The earth was soggy like an over saturated sponge. Annette’s shoes sunk into the mud when she walked across her front lawn. A sloshing, sucking sound permeated the air with each step. The elderly woman steadied her body against the banister leading to the porch. She slid her shoes off. Cold from the concrete seeped into the balls of her wrinkled feet while she fumbled against the door knob.
She closed and locked the door behind her. Wafts of chilled air whooshed through cracks in the frame. The sky held a few scattered clouds. It didn’t look like rain, however, lingering moisture in the air puffed up her silver curls. The locks were thin enough that they would have gone completely flat if not for the halo of frizz that the humidity provided. Annette flared her nostrils when she sucked in a full breath.
A loud, chirp sounded from her wrist. She glanced at her watch. It was five o’clock, two hours until trick or treat. Annette poked at the buttons on the watch. Several churches were having trunk or treats. Party decorations littered the streets in all directions. Annette had set the watch to the last possible moment she could start preparations and still be ready on time.
Her costume was the first priority. She set the oven to a cozy 350 before heading upstairs. Warmth from the machine heated the bottom floor of the house. Ideally, it was better to cook first, and dress after to avoid any mess. Annette checked the watch again. The costume was pivotal. If she ran out of time for flourishes, then she could make it up somewhere else.
Annette bought a face paint kit at the grocery store on the way home. The grease cream felt heavy on her face. It slathered in to the wrinkles around her eyes and pooled into the cracks near her mouth. She had gotten old without meaning to. Annette glanced around the bathroom. She picked up a pill bottle off of the counter. A ring of dust had settled around it and outlined it like a footprint in the snow.
The house was quiet. The pills made a lump in her throat that wouldn’t quite settle. She traced beyond the outermost of her mouth with a red, lipstick crayon just like the clown tutorial in the makeup kit. The shape of a drooping frown obscured how thin her lips had become. Shades of blues and blacks along her eyelids and cheeks made them appear more sunken than before. The child on the box had full, rounded cheeks. She raised her eyebrows high onto the plated bone of her forehead. A touch of milky eyeliner made the whites of her eyes appear yellow in comparison.
She stepped back. The painted features were an abstraction that camouflaged her real face. Many people felt uneasy in the presence of clowns. It was the same with feeble, old women. A feeling of general revulsion made them turn their heads after only catching short glimpses. Her frail, emaciated body was the ticket she needed to go unnoticed. She could have walked into any party and been mistaken for a sweet, if somewhat creepy, grandma.
Annette wandered downstairs. When she was a girl, she often dreamed of dressing up her little ones in costumes. Laughter outside made a stark contrast to the quiet of her life. The neighborhood was antsy to start festivities. Annette glided into the kitchen. She pulled boxes of cupcake mix from the cupboard. She wished Thomas was there to help. He always stirred the batter for her. She sighed again. The empty house stretched out around her, enveloping her small frame. The lonely clown dripped green food coloring into the bowl. She stirred, and stirred, and stirred.
Gradually, the batter thicken up. Meanwhile, she moved to the refrigerator. Two-thirds of a gallon of sugar water had been chilling since the morning. Annette rummaged in the cabinets. Stretching her arms above her head sent shots of pain through her back. The pain traced the nerves all the way down her legs. It was difficult enough to lift the jug. She’d need her seated walker to carry it with her.
She huffed and hawed until she found the objects of her search. A small packet of lemon lime powder mix, and a bottle of undiluted antifreeze. She estimated half a bottle of antifreeze into the punch. The other half she poured into the green cupcake batter. Instead of traditional icing, she bought little chocolate hats to sit on top of the cupcakes. The green food coloring in the batter would make them look like witches.
Annette’s arms were weak against the oven door. She had to brace herself to avoid losing her balance when the time came to place the trays onto the rack. She peered out the kitchen window and wondered whose house she should go to. It should be a pleasant family, but not with children. She wanted them to be people who were like she and Thomas had been. It should be somewhere that she could pretend she belonged, even if only for a few hours.
She smiled softly to herself. The clown makeup weighted her face so much that the smile barely lifted the sagging skin around her mouth at all. She grabbed a pen off of the counter to scratch a brief goodbye on the pad of paper nearest to the phone. The words read: I am afraid.