What will happen, asked my friend Claire, if I knock on your door on Halloween Night?
I considered suggesting that my daughter (who thinks she’s Elsa from Frozen) would turn her into a pumpkin. (An ice-pumpkin. Obviously).
Luckily I didn’t promise that, because by the time Halloween came round I was sick of pumpkins. Having popped into a budget supermarket to buy some milk around the beginning of October, I’d acquired two massive ones. I’d declined to pay for carrier bags and of course mine were still in the car. The only practical way to lift up and carry two pumpkins without a bag made me vulnrable to the smirks of other shoppers.
Anyway. I got my pumpkins back to the car and tucked them away under my coat. Then I forgot all about them. Until three weeks later, when I decided to investigate a new and putrid smell that had started to emanate from the rear seats. I reached under a coat; my hand penetrated rotten pumpkin skin and plunged into slimy flesh. Why hadn’t I remembered to carve the blasted things?!
It’s because I’d been distracted. In case I haven’t mentioned it yet, I’ve been working damned hard. I’ve also been studying neurology, looking for a babysitter, making plans to exercise – and usually cancelling or rearranging said plans.
The whole family has been ill in the space of a fortnight, there’s a slow puncture on my front left car-tyre and the tumble-dryer’s on the blink. I’ve also been meaning to buy some new work-shoes ever since I wore mine to fish my daughter out of some quick-sand a few weeks ago, but I’ve never quite made it to the shops. One morning I hurried out without my bank-card. I ended up having an argument at a petrol station about my right to pay for the £5.00 worth of petrol that I needed to get home, with the scrumpled up Scottish fiver that I had excavated from a pocket. I drove home still arguing with the guy.
Autumn makes a lot of people think about death, but it doesn’t do that for me. Autumn is about survival. Even the trees are like wild working parents; a bit untidy with mussed-up hair, bodies under stress, branches not knowing which way to bend, the signs of aging suddenly apparent. They support creepy-crawlies, birds, squirrels, fungii. It’s a good job they’ve got big roots.
Times are rough. You know the fog that insulates your mind a little bit too much? The vortex of wind that skitters leaves about? You know the cold rain that can never decide which horizontal direction to rain in, but always manages to ooze between your neck and collar bone?
Bonfire night was cold and damp. Navigating to the blaze was a bit of a project (the whole family and our friend Fred crammed into my little car, which still sported a temporary mini-wheel because of the puncture). Getting two kids across a busy, dark field wasn’t easy. I went off and found burgers, apple juice and magic flashy balls, then elbowed through the crowd and located my family again. My daughter whined inconsolably: she had apparenly wanted a toffee-apple and a light-sabre instead. I said something harsh but I let her lean on me to watch the bonfire. She’s a strong, heavy leaner. I fell over onto the mud a fair few times – I wish I’d gone to the bonfire in my quick-sand-damaged work-shoes, but I hadn’t thought of that. My trousers and a second pair of shoes got trashed. I might have sworn a bit. I might have moaned when I realised that she wasn’t actually watching the fireworks.
I’m glad I watched them. They were stunning. I just wish I’d been less grumpy about it.
‘Do you think,’ Fred said later, in a gentle way that he has, ‘that you would benefit from being more calm?’
‘Maybe I could learn mindfulness.’ I said.
We were sitting in the living room, forced by the darkness to spend the evening inside.
‘Do you know about mindfulness, Fred?’
We began to Talk.
Which makes me mindful of returning to Claire, who did indeed knock on our door on Halloween Night. What happened? She was invited into our chaotic, untamable home, handed a beer and settled down into the leaf-litter to gossip, of course, just like Fred and I were doing now.
Remembering that autumn trees are beautiful. Listening to the trees rustling outside. Plotting survival.