Her mother cheerfully opened the bedroom curtains to wake her.
‘Time to get up, Angela! The cornflower blue sky and the bright coloured leaves are wonderous to behold! Today you’re meeting your gang to go to the costume shop. It’s going to be a beautiful day for you!’
‘I hope so, Mom, I hope so…’
Her mother spoke like a children’s picture book when she was in a good mood...
* * *
‘Can Angie come out and play?’
Joey arrived at Angie’s home to escort her downtown to meet Ray and Stash. Ray always said he loved living downtown as he could step outside at any time and there would be somewhere to go, something to do, someone to see and some place to shop, eat or drink coffee. He joked that in his old neighbourhood, they ‘rolled up the sidewalks after dark’.
The gang boarded a northbound tangerine-coloured streetcar and took off in an electric hum. The storefronts ceased; the Victorian homes began…from the windows they admired their city’s trees.
Trees were the timepieces of the seasons. In the cold of the early spring there would be the excitement of seeing the first green buds and shoots that would grow and grow as the weather became warmer and warmer, with some trees and shrubs showing off their beautiful blossoms like an Easter Parade fashion show. Late spring brought the full-on green leaves of summer that rustled with the sounds of breezes from Lake Michigan. In the intense heat of what were called the dog days of August, the leaves stood uncommonly still as children sheltered beneath the shade. In September, many of the green leaves turned yellow. After the first frost of October, the leaves transformed into their final spectacular Technicolor extravaganza of reds, oranges and gold then dramatically fell like large confetti. The few recalcitrant survivors hung on until they turned brown and eventually fell to oblivion leaving a skeleton. The winter snows covered the skeletons in white and all waited for the warmth of spring and the first green buds…
Angela suddenly felt sad as she recalled her mother’s constant nagging about time passing and her slogan, ‘time and tide wait for no man or mate; wise women make the time before it’s too late.’
She heard Stash’s sympathetic voice from the seat behind her and Joey.
‘What’s wrong, Angie?’
Ray sharply elbowed him. She could read Ray like a book; as he had been married, he knew that when a woman said ‘nothing’, she really meant ‘something’ or ‘everything’. Never ask about it unless you wanted an argument. ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ meant she damn well wanted to talk about it. Ray could not abide unhappiness.
She believed the energetically languid King of the Down and Outers ruled a fairytale kingdom of eternal childhood and adolescence on one edge of her life’s spectrum. At the other extreme were the old-before-their-time permanent residents of the YWCA. Both lived in what the middle others called a ‘dream world’, but her gang lived for comedy, whilst the YWCA gang lived for misery. The former didn’t talk badly about others and had no regrets; if there was something bad, the boys wouldn’t relate it. The ‘Y-Ladies’ were the opposite, and if there was something amusing, they wouldn’t tell it. The doomed Y-Ladies looked lonely even when they were together. None of her girlfriends wanted to end up as one of them, but she was happy to be a Down and Outer.
They met Peter at his neighbourhood’s North Avenue Rexall Drugstore and sat at the counter for sodas and laughs. Sadly, Katrina worked alternate Saturdays at her downtown department store.
There are people you bump into after not seeing them for several years and both of you run out of things to say after a few minutes. With her gang, you never ran out of things to say even though you recently saw them.
Everyone was elated, Ray most of all, as the neighbourhood where Peter lived was where Ray was raised; his parents still lived there. As they walked through the quiet colourful tree-lined streets, he regaled them with amusing and charming tales of his childhood neighbourhood gang’s games and antics that were surprisingly whimsical. It encouraged the others to tell their own similar nostalgic childhood tales.
The wind picked up; dead leaves scraping on the deserted concrete street flew in a spiral like a miniature twister. Ray ran towards it and jumped inside and upwards, as if the whirlwind would take him back to his childhood. He didn’t have to explain himself…she knew…
Angie glanced at the sky; the sun hadn’t seemed to have moved. She pondered that back in school and on Sundays at home, time dragged. When she was waitressing, time shot by like a rocket. With her gang, time was wonderfully lingering. There was time for everything, for nothing was ever rushed, probably because they never really did anything.
In Ray’s former and Peter’s current neighbourhood and further North in Katrina’s, all the shops were on the busy streets and the tramlines of northbound North and westbound Glen Flora Avenues. There were two exceptions: Cribb’s Fine Foods market and today’s destination, Willard’s Center Street Costume Shop.
Ray’s angle was that Rico’s should have a Halloween costume party as few people had one to be invited to. More so than The Hokey Pokey, fun was what it’s all about…Fun was his sole ambition.
The gang were the only customers in the silent shop; the large wall clock had stopped. With its dim lighting and ancient wooden floors, it resembled a museum. or a room that had only just been discovered when an old wall was knocked down.
All the costumes were made of natural fibers rather than the artificial materials of the store-bought ones. They were homemade over the long years by the Willards except for the donations of things too out-of-date for a second-hand shop. Though the clothing was old, all were clean and had no sign of wear. He showed the boys the male’s section, then Angie the female’s.
‘If you don’t mind me askin’, why duh yuh have a shop that’s only open one time a year?...It’s a Halloween Brigadoon!’
‘It’s only open to the public in October, but anyone can call the telephone number in the window, and I’ll arrange an appointment. Sadly, the Mardi Gras that begins Lent never caught on here, maybe because it’s so cold people would have to wear coats over their costumes if they had a nighttime procession…I don’t need the money; you enjoy watching people come in and choose their attire.’
Angie’s eyes encouraged him to continue.
‘It’s more than trick-or-treating, costume parties, or practical jokes, because the wonderful thing is…everyone picks the costume of someone they really want to be. Who do you want to be most of all? Have a look, Angela; I’ll go help your friends.’
She couldn’t recall giving him her name, but maybe she did.
The silence was intense. Her gang were out of sight and out of mind, or…she had gone out of this world, she must be out of her mind.
What did she want to be most of all in the aisle of dreams and desire?
First were cowgirl outfits like Dale Evans and Annie Oakley from the television shows she loved, and what country music songstresses wore. Next were red coated uniforms for an equestrienne, fox huntress, circus ringmistress or the Queen at the Trooping of the Colour. Columbine, clowns, fairies, princesses and piratesses followed; here was the Good Witch of the North, there was the Wicked Witch of the South. She inspected uniforms of nurses, policewomen, WACs, WAVES, WASPs and BAMs as well as drum majorettes, ballerinas, cheerleaders, cheongsams, dirndls, kilts, harem girls and potentates like Cleopatra, Hedy Lamarr in Lady of the Tropics or She Who Must Be Obeyed. Then came ancient Greek chitons and Roman stolas, medieval, Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian dresses leading to 1920s flappers like on The Untouchables. She wondered whether Miss Mac shopped here or donated her own clothes she no longer wore.
She admired a white bridal gown…
‘You’d be surprised at how many people rent that, and never for Halloween.’
It was Mrs. Willard who had come out of nowhere. Angie thought she once heard someone say that Mrs. Willard had died long ago, but they had to have been mistaken…
‘Please, please try it on Angela, Mr. Willard is busy with your friends.’
She led Angie to a curtain she hadn’t noticed that concealed a fitting room.
Inside were three sides of mirrors that displayed it when she tried it on. The white dress seemed to glow; her face seemed to glow as well.
The curtain suddenly opened, and there was Ray.
Before she could say anything, he lowered himself to one knee and opened a small box containing a diamond ring…
Her mother cheerfully opened the bedroom curtains to wake her.
‘Time to get up, Angela! The cornflower blue skies and the bright coloured leaves are wonderous to behold! Today you’re meeting your gang to go to the costume shop. It’s going to be a beautiful day for you!’
‘I hope so, Mom, I hope so…’
Author Notes: I am the author of three Extra Dimensional/Ultraterrestial military science fiction novels MERCENARY EXOTIQUE, OPERATION CHUPACABRA and WORK IN OTHER WORLDS FROM YOUR OWN HOME! as well as two travel books THE MAN FROM WAUKEGAN and TWO AUSTRALIANS IN SCOTLAND (all from Lulu.com). I live happily ever after with my wife in paradise (coastal Kiama, NSW Australia).