The first thing I noticed when I pulled into the driveway was that the pumpkin on the front stoop wasn’t lit. Ever since the son and the daughter were little and they’d each had their own pumpkin, carved by Mom and Dad with design input from the small ones, every night before and including Halloween, the pumpkins were lit as soon as the sun set. Now that they were in high school and junior high, respectively, we’d whittled down the pumpkin-carving to one that represented the whole family. Still, it was lit each night. If not by me, by Owen, if he couldn’t cajole one of the kids to light it.
Except for tonight. Pumpkin slime everywhere. Over the lawn, spilling onto the driveway. Made worse by a pattering rain that had begun to fall on the way home. Do you remember a single Halloween when it hasn’t rained?
I set the emergency brake so the car wouldn’t roll backwards down the curved and sloping driveway into the (thank God) bushes. Again. Grocery bags full of please-don’t-egg-the-house candy? Check. Purse? Check. Keys? Double check. I right-hipped the door shut, eased around the slippery pumkin mess — shit, neighborhood punks, what’re you gonna do? — and headed for the garage’s side door that led to the kitchen door. Which was open. Odd. But not unusual, and grateful that I didn’t need to maneuver turning a doorknob with full arms — we never locked it since it was around the side of the garage and out of view from the street, and we’d lost its key who knew when. The door into the kitchen was also ajar. Jesus, the kids can’t close anything: closet doors, kitchen cupboards, and for all I know, every door into the whole damn house.
“Hey, Esmé, how was your day?” The delicate, pointy-nosed border collie met me at the door, smiling, swishing her white-tipped tail, and backing up facing me, as I’d taught her to do. It had only taken one brief afternoon of holding a treat in front of her nose, saying, “Back, back,” while walking towards her to cement the skill. I dropped my armfuls on the counter, shrugged off my raincoat and draped it over a stool, as I quietly realized I was the only person in the house. If no one was home, Esmé was outside. She was not only inside, but also dry. No TV meant the kids weren’t home. No NPR on the kitchen radio meant Owen wasn’t home. I was late home because one of the line cooks at our restaurant was a no-call-no-show and I’d had to kick off the heels and fill in for him until I could call in another to work a double. You think being a chef is glamorous? Juggling burning bowling balls would be easier than running a restaurant. Regardless of what the Food Network would have you believe, it won’t make you famous, and it sure won’t make you rich. If you can, settle for happy. Owen was always late. He and his partner in crime, uh, law, operated a practice working with those who desperately needed their services but could rarely afford to pay. Long days, late nights. Together, we managed to keep the wolf from the door. Frowning at the silence, my left hand gracing the dog’s silky head as she stared her amber-eyed narrative at me as only a border collie can, I punched up his office number.
“Hi. I’m home. Where are the kids?”