Yours by Mary Robison
Allison struggled away from her white Renault, limping with the weight of the last of the pumpkins. She found Clark in the twilight on the twig-and-leaf-littered porch behind the house.
He wore a wool shawl. He was moving up and back in a padded glider, pushed by the ball of his slippered foot.
Allison lowered a big pumpkin, let it rest on the wide floorboards.
Clark was much older-seventy-eight to Allison’s thirty-five. They were married. They were both quite tall and looked something alike in their facial features. Allison wore a natural-hair wig. It was a thick blonde hood around her face. She was dressed in bright-dyed denims today. She wore durable clothes, usually, for she volunteered afternoons at a children’s daycare center.
She put one of the smaller pumpkins on Clark’s long lap. “Now, nothing surreal,” she told him. “Carve just a regular face. These are for the kids.”
In the foyer, on the Hipplewhite desk, Allison found the maid’s chore list with its cross-offs, which included Clark’s supper. Allison went quickly through the daily mail: a garish coupon packet, a bill from Jamestown Liquors, November’s pay-TV program guide, and the worst thing, the funniest, an already opened, extremely unkind letter from Clark’s relations up North. “You’re an old fool,” Allison read, and, “You’re being cruelly deceived.” There was a gift check for Clark enclosed, but it was uncashable, signed as it was, “Jesus H. Christ.”
Late, late into this night, Allison and Clark gutted and carved the pumpkins together, at an old table set on the back porch, over newspaper after soggy newspaper, with paring knives and with spoons and with a Swiss Army knife Clark used for exact shaping of tooth and eye and nostril. Clark had been a doctor, an internist, but also a Sunday watercolorist. His four pumpkins were expressive and artful. Their carved features were suited to the sizes and shapes of the pumpkins. Two looked ferocious and jagged. One registered surprise. The last was serene and beaming.
Allison’s four faces were less deftly drawn, with slits and areas of distortion. She had cut triangles for noses and eyes. The mouths she had made were just wedges-two turned up and two turned down.
By one in the morning they were finished. Clark, who had bent his long torso forward to work, moved back over to the glider and looked out sleepily at nothing. All the lights were out across the ravine.
Clark stayed. For the season and time, the Virginia night was warm. Most leaves had been blown away already, and the trees stood unbothered. The moon was round above them.
Allison cleaned up the mess.
“Your jack-o-lanterns are much, much better than mine,” Clark said to her.
“Like hell,” Allison said.
“Look at me,” Clark said. Allison did.
She was holding a squishy bundle of newspapers. The papers reeked sweetly with the smell of pumpkin guts.
“Yours are far better,” he said.
“You’re wrong. You’ll see when they’re lit,” Allison said.
She went inside and came back with yellow vigil candles. It took her a while to get each candle settled, and then to line up the results in a row on the porch railing. She went along and lit each candle and fixed the pumpkin lids over the little flames.
“See?” she said.
They sat together a moment and looked at the orange faces.
“We’re exhausted. It’s good night time,” Allison said. “Don’t blow out the candles. I’ll put new in tomorrow.”
That night, in their bedroom, a few weeks earlier than had been predicted, Allison began to die.
“Don’t look at me if my wig comes off,” she told Clark. “Please.”
Her pulse cords were fluttering under his fingers. She raised her knees and kicked away the comforter. She said something to Clark about the garage being locked.
At the telephone, Clark had a clear view out back and down to the porch. He wanted to get drunk with his wife once more. He wanted to tell her, from the greater perspective he had, that to own only a little talent, like his, was an awful, plaguing thing; that being only a little special meant you expected too much, most of the time, and liked yourself too little. He wanted to assure her that she had missed nothing.
He was speaking into the phone now. He watched the jack-o-lanterns. The jack-o-lanterns watched him.
Lit from the Basement is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com (this means as Amazon associates we earn from qualifying purchases).