Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Voodoo child

My autumn garden is full of spiders. Yesterday I watched a fly go from creature to cadaver in the skip of a heartbeat and the twitch of eight legs. Webs loom everywhere I walk, ghost-like apparitions right at head level. My face has been snared a few times and I suspect it might be me, not the flies, they are after.

Tonight I put on my shoe and felt something soft and leathery squish up against my toe. My brain said mouse, but reaching inside I discovered it was just a shrivelled, slightly fuzzy chunk of green pepper. I recognised the bite marks and the modus operandi. 'Don't mess with me Mama,' the pepper implied in Ana's voice, 'I know where your shoes live.'

Garden-variety Shelob
Ana is an old hand at threats. When she was 18 months old we drove to an old fisherman's cottage on Anglesey for a weekend. In the evening she slept like an angel in her travel cot, while Papa and I watched little fishing boats cast their nets into a peaceful sea. A tentative sense of calm crept back into our lives; we decided that everything was going to be okay and that travelling with kids could even be fun. But it only lasted until the following afternoon. Halfway through nap-time I heard a loud smack from Ana's room, followed by an angry roar. A moment later, vengeful toddler footsteps thundered down the hall. Papa and I were trapped in the sitting room, mugs of tea still in hand as a shrieking, wild-haired toddler came for her revenge like something out of a horror film.

Travelling with Ana was out of the question now that she could shimmy out of a travel cot head-first and pursue us to the ends of a holiday cottage. Naively, we thought she could still be contained behind the trusty wooden jail-bars of her cot at home. Not long after the Anglesey incident, I went to Germany for a weekend, leaving Papa home alone with Ana. My first morning away, he rang to say that Ana escaped the cot and woke him with a very sweet 'Papa thirsty?' and a very cold cup of water in the face. Ana got a proper bed and a gate across her door after that.

We don't get too many Houdini-style escapes these days, except when a very sleep-deprived Mama forgets to shut Ana's gate. Tonight I put the kettle on for peppermint tea and tried to forget about the shoe-pepper threat. I turned around to get a teabag and nearly dropped my mug in fright. There stood Ana in the middle of the kitchen floor, grinning cheekily with her plastic Halloween pumpkin in one hand. 'Hi', she said with menace. Then she turned and slunk silently back up the stairs to her room. I followed and shut the gate tight.

Ana doesn't fully understand Halloween yet, but her prankster instinct has been on override for weeks. This year she will trick-or-treat, rather appropriately, as a crocodile.

It's a trick
My good childhood friend, OneArmGirl, has just reminded me of our childhood candy-missions. A lovely French lady down the street (our neighborhood's sole European representative) used to call us 'the Halloweeners'. The thing I really loved about Halloweening (and can only admit to now as an adult) was that on one trusty October night every year, us big kids got to re-enact the magic of being little. Candy was the excuse for all the dressing up and childish larking about. It was the act itself that was magical--heading out into the wood-smoky darkness, painted faces pressed against the cold car windows, wide-eyes focused on distant candy-beacon porch-lights in the black rural night, bright and remote as the stars.

I find that one side-effect of having kids is that my brain likes to revive dusty childhood memories like this from the mental attic and replay them to a sentimental score on my internal nostalgia-projector. For me, the season of 'pumpkins ripening toward the knife' (Ray Bradbury) has been one of birth, death, upheaval, love and migration. The stuff of life, good and bad. Certainly no shortage of memories to mull over as the light closes in for winter.


  1. I'm laughing at the cold glass of water in the face. But also reminiscing about how times of year can make you feel. My daughter's birthday is around this time of year, as is my mother's death. Before either happened it was my favourite season, and it still is: now it's just a bit richer from the associations I have with the sharp low morning sunlight and crunchy leaves. Halloween wasn't so big in our house. But as for Guy Fawkes Night...

  2. Absolutely beautifully written. I'm glad we sallied forth those October nights! Thanks for the memories.

  3. Love this: "A tentative sense of calm crept back into our lives"...and the water in the face.

  4. Oh Christ, I thought you were going to say there was a giant spider in your shoe! I almost fainted at the thought.

    You make it sound like you're living with a... well I don't know what, but she's certainly determined and resourceful!

    Very descriptive and entertaining post, thanks for linking up to ShowOff ShowCase.