Hallowed Birthday

by Cheryl Petterson and Mylochka

A Vignette

(Standard Year 2233)

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Noel DelMonde hated Halloween.

He was only ten years old, but the costumes confused him. He knew people were never what they appeared to be. The idea of dressing up on one particular night to try and pretend made no sense to him, especially as many of the costumes were of demons or ghosts or dead things. Demons and ghosts and dead things were nothing to pretend about on the best of days. This night was no time to make light of such otherwordly beings. They were real - at least to him. They were real to his mama's kin. Even if no one else could see them, he could sense them - particularly on Halloween.

He hated the "trick or treat." Too many times, there were tricks even after the treats had been given out. Not that his own house was ever splattered with eggs, or the trees draped with rolls of paper, or the garden dug up or trampled on. He could hear the warnings echoing in the heads of the tricksters: Don't fuck wit' th' DelMonde house if you know what good for ya. He didn't know why his house was special, but he knew the houses of his mama's kin were never that lucky. And when they were tricked on, he had to join his cousins in the cleaning up.

He hated having to give out candy to children who already had too much. His mama scolded him for that, telling him it was ungenerous and unworthy of his true spirit. His papa sided with her on the outside, but Noel could tell he secretly agreed with his son.

And most of all, he hated the taunts that followed him for weeks before the holiday. Demon-child. Devil- boy. Possede. "He not even hafta dress up, he already a monster. "Wonder if his mama gonna lock him in th' attic 'les' he run even wilder than he usually do." "Naw, she prob'ly already got him his own set o' chains in th' cellar." Even the adults around him started crossing themselves more than they usually did.

But what really infuriated him was the fact that so many people said "Happy Birthday" to him. No matter how many times he told people - no matter how many time his mama told them - that he'd been born after midnight, and so on All Saints' Day, people just decided that he must have been born on Halloween because he was such a trial.

He never dressed up or went to people's houses to beg for candy - even though he really wanted the candy. He couldn't bear the fear, or black looks, or angry aversion that would greet him if he held open a bag and said those lying words. So he stayed home and gave out the candy with his mama and tried not to scowl, or cry or scream.

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"Mere, whyfor we gotta go t' church on my birthday?"

Louisa smiled at her son as she dusted imaginary lint off his young shoulders. "You know you ask that ever' year," she reminded.

"But I forget." He gave her a lopsided grin that always melted her heart.

"It All Saints' Day," she said. "That why you my li'l angel. You born on the day fo' all th' saints."

"Ever'body always sayin' I not no saint," Noel pouted. "They say I far from it. They say I a..."

"You hush 'bout what ever'body always sayin'," Louisa interrupted. "They not know you like I do. An' most o' them got 'bout as much sense as a gator in th' noonday sun."

Noel's grin returned, full of warmth and mischief. That was one of his mama's favorite sayings, and the image it conjured in his head - some poor, old alligator wandering around the streets of New Orleans, sweating and squinting, mumbling old songs to itself like the old beggars did - always made him laugh. In his mind, he put a battered hat on the thing's head and gave it a goofy, cartoonish expression and had it asking passers-by things like, "You know what day it be?" and "You got some change t' help an' ol' gator out some?"

His mother returned his grin, then started tickling him, making him giggle out loud.

"Come on, child," she said as she finally straightened. "We not wanna be late. I still got me a cake to bake fo' somebody's birthday." She stared off, as though thinking really hard. "But fo' th' life o' me, I not remember 'xactly who that somebody be...."

"Mere, it me!" Noel protested, then caught the twinkle in her eye and the teasing in her mind. His face twisted into an anxious, faux frown. "'Less I really am a demon born on Halloween."

Louisa bent again to hug him, chasing away even the hint of distress, as teasing as it was. "Non, my baby boy," she assured him. "You my very own angel."

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He never had birthday parties. His mama was always careful not to force him to be around too many people in too confined a space all at once. But she always made him a cake, and let him help. She sang to him all day and he didn't have to do any of his usual chores. His daddy didn't approve of that. He said nobody got to stop working just because it happened to be the anniversary of the day they were born. His mama always countered with, "Dom, he jus' a boy. There be time enough fo' adult t'ings when he grown."

Not that it mattered much what Daddy said. He was never around on Noel's birthday anyway. Mama said it was because he was an adult and, like he said, he couldn't stop his work for the whole day. Noel knew where his daddy really was. He knew his mama knew it too. It was something they never talked about.

"What kind o' cake you want, baby?" Louisa asked after she'd gotten out of her church clothes and into what Noel called her baking clothes; a worn but clean blouse and skirt, with an apron.

Noel too had exchanged his carefully pressed dress shirt and pants for a tank and shorts. In early November, it was still plenty warm and humid.

"I be t'inkin' I want me a berry cake," he said, after hearing the thought in his mama's mind.

"That be dew or straw or black?" she asked, and he felt her hiding the answer in her thoughts, like a shell game at a carnival. He grinned as his own thoughts chased it around within her, waiting for one particular picture to glow in her mind.

"Blackberry!" he finally announced proudly.

"Mais, what you know 'bout that?" she said. "I jus' happen to have me a whole mess o' blackberries." She bent down, kissing him on the cheek, then turned to get out her baking dishware and measuring cups and spoons.

Though he tried to be careful, Noel was covered in flour and blackberry juice by the time the cake was ready to go into the oven. His mother laughed and called him her "li'l berry cake," then chased him around the kitchen with threats to eat him right up. Then she hugged and cuddled with him until she had as much flour and juice on her as he did.

"Come on, baby, we gotta get cleaned up," she said at last.

"Whyfor?" he asked. "Somebody comin'?"

"Never you mind," Louisa answered. "An' you not go wanderin' 'round in my head t' figure it out."

Noel made a face, but he did as his mama told him. It secretly pleased him that she would talk openly about his troubles with him. She knew he could somehow 'wander around' in other people's heads - and unlike his daddy, she knew he didn't have any control over it until it was already happening. Then, if he tried hard enough, he sometimes could make it stop - but there were times he couldn't. And his mama understood that, too.

He went to the bathroom and stripped off his flour and juice covered clothes. He washed off his arms and legs and face, and even dumped some water over his head to get the dusting of white off his dark, unruly curls. Then he went to his room to get fresh clothes.

"Noel, you best not be leavin' your dirty clothes in the washroom," his mama called.

"No, mere," he called back, and ran back to pick them up, depositing them in the hamper in his room.

Louisa had finished sweeping the kitchen by the time he got back. "You look pretty as a picture," she told him.

"Girls is pretty," he told her with ten-year old authority. "I handsome."

"You surely got a huge enough head on them shoulders," she teased.

"Ever'body t'ink so," Noel muttered, suddenly sullen. Louisa knelt down, hugging him.

"'Course they do, baby. You th' most handsome boy in th' parish - or in any other parish. Maybe even in any other state."

"Any other country?" Noel asked shyly.

"I not be surprised," his mother smiled at him.

Emboldened, he suggested, with a sly grin, "What 'bout any other planet?"

"Mais, there might be an Antari or two more handsome than you," Louisa returned, then leaned forward to whisper in his ear. "I doubt it, though."

"Louisa, you gonna turn that boy's head," came the friendly voice of Noel's uncle. Noel was up like a shot and rushed headlong into the man's arms.

"Hey, Aunt Louisa," Noel's cousin, Cole, said from behind his father. Just shuffling in through the front door were two more of Noel's cousins, Andre and Willie. They, too, murmured greetings to their aunt - and not, Noel noted, to him.

His uncle ruffled his hair. "How you doin', birthday boy?"

Noel stared up at him. "You really come to have a party?" he said. He turned to his mother. "Mere, fo' me?"

She was smiling warmly at him. "I t'ink you handle a li'l bitty one, non?"

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It wasn't an unmitigated disaster. He got presents from his cousins - mostly second-hand - given with a lot of teasing and name-calling. That didn't bother Noel very much. His cousins were always that way, even with each other, so he knew it wasn't spiteful - or at least not aimed exclusively at him. The cake was delicious. But the best thing - the very best, was when his uncle excused himself to go outside for a smoke - but came back in with a large rectangular box and a wide grin.

Noel's eyes widened as he caught the thought from his mama - that she'd kept his gift at her brother's house so he wouldn't find out about it. And her thinking about that, of course, led to her thinking about what was in the box.

"Mere, kalamazoo? Merci beaucoup!" he exclaimed as he tore into the present.

"How he know what in it?" he heard Willie whisper to Cole.

"Aw, he always knowin' sh - stuff," Cole responded, changing the last word after a dark look from his father. "Aunt Louisa say he hear it in his head."

"He hear from a box?"

"Hush now," Louisa scolded. "You not spoil this day fo' Noel."

But no one and nothing could spoil Noel's day - not after he started playing his brand new Doolittle Kalamazoo acoustic guitar.

The End

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