Finally Halloween—and a Friday, to boot.
School that day was uneventful. Though I did see Matt Stefano, glaring at me from a distance several times, the eighth grader kept his distance. I thought more about his switchblade: I wondered if Matt carried the weapon with him everyday, everywhere he went.
Leah was cordial to me, but distant, it seemed. Or maybe I was the one who was distancing myself from her. Not so long ago, the two of us were so comfortable with each other. And now we were so awkward.
Bobby and I walked home again that afternoon; the warm sunny weather promised good conditions for our outing tonight. It would be cool without being chilly, without any chance of rain.
The ghost boy was once again absent from his usual haunt. Maybe he’s gone, I thought. Maybe he’s finally gone; and maybe Bobby was right: It might all have been nothing more than a big psych-out.
“See you at quarter till seven,” Bobby said, as I turned into the Shayton Road subdivision, and he kept walking down the main road. “At the corner of Wilma Court and Cider Mill Drive.
“I’ll be there,” I said. “Does Leah know where we’re supposed to meet?”
“Don’t worry about Leah,” Bobby called over his shoulder. “She knows.”
It was going for six thirty when I finally finished adjusting my buccaneer hat and the rest of my makeshift pirate costume.
I stood before the mirror in my bedroom, looking at myself decked out as a pirate. My father had a point: I was a little too old for all of this; I looked ridiculous, in fact. I was already at that stage where I was seriously noticing girls and thinking about high school, and here I was, prepared to go walking around my neighborhood with a plastic sword.
This was an activity for kids, wasn’t it? But I couldn’t cancel on my friends now, less than an hour before I was scheduled to meet them. Nor did I have any intention of allowing Bobby to walk around all night alone with Leah, almost like two high school kids on a real date.
I took a moment to look around my room, and realized that the conflict that I had been having with my father was crystallized right here, even though there was no easy solution to it. I had recently started hanging up rock posters, which my father hated. My most recently acquired one, a promotional poster for Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard of Oz album, struck a coincidentally Halloween-like theme. It featured the former Black Sabbath front man grasping a crucifix in a melodramatic seated pose, an animal skull and crouching cat on either side of him.
I had been too young for Black Sabbath’s heyday ten years earlier, but Ozzy Osbourne’s recent debut album was all the rage at St. Patrick’s. With its screechy, dark lyrics and quasi-occult themes, the school’s administrators all naturally hated it. So did my father, for that matter. “Are you going to become a devil worshipper, son?” he’d asked me when he’d first seen the poster, only half joking.
I assured him that no, that certainly wasn’t the case, and that Ozzy Osbourne was really no different than Elvis and Chubby Checker had been in his own day. But my father remained unconvinced. Elvis, for all his then controversial onstage gyrations, had later moved on to gospel music. “This guy is nothing like Elvis,” my father had said. I dropped the argument, realizing that it was hopeless. My father, after all, had been almost thirty when America discovered the Beetles.
Even the tamer fare of my newly discovered youth culture provoked reactions of distaste from him. When he saw the cover of my Journey album, he remarked that lead singer Steve Perry looked “a lot like a woman.” He then proceeded to ask if Steve Perry was “queer”. I explained that no, no—Steve Perry actually had female groupies coming out the wazoo. Once again, the gap between the present and my father’s cultural reference points was too vast. “This doesn’t look like the sort of guy who gets a lot of women,” he said. “But he might get a fair amount of attention from other men if he were in prison.”
And so on.
On the other hand, my bedroom still contained artifacts of an earlier, simpler time when my father had found me a lot easier to understand. There were trophies from my little league days on the adjacent shelves, and my baseball card collection in two shoeboxes. Model fighter planes and bombers dangled from my ceiling, suspended almost invisibly by 10-lb. test fishing line. My dad had encouraged my interest in reconstructing military hardware in miniature. I could still recall the day—not all that long ago—when the two of us had hung those WWII Corsairs and Hellcats, along with the more modern Super Sabres and Phantoms.
Satisfied that I was as dapper as I was going to be in a pirate suit, I turned out the light in my bedroom and walked downstairs. My mother was about, still visibly limping from her ankle injury, but the first person I saw was Carrie, my seven-year-old sister.
Carrie was dressed as Tinker Bell. Her costume was comprised of a fairy frock of light green with gold and silver sequins, a set of diaphanous plastic wings on her back, and a little magic wand. The skirt of the costume was a bit too long for her, and hung down to her calves, instead of just above her knees.
She had been pacing about the kitchen, waiting for our father to get home. Dad had been, as anticipated, waylaid by work tonight, but he had told Carrie that he would make every effort to get home in time to take her out. Because in the end, her big brother hadn’t come through on that one.
“Are you going out?” she asked, looking simultaneously hopeful and forlorn. She might have been wondering if, since my father was running late, I might not offer to take her along with Bobby, Leah, and me.
“Yes. With my friends from school.”
“Dad will be home,” I told her, as I walked out the door. “Dad will be home.”