He  put  the  gun back into the bureau drawer and shut the drawer.
   No,  not  that  way.  Louise wouldn't suffer. It was very important
that   this   thing   have,   above  all  duration.  Duration  through
imagination. How to prolong the suffering? How, first of all, to bring
it about? Well.
   The  man  standing  before  the bedroom mirror carefully fitted his
cuff-links together. He paused long enough to hear the children run by
switftly on the street below, outside this warm two-storey house, like
so many grey mice the children, like so many leaves.
   By  the  sound  of the children you knew the calendar day. By their
screams you knew what evening it was. You knew it was very late in the
year.  October. The last day of October, with white bone masks and cut
pumpkins and the smell of dropped candle wax.
   No.  Things  hadn't  been  right for some time. October didn't help
any.  If anything it made things worse. He adjusted his black bow-tie.
If  this were spring, he nodded slowly, quietly, emotionlessly, at his
image in the mirror, then there might be a chance. But tonight all the
world  was  burning down into ruin. There was no green spring, none of
the freshness, none of the promise.
   There  was  a  soft  running  in the hall. "That's Marion", he told
himself.  "My'little one". All eight quiet years of her. Never a word.
Just  her  luminous  grey  eyes  and  her  wondering little mouth. His
daughter  had  been  in  and out all evening, trying on various masks,
asking  him  which  was  most terrifying, most horrible. They had both
finally  decided  on  the skeleton mask. It was 'just awful!' It would
'scare the beans' from people!
   Again  he  caught the long look of thought and deliberation he gave
himself in the mirror. He had never liked October. Ever since he first
lay  in the autumn leaves before his granmother's house many years ago
and  heard  the  wind  and  sway the empty trees. It has made him cry,
without  a  reason. And a little of that sadness returned each year to
him.  It  always went away with spring. But, it was different tonight.
There  was  a  feeling of autumn coming to last a million years. There
would be no spring.
   He  had  been  crying  quietly  all evening. It did not show, not a
vesitge  of  it,  on  his  face.  It  was  all hidden somewhere and it
wouldn't stop.
   The  rich  syrupy smell of sweets filled the bustling house. Louise
had  laid  out apples in new skins of toffee; there were vast bowls of
punch  fresh-mixed,  stringed  apples  in  each  door, scooped, vented
pumpkins peering triangularly from each cold window. There was a water
tub  in  the centre of the living room, waiting, with a sack of apples
nearby,  for  dunking  to begin. All that was needed was the catalyst,
the  impouring  of children, to start the apples bobbing, the srtinged
apples  to penduluming in the crowded doors, the sweets to vanish, the
halls to echo with fright or delight, it was all the same.
   Now,  the house was silent with preparation. And just a little more
than that.
   Louise  had  managed to be in every other room save the room he was
in  today.  It  was her very fine way of intimating, Oh look Mich, see
how  busy  I am! So busy that when you walk into a room I'm in there's
always  something  I  need  to do in another room! Just see how I dash
about!
   For  a while he had played a little game with her, a nasty childish
game.  When  she  was  in  the  kitchen  then  he  came to the kitchen
saying,  'I  need  a  glass  of  water.'  After a moment, he standing,
drinking  water,  she  like  a  crystal  witch  over  the caramel brew
bubbling like a prehistoric mudpot on the stove, she said, 'Oh, I must
light  the  pumpkins!'  and  she rushed to the living room to make the
pumpkins  smile  with  light.  He  came after, smiling, 'I must get my
pipe.'  'Oh,  the  cider!'  she had cried, running to the dining room.
'I'll  check  the cider,' he had said. But when he tried following she
ran to the bathroom and locked the door.
   He   stood  outside  the  bathroom  door,  laughing  strangely  and
senselessly,  his  pipe gone cold in his mouth, and then, tired of the
game,  but  stubborn,  he waited another five minutes. There was not a
sound  from  the  bath.  And lest she enjoy in any way knowing that he
waited  outside,  irritated,  he  suddenly  jerked  about  and  walked
upstairs, whistling merrily.
   At  the  top  of the stairs he had waited. Finally he had heard the
bathroom  door  unlatch and she had come out and life below-stairs and
resumed,  as  life in a jungle must resume once a terror has passed on
away and the antelope return to their spring.
   Now,  as  he finished his bow-tie and put his dark coat there was a
mouse-rustle  in  the hall. Marion appeared in the door, all skeletons
in her disguise.
'How do I look, Papa?'
'Fine!'
   From  under  the  mask,  blonde hair showed. From the skull sockets
small  blue  eyes smiled. He sighed. Marion and Louise, the two silent
denouncers  of  his  virility,  his dark power. What alchemy had there
been  in Louise that took the dark of a dark man and bleached the dark
brown eyes and black hair and washed and bleached the ingrown baby all
during  the  period  before  birth  until  the child was born, Marion,
blonde,  blue-eyed,  ruddy-cheeked? Sometimes he suspected that Louise
had  conceived the child as an idea, completely asexual, an immaculate
conception  of contemptuous mind and cell. As a firm rebuke to him she
had produced a child in her own image, and, to top it, she had somehow
fixed  the  doctor  so  he shook his head and said, 'Sorry, Mr Wilder,
your wife will never have another child. This is the last one.'
'And I wanted a boy,' Mich had said eight years ago.
   He  almost  bent  to take hold of Marion now, in her skull mask. He
felt an inexplicable rush of pity for her, because she had never had a
father's  love,  only the crushing, holding love of a loveless mother.
But  most  of  all he pitied himself, that somehow he had not made the
most  of  a bad birth, enjoyed his daughter for herself, regardless of
her not being dark and a son and like himself. Somewhere he had missed
out.  Other  things  being  equal,  he would have loved the child. But
Louise hadn't wanted a child, anyway, in the first place. She had been
frightened  of  the idea of birth. He had forced the child on her, and
from  that  night,  all  through the year until the agony of the birth
itself,  Louise  had  lived  in  another  part  of  the house. She had
expected  to  die  with  the  forced  child. It had been very easy for
Louise  to hate this husband who so wanted a son that he gave his only
wife over to the mortuary.
   But  -  Louise had lived. And in truimph! Her eyes, the day he came
to  the  hospital, were cold. I'm alive they said. And I have a blonde
daughter!  Just  look!  And  when  he had put out a hand to touch, the
mother  had turned away to conspire with her new pink daughter-child -
away  from  that dark forcing murderer. It had all been so beautifully
ironic. His selfishness deserved it.
   But  now  it  was  October again. There had been other Octobers and
when he thought of the long winter he had been filled with horror year
after  year  to think of the endless months mortared into the house by
an  insane  fall  of  snow, trapped with a woman and child, neither of
whom  loved  him,  for months on end. During the eight years there had
been  respites.  In spring and summer you got out, walked, picknicked;
these  were  desperate  solutions  to the desperate problem of a hated
man.
   But,  in  winter,  the hikes and picnics and escapes fell away with
leaves.  Life, like a tree, stood empty, the fruit picked, the sap run
to  earth.  Yes, you invited people in, but people were hard to get in
winter  with blizzards and all. Once he had been clever enough to save
for a Florida trip. They had gone south. He had walked in the open.
   But  now,  the eighth winter coming, he knew things were finally at
an  end.  He simply could not wear this one through. There was an acid
walled  off  in him that slowly had eaten through tissue and bone over
the  years, and now, tonight, it would reach the wild explosive in him
and all would be over!
   There was a mad ringing of the bell below. In the hall, Louise went
to  see. Marion, without a word, ran down to greet the first arrivals.
There were shouts and hilarity.
   He walked to the top of the stairs.
   Louise  was  below,  taking  cloaks.  She  was tall and slender and
blonde to the point of whiteness, laughing down upon the new children.
   He  hesitated. What was all this? The years? The boredom of living?
Where  had  it  gone  wrong? Certainly not with the birth of the child
alone.  But  it  had been a symbol of all their tensions, he imagined.
His  jealousies  and  his business failures and all the rotten rest of
it.  Why  didn't  he  just  turn,  pack a suitcase, and leave? No. Not
without  hurting  Louise as much as she had hurt him. It was simple as
that.  Divorce  wouldn't hurt her at all. It would simply be an end to
numb  indecision. If he thought divorce would give her pleasure in any
way  he  would  stay  married  the rest of his life to her, for damned
spite.  No  he must hurt her. Figure some way, perhaps, to take Marion
away from her, legally. Yes. That was it. That would hurt most of all.
To take Marion.
'Hello down there!' He descended the stairs beaming.
Louise didn't look up.
'Hi, Mr Wilder!'
The children shouted, waved, as he came down.
   By  ten  o'clock  the doorbell had stopped ringing, the apples were
bitten  from  stringed  doors,  the pink faces were wiped dry from the
apple  bobbling,  napkins  were smeared with toffee and punch, and he,
the  husband,  with  pleasant  efficiency  had taken over. He took the
party  right out of Louise's hands. He ran about talking to the twenty
children  and  the twelve parents who had come and were happy with the
special  spiked cider he had fixed them. He supervised pin the tail on
the  donkey,  spin  the bottle, musical chairs, and all the rest, amid
fits of shouting laughter. Then, in the triangular-eyed pumpkin shine,
all  house  lights out, he cried, 'Hush! Follow me!' tiptoeing towards
the cellar.
   The parents, on the outer periphery of the costumed riot, commented
to  each  other,  nodding at the clever husband, speaking to the lucky
wife. How well he got on with children, they said.
   The children, crowded after the husband, squealing.
   'The cellar!' he cried. 'The tomb of the witch!'
   More  squealing.  He  made  a mock shiver. 'Abandon hope all ye who
enter here!'
   The parents chuckled.
   One  by  one the children slid down a slide which Mich had fixed up
from  lengths  of  table-section,  into the dark cellar. He hissed and
shouted ghastly utterances after them. A wonderful wailing filled dark
pumpkin-lighted house. Everybody talked at once. Everybody but Marion.
She had gone through all the party with a minimum of sound or talk; it
was  all  inside her, all the excitement and joy. What a little troll,
he  thought.  With a shut mouth and shiny eyes she had watched her own
party, like so many serpentines thrown before her.
   Now, the parents. With laughing reluctance they slid down the short
incline,  uproarious,  while little Marion stood by, always wanting to
see it all, to be last. Louise went down without help. He moved to aid
her, but she was gone even before he bent.
   The  upper  house  was empty and silent in the candle-shine. Marion
stood by the slide. 'Here we go,' he said, and picked her up.
   They  sat  in  a  vast  circle  in the cellar. Warmth came from the
distant  bulk  of  the  furnace. The chairs stood in a long line along
each  wall,  twenty  squealing  children,  twelve  rustling relatives,
alternatively spaced, with Louise down at the far end, Mich up at this
end,  near the stairs. He peered but saw nothing. They had all grouped
to  their  chairs,  catch-as-you-can  in  the  blackness.  The  entire

programme  from  here  on  was  to  be  enacted  in the dark, he as Mr
Interlocutor.  There  was  a child scampering, a smell of damp cement,
and the sound of the wind out in the October stars.
   'Now!' cried the husband in the dark cellar. 'Quiet!'
   Everybody settled.
   The  room was black black. Not a light, not a shine, not a glint of
an eye.
   A scraping of crockery, a metal rattle.
   'The witch is dead,' intoned the husband.
   'Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee,' said the children.
   'The  witch is dead, she has been killed, and here is the knife she
was killed with.' He handed over the knife. It was passed from hand to
hand,  down  and around the circle, with chuckles and little odd cries
and comments from the adults.
   'The  witch  is dead, and this is her head,' whispered the husband,
and handed an item to the nearest person.
   'Oh, I know how this game is played,' some child cried, happily, in
the  dark. 'He gets some old chicken innards from the icebox and hands
them  around  and  says,  "These are her innards!" And he makes a clay
head  and  passes it for her head, and passes a soup bone for her arm.
And  he  takes a marble and says, "This is her eye!" And he takes some
corn  and  says,  "This  is  her  teeth!"  And he takes a sack of plum
pudding  and  gives  that and says, "This is her stomach!&" I know how
this is played!'
   'Hush, you'll spoil everything,' some girl said.
   'The witch came to harm, and this is her arm,' said Mich.
   'Eeeeeeeeeeee!'
   The  items  were  passed  and passed, like hot potatoes, around the
cirle.  Some  children  screamed,  wouldn't  touch them. Some ran from
their  chairs  to  stand  in the centre of the cellar until the grisly
items had passed.
   'Aw, it's only chicken insides,' scoffed a boy. 'Come back, Helen!'
   Shot  from  hand to hand, with small scream after scream, the items
went down, down, to be followed by another and another.
   'The witch cut apart, and this is her heart,' said the husband.
   Six  or  seven items moving at once through the laughing, trembling
dark.
   Louise spoke up. 'Marion, don't be afraid; it's only play."
   Marion didn't say anything.
   'Marion?, asked Louise. 'Are you afraid?'
   Marion didn't speak.
   'She's all right,' said the husband. 'She's not afraid.'
   On and on the passing, the screams, the hilarity.
   The  autumn  wind sighed about the house. And he, the husband stood
at  the  head  of the dark cellar, intoning the words, handing out the
items.
   'Marion?' asked Louise again, from far across the cellar.
   Everybody was talking.
   'Marion?' called Louise.
   Everybody quieted.
   'Marion, answer me, are you afraid?'
   Marion didn't answer.
   The husband stood there, at the bottom of the cellar steps.
   Louise called 'Marion, are you there?'
   No answer. The room was silent.
   'Where's Marion?' called Louise.
   'She was here', said a boy.
   'Maybe she's upstairs.'
   'Marion!'
   No answer. It was quiet.
   Louise cried out, 'Marion, Marion!'
   'Turn on the lights,' said one of the adults.
   The  items  stopped  passing.  The children and adults sat with the
witch's items in their hands.
   'No.'  Louise gasped. There was a scraping of her chair, wildly, in
the dark. 'No. Don't turn on the lights, oh, God, God, God, don't turn
them on, please, don't turn on the lights, don't!.Louise was shrieking
now. The entire cellar froze with the scream.
   Nobody moved.
   Everyone  sat  in the dark cellar, suspended in the suddenly frozen
task  of  this October game; the wind blew outside, banging the house,
the smell of pumpkins and apples filled the room with the smell of the
objects  in  their  fingers while one boy cried, 'I'll go upstairs and
look!'  and  he  ran upstairs hopefully and out around the house, four
times  around  the  house, calling, 'Marion, Marion, Marion!' over and
over  and  at  last  coming  slowly  down  the stairs into the waiting
breathing cellar and saying to the darkenss, 'I can't find her.'

   Then ...... some idiot turned on the lights.


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