I only read the paper once a week, on Sundays, when the comics were in
color, and all the catalogues were out. In the beginning of October,
the dollar stores had their turkey figurines out, but pumpkins and
Extra, Extra Small Spiderman costumes were the favorite at Kohl's and
Walgreen's and CVS, who technically didn't have anything to do with
our pagan holiday but loved to hang paper pumpkins in the window and
proclaim, "Halloween Sale, Women's Painter Pants, at a low, low price
of only thirty-four dollars!" and "Electronic Scarecrows, buy one got
one free, while supplies last." Halloween, having been the first major
holiday after Yom Kippur, was big in Purity Falls, North Carolina,
where candy corn went on sale only once a year and the schools sent
out textured greeting cards bearing the messages, "Happy Halloween,"
and "Happy Birthday" to those lucky children who had birthdays near to
or on October 31st.
Lucky? Perhaps, not. My fifteenth birthday, for example, was sure to
be overshadowed by the Halloween Festival that people started thinking
about in September and then by preparations for Thanksgiving and
Thanksgiving bargain-hunting, which in my house was considered a
sport. For example, those Women's Painter Pants, at a "low, low price
of only thirty-four dollars" would be twenty by the time my mother got
interested in them. The year before, I had had an orange cake for my
thirteenth birthday, which my mother and seventeen-year-old sister
called a funny coincidence; but I know was because it was the only
kind of cake that was in stock at Sam's Club. Who sits down and bakes
an orange cake, allows a party of two to buy it at midnight on
Halloween, then encourages them to call it a "funny coincidence"
because it just happened to say HALLOWEEN in black letters? Linda
Morris, now that's who. The sad part was that they bought black icing
to go with it, smudged the OWEEN, then added an EY for me, Halley
Lewis, because crummy Linda, Sam's Club employee of the month said I
wouldn't notice a thing? That town crumbled around Halloween.
That year, they had party platters in the Val-Pack coupon books my
sister used to throw away. Lilly, who was then almost a legal adult,
had realized how trendy coupons were. She had realized that instead of
going up to New York and buying thirty fake designer handbags by Liz
Airborne, she could clip and save me a lifetime of, "I'm sure Rolex
and Vortex were exactly the same." Poor, driving, alcoholic, going to
become a lawyer, Ex-Lilly. I was almost glad we had NewLilly around to
remedy all of Ex-Lilly's mistakes. NewLilly did not throw away Val-
Packs, she did not drink-and-drive, she was going to medical school at
Duke-early decision, she was going to be homecoming queen, and she was
going to make me look so bad when I got out of Middle School.
People used to look at stringy-haired Ex-Lilly and then look at me and
said, "At least one child turned out okay." The neighbors used to
complain about how Ex-Lilly almost killed their dog with the Chevy and
about how she should be in Juvenile Detention-early decision. Now that
Lilly had turned her life around and was on the fast track to success
and large green windfalls, people looked at her and said, "What a role-
model! I always knew that child had it in her. Our own town celebrity;
I won't be surprised if she turns up on the Discovery Channel."
You get sort of sick of that kind of thing after a while.
Marah Clements, my best friend, did not have that problem, being an
only child and perfect at that. Marah had a steady boyfriend, an A
average, and had already taken the SATs twice. 1532 the first time she
took it in the eighth grade, and 1547 this year. Marah, like Lilly,
was headed for the stars, a.k.a Harvard.
Marah called me, one Sunday, when Lilly was out volunteering at the
Purity Falls Soup Kitchen. "Hal?"
"Yes?" I was filing my nails at the time, and ended up running four of
the fingers on my left hand under cold water after running out of
"Marah speaking. Switch to channel fourteen."
Channel Fourteen was the "News: All the Time, Every Time" channel. It
had perky after school specials, lipsticked anchor women, NewLillies,
and would-be car salesmen 24/7. It was my mother's favorite Channel.
I turned the channel, and Lorna Quip, Correspondent of ABC News popped
up happily, ". . . And that's what's in store for your gasoline prices
"Yeah? So what?" Another finger found its way to the faucet. "It's
"No, no . . . it's not just Lorna. Hold up." There was a considerable
amount of rattling in the background and Marah resurfaced with, "I
meant Channel 41."
"The weather channel?" I asked dubiously, clicking anyway.
"No, no. I meant 14. Just click it, you'll see." I could almost see
Marah, buried in her self-appointed homework, trying to find the
remote amidst the spreadsheets she created when she was bored.
Back on Channel 14 there was a very orange-haired lady, who seemed to
be relishing her fifteen minutes of fame, by fanning herself and
smiling uncontrollably at the camera. "Well, I've never seen anything
like it before. It was all I could do. I was screaming like crazy and
that girl," she gestured to a spot beyond the scope of the camera.
"Saved my life!"
The camera moved and there appeared . . . ? Well, it wasn't the
Discovery Channel, but my sister was on Channel 14, the "News: All the
Time, Every Time" channel.
"Marah, you have not exactly made my day," I commented, sighing at the
horror of it all.
"Well," she said. "I just thought you might want to know before your
sister arrives at your house and your birthday is overshadowed again."
Marah knew about my issues with overshadow-ment. Or whatever. Marah
would know the correct grammatical noun form of "overshadow." She,
despite possibly raining on the imaginary birthday parade in my head,
was very sympathetic.
"How about-how about, you come over and we make phone calls?"
I could almost see my best friend rolling her eyes. "You are so out of
the loop, my friend. Random phone calls to the people in the Purity
Falls Country Day School Handbook leaving strange messages for no
"You mean crank phone calls?" I asked. Marah, being perfect and wise
would never stoop to crank phone calling. "You mean like, 'Is your
refrigerator running? Well, you better go catch it?'"
"Halley, do you honestly think I'm that stupid? (Sigh.) Well, bring
lots of post-its and every old journal you weren't allowed to bring to
school and when your older companions (Lill and your mother) get home
you can tell them that you're at the Clements.'"