It’s a few minutes before nine when I get to the house. The street is mostly clear, dark porches, houses closed up for the night. Only the flicker of the immaculately carved pumpkins at my old house shed any light on the steps, until the door opens and I see Trenton.
He stands. Hesitates. Sulking about this late hour pickup until his mother sends him off with a peck on the cheek. Occasionally she’ll accompany him out to the car, disclose any pertinent information that I might need to know for my forty-eight hours with my kid. Pick up times and places. Where to make the drop. But all the festivities must have worn her out because I don’t even get a wave.
Trenton skulks to the car, his body language telling me he’s dreading this. His night with me, the guy who only talks about times he doesn’t remember. I’m losing ground, but at least he’s still in costume, with his pirate hat. The jacket with the sashes that I bought for him only to find out that middle school kids don’t wear pirate costumes.
He climbs in the backseat. I try to keep things upbeat. “Hey, where’s the booty?”
“And you call yourself a pirate, matey? The booty. The treasure. The candy.”
Big, wet sigh. “Oh, Logan took it all.”
“What?” I break from my horrendous pirate accent. Trenton shakes his head.
“Can we just go?”
His voice is flat, on the verge of cracking. He’s more and more sensitive these days, after all he’s been through. So I back out and we head up the road. I’m trying to drop it. Really trying, but he’s about to lose it. Is it because of me? Am I that bad?
At the light I can’t hold back. “Logan took your candy?”
“Yes,” Trenton hisses, and I don’t have to see him to know he’s rolling his eyes. Misty eyes of a middle schooler. A kid with two homes, two-step brothers. Three parents trying to raise him.
This parent should take the hight road. At least take a breath, think about my words and actions–as Emma would say. But maybe I’m just too out of practice. Too desperate. I eye him in the rearview. “What did your mother say? Or Dave? What did Dave say about it?”
“Da—Dave told him to give it back but Logan had already gotten the chocolate. Mom said she’d buy some for me.”
I shake my head. Typical shit, Emma. Buy the kid candy and everyone’s happy. But this isn’t about candy. Or that chub-a-lub, Logan. It’s about Dave, the salesmen who took my wife, my house. Even my dog. That guy who stole my life.
“Green light, Dad.”
I unclench my grip on the wheel. Turn left. Towards my apartment. Away from my house with the colorful trees and sidewalks. Away from the urge to pull over and cuddle up my son who would only brush me off. Away from Dave, and his fake smile that I want to kick in like a jack ‘o lantern. But then it hits me. I turn again.
“Hey Trenton, want to have some fun?”
“I don’t care.”
“Sure you do.”
Back in the neighborhood, I pull the car over, halfway in a pile of leaves. I whip back to face him. A sliver of the street light hits his sharp cheekbones, his mother’s delicate features, and I realize how quickly our lives have unraveled and veered off into parallel but widely spaced routes.
“So you went trick or treating, right?”
“But your treats are gone.”
He glances out the window, at nothing. Nothing is better than facing me. Nothing is worse than having to make eye contact with the guy who picks him up every other weekend.
I touch his knee. “So we pull some tricks!”
That gets him back. His eyes flash, ready to listen. I turn the car off and he’s happy to follow me now. Ready to rock. We slink down the dark street, past a few stragglers with pillow cases full of candy. My fragile pirate bounces at my side–like he used to–on a Halloween mission. It’s cheap and petty and horrible parenting. It feels wonderful.
Back at the house, Trenton crouches behind a tree while I sneak up to my old porch and gather three of the four pumpkins from the porch. I leave Trenton’s, which is the old school, traditional style. Just like I always carved.
I know the Patriots pumpkin is Dave’s so I call dibs. The meticulously etched Steelers is all Logan. I set that one on the sidewalk. A small pirate emerges from the tree, a resilient smile as I motion for him to give it a bash. To get him started I kick the shit out of Dave’s pumpkin on the walkway—a little more violently than intended but releasing some pent-up aggression.
With that Trenton gets to work, kicking and thrashing with such vengeance that I set aside any fears I had about him getting bullied. My aggression pales in comparison. The kid goes completely berserk, stomping the shards to mush, muttering under his breath, panting with laughter when the porch lights blast to life.
Shit. I grab him, still flailing at the pumpkin on the sidewalk. We flee into the cover of night, leaves crunching beneath our less than stealthy footsteps. My own dog is at the window barking his head off. Trenton can’t stop giggling.
It’s like a drug, his laugh. So I take him trick-or-treating. Again. Banging on doors and pissing people off. Who cares? The kid is having a good time. Me too. Even if there’s hell to pay. Like my phone sitting in my car, full of text messages and voicemail.
I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU!!!
YOU JUST LOST YOUR WEEKENDS!!!
I toss it on the floorboard. Save the fight for later. One that will probably happen in front of him anyway. By then Trenton will have forgotten this moment like all the others. He’ll grow up getting jerked around and maybe even decide he doesn’t want to be put through our pointless vendettas. And that sucks.
I check the rearview, where Trenton’s got candy in his lap and a full moon smile on his face. My heart is racing. I’ve got pumpkin guts on my shoes and the night reeks of smoke and mischief. Tonight we’ll gorge on junk food and sodas, watch old vampire movies and I’ll wait for a knock at the door. But I doubt it will come. Emma must have heard our son’s laughter, a sound so rare and wonderful that it might just be about the only thing we can agree on anymore.