She arrives on my porch on Beggars’ Night, without a costume, and it takes me a minute to place her. Children scream and careen through my neighborhood dressed as zombies and ninjas. Grim executioners and glittering fairies pound and flit across lawns in search of sugar. Behind her I see a skinny Frankenstein lurching up my driveway. I quickly turn off my porch light, signaling our house is closed for business, and Frankenstein veers towards the house next door.
The woman on my porch leans into the screen door, her face illuminated by the plastic skull lights staked in our window box. She is grinning and her eyes are bright. I can feel the sweat trickle down one side of my ribs and I wonder how long my daughter and husband will be.
“So do you think we should talk?” She is somehow still grinning while she asks me this, her face a mask of happiness and goodwill. The woman opens the screen door without waiting for me to reply, and I just barely have time to step back before she’s in my living room. “I think we should talk,” she says. “I don’t know that I want to do that—” I start to tell her, but she just keeps talking over me. “Yes, I think we should all get together and have a big group talk.” She is still smiling.
The woman is looking at the painting behind me and she walks past me, closer to it. “We’re splitting up you know.” She’s still staring at the painting and I don’t know if I should reply. “I’m really sorry,” I say to her, but it doesn’t seem as if she’s heard me, or more likely she doesn’t care if I’m sorry. One of my daughter’s plastic swords sits on the bench below the painting and the woman bends to pick it up. Mia is out in the neighborhood dressed as a knight. Her insistence on swords and bow and arrows over crowns and wands is a secret source of pride. This evening, she’d even insisted I use goopy fake blood to paint battle wounds across her cheeks and forehead. The woman runs her hands over the toy sword and drops it back on the bench with a clatter. “Ha” is all she says.
She walks past me, deeper into the house, and I follow her, as if she’s the one who lives here and is giving me a tour. I hear dogs barking and the high-pitched screams of children hopped up on candy and being out past dark. I know as I follow her that I should demand she get the hell out of my house, but instead I feel my teeth clack and chatter against each other and I can’t make them stop. The woman is in the playroom now and she’s taking a photo off the wall. It’s a picture I took of Mia, as a toddler, her eyes opened wide in fear and excitement as she slips down a slide at the park. At the bottom edge of the photo is my husband, crouched below the mouth of the slide, his back to the camera.
The woman looks up at me from the picture, that grin of hers still plastered across her face. Her hands are shaking and I can hear the rattle of glass against the wooden frame around the photo. Her long, blonde hair swings to and fro as she looks back down at the picture, then up at me, again and again. Her eyes finally rest on me, waiting. I think of everything that’s before me, of what I’ll have to tell my husband and I trip forward, reaching for the photo. There is fake blood caked beneath some of my fingernails and I think, as I grab for the picture frame, about how hard I will have to scrub to get it out.