by S. Nadja Zajdman
My aunt Ania owned and operated a dry goods shop. Each year, for Halloween, she created wonderfully elaborate and imaginative costumes for her daughter Eva, and for me. In particular, I recall the black-and-orange quilt with matching cap that carved me into a pumpkin. I had the figure for it. However, the remote October I’m reflecting on, I went trick-or-treating as a gypsy. Aunt Ania sewed a rainbow of chiffon scarves onto a belt, which was attached to the area of my anatomy that, we fervently hoped, would one day whittle down to reveal a waist. I wore a real skirt and tights underneath the belt-load of scarves, to keep me warm on this cold autumn evening. I also wore sturdy Oxford shoes, a sober white blouse, and a red wool cardigan. A red sash, with sequins sewn in, was wrapped around my thick dark hair. With my flashing dark eyes and hair, red was my colour. My daddy said so. Eva, who played in the school band, lent me her tambourine. Eva was going trick-or-treating as a prince. The fact that she was a girl was irrelevant. My cousin preferred princely hose to a princess’ robe. As a prince, Eva got to wear the mossy green tights she wasn’t allowed to wear with her school tunic, and a form-fitting forest-green tunic that her mother draped on her. I inspected my cousin’s costume. “You don’t look like a prince, you look like Robin Hood.” Eva was taken aback. “Weeell, Robin Hood could be a prince.” To me, the line of succession was smudged. “How?” Disconcerted, Eva dismissed me. “Oh, you’re always asking stupid questions!”
When dusk fell a plump little gypsy, a girl-prince and her slave ventured into the dark suburban streets. Rosie was Eva’s slave. Her costume was easy. All she needed were chains. Rosie was also an Elvis fan. On Sundays Rosie would recline on my aunt’s plush loveseat playing Eva’s Elvis records—not the good songs, but the sappy ones that were the soundtracks to those god-awful movies. While Elvis crooned, Rosie would kiss his image on the record jacket and hug and cuddle its cover. She never seemed to care that she was kissing painted cardboard. Rosie would kiss Elvis’ picture ON THE LIPS! She knew I was watching her, and she wasn’t even embarrassed.
On this Halloween, the prince and her slave carried sacks ready to be filled with edible treats, but all I had was a penny box for UNICEF. My mother made me do it. There was no point asking anything for myself. Even when I managed to come home with a filled sack, my mother would confiscate my loot and hand it over to the children’s hospital. “If chocolate and candy aren’t healthy, then why are you giving it to kids who are sick?!” Like my query on Robin Hood’s claim to the throne, I never got an answer to that, either.
Our motley trio’s outing was going well until we turned a corner onto an abandoned street. Our prince had led us there. Eva was the eldest, and she was panic-stricken. “There’s a man following us!” Prince Eva hissed. She was right. A shadow loomed under a street lamp. We stopped. The Shadow stopped. When we started to walk, The Shadow started to walk. We stopped again. So did The Shadow. Rosie wanted to run, but the chains she’d attached to her ankles, as well as to her wrists, prevented her from doing so. I would never try to run because I knew I couldn’t run fast enough. Prince Eva and The Elvis Admirer were whipping themselves into frenzy. I felt oddly calm. There was something comfortingly familiar about the sound of the tired, flat-flooted step falling onto the sidewalk behind us. “I’m going to see who it is.”
“No!” Prince Eva started to cry. She stood paralysed. “Don’t turn around!”
“Aw, quit balling.” The littlest gypsy scolded her older cousin. “This is dumb!”
I turned to confront The Shadow. It’s always best to confront one’s shadow. My suspicions were confirmed. “Daaaaddy!” I shook the tambourine at my taken-for-granted protector. “You promised! You’re not supposed to be here! How could you embarrass me?!”
Caught in the light of the lamp, The Shadow hung his head. “I didn’t want to!” My father fibbed. Or maybe he didn’t. My father fostered independence but father, like daughter, was no match for the matriarch. “I’m sorry.” Sheepishly, The Shadow apologized. “Mummy made me. You know I can’t say no to Mummy!”