by Christine Huffman
Beth hefted the last bag onto the counter, counting on the rustle of groceries to announce her return. No need to disturb Mama.
Stepping out of the back bedroom, Kevin stripped off nitrile blue procedural gloves and pitched them into the trash. “Gave her ten milligrams. She’s comfortable.” He lathered his hands in the kitchen sink. “Any coffee?”
“I’ll make some.” Beth measured scoops into the filter. “We’re so lucky to have a hospice nurse in the family, Kevin.”
He puffed a little with the praise as he dried his hands. “Glad I can help.”
Kevin snatched a bag of Milano cookies before they reached the cupboards. Opening the package, he collapsed into a kitchen chair and watched Beth restock the shelves and refrigerator.
The coffee maker sputtered as she filled a mug and set it on the placemat in front of him. “Nursing is such a difficult profession. I don’t know how you do it.”
“How I do it?” Kevin repeated, mouth full. “Frankly, I can’t imagine why you chose to be a beautician. After the Rosenthal incident and all.”
“What are you talking about?”
“It just seems like a childhood trauma would influence your choices later in life, that’s all. And yet here you are, manicuring nails.” He shuddered. “I could never do that.”
“I style hair, too.” Beth’s voice was small.
“Sorry Elizabeast, I didn’t mean…” Kevin eyed her folded arms and started over. “Don’t you remember Mrs. Rosenthal? She lived in the gray bungalow on the corner of North Road and Paxton.”
Beth sat down across from him. “Why would I?” She snapped her fingers twice and held her hand out for the Pepperidge Farm bag. He handed it over.
“When I was in sixth grade, Mama asked me to take you trick or treating. That Halloween was so cold we had to wear coats over our costumes.”
Beth fished in the pleated paper for the last cookie of the layer. “What were we?”
“I was Frankenstein. And you…hmmm.” Kevin squinted at the ceiling, tapping his chin with playful concentration. “You were a princess, I believe.”
“Of course I was. That’s easy.” Beth smiled. “I was always a princess.”
“No duh,” he teased. “So. Every Halloween, Mrs. Rosenthal decorated the front porch of that old house. One year it was a graveyard with a zombie hiding under a pile of leaves to scare the older kids.”
Kevin frowned as Beth dunked her Milano in his coffee. Unfazed, she settled back and he continued his story.
“But this time, there was this witch in a rocking chair, holding a Pyrex bowl of candy. She was dressed in black with a rubber mask and gray cotton wig. What I remember most were the hands—they looked like they were carved out of wax. Her claw-tipped fingers gripped the bowl while I rummaged through the orange and black wrapped taffy for something good. I half expected her to grab my wrist.”
“That’s it?” Beth guffawed. “That’s the terrifying event that scarred you for life?”
Kevin sighed. “You really don’t remember this, do you?”
“Weeks went by and the Halloween decorations stayed up. After Thanksgiving, one of the neighbors complained to the sheriff. He did a wellness check and found…” Kevin paused for effect. “Old Mrs. Rosenthal frozen on the front porch, still clutching an empty Pyrex bowl.”
“Oh brother!” Beth laughed again. “Don’t expect me to believe your silly ghost stories.”
“But it’s true. You were there. Don’t you remember?”