The Violet Crab

The gun dug into my hip, so I took it out and put it on the seat beside me. It seemed to stare, accusing me of all sorts of things I hadn’t done. After a mile or two, I covered it with my hat.

I steered off of the highway at Salinas Avenue, and wound my way through the neighborhood toward Padre Sierra and home. My headlights picked out small figures darting across the road, and I tapped my brakes. When I recognized the running ghosts and witches for what they were, I remembered that it was Hallowe'en. Candy wasn’t something that I kept around the house, and my wristwatch said past six. An open place that would willingly sell me any was a long shot.

I could keep my porch light off and sit in the kitchen, but that seemed cowardly. A left turn at the next road would take me downtown to neon signs and a glass of bourbon, or even a few of them. In the back of some dim bar, I could wait for the cowboys, policemen, and ghosts to all go back inside.

When the make-believe goblins gave the night-streets back to the real goblins, I could go home.

At the next stop sign, I kept the clutch on the floor and waited while a girl crossed in front of me. All by herself, she stood out. The other nurses and fairy princesses were running from house to house in packs. She looked sixteen or seventeen; plump and too old by half for trick-or-treats. She had a half-baked costume on, and carried a big bag for candy.

She glanced at me as she went by. Her eyes were ashamed, and my heart caught.

I supposed she fed a private demon. I had some trouble in bars when drinks were on the house, so I recognized her torment. The rivers of free sweets had summoned her, driven her out here, humiliated her. She hurried by, and her face was… bereft.

I rolled down my window, and called out. She turned on the curb and stood looking at me, her bag held in front of her, like she expected to get hit.

“Queen of Hearts?” I asked. “I was always a sucker for her.”

She didn’t say anything. I kept babbling, without a plan.

“The costumes you make yourself are the best. Buying a mask in the dime store always seemed like cheating, to me.”

I glanced in the rear view mirror. There were no headlights behind me, so I leaned out of the window. Her gaze was miserable.

“I’ll tell you something,” I said. “Sometimes you just do what you want, you know? You do what you need to, and screw what everyone else thinks. If they don’t understand, then to hell with them.”

She wheeled and started walking quickly up the sidewalk, away from me. I sat and watched her disappear.

“You’re a beauty,” I called after her. “Don’t let the bastards make you forget it.”

She was gone, though, and couldn’t hear me. I looked at the empty seat behind me and wished Annie Kahlo was here, but she was gone, too. She loved the strange and neglected ones, and she would made it all right. Annie might even have made the girl smile.

My heart broke a little, missing her.

“Who’s going to be the hero?” I whispered. “Not me… not this time.”

No one answered, so I let the clutch out and drove on.

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