the table. He had never been good with words, and, in the end, he had written only one sentence: “I sure do miss my girl.” Pete lifted the letter to the flame of the candle and watched it ignite. Ashes coated the tablecloth like faintly falling snow. “Merry meet. Merry part. Merry meet again,” she seemed to say. And then, she was gone. *** Pete finished the bottle of whisky and gazed out at the western sky. Already the snow had settled on the sidewalks. The papers had been right: snow was falling all over Long Island. Pete swooned peacefully as he watched the snow falling faintly through the branches of the ancient maple tree. Ribbons of toilet paper danced and swayed like the shadowy veil that separates the worlds of the living and the dead. Old Pete drifted off to sleep, and his solitary soul seemed to slip its earthly bonds, sustained by the death-defying power of everlasting love.
Kelly Jarvis teaches classes in literature, writing, and fairy tale at Central Connecticut State University, The University of Connecticut, and Tunxis Community College. She lives, happily ever after, with her husband and three sons in a house filled with fairy tale books. She is also Enchanted Conversation’s special project’s writer. Unsplash image by Nana Nakazwe