S. Tierney, “Grandpa”

Every Halloween, Grandpa and me go trick-or-treating together.
This year I’m dressed as a necromancer, with black eyes and a
big pretend nose and everything. The veil I’m wearing is my mum’s,
the black one she wears for funerals and watching the horses; the
gown is all ripped and hasn’t fit my sister since her accident, so she
says I can have it; I borrowed the false nails from the cleaning lady
at school (as long as I promise to give them back); and the skull, the
one tucked under my arm, that’s Grandpa’s. (I wanted a cat, but we
couldn’t catch one.)
Grandpa always dresses as a ghost. He jokes, “When you’re
as old as I am, you don’t need a costume.” (He does really; it’s
Granny’s bed sheet with two eyeholes ripped in the middle.) “If she
isn’t lying on it, I might as well wear it.” Grandpa says the strangest
things. But he says we’ll give all the residents a good fright tonight
and get lots of treats. To help us see where we’re going, he’s brought
a candle. The other ‘trickers’ on the streets prefer flashlights: lighter,
brighter, and you don’t need to worry about tucking your sheet
under your chin to stop it catching on fire. Also, when the weather’s
gusty, a flashlight doesn’t blow out. But Grandpa is adamant:
“Candles don’t need batteries! And no, they don’t blow out,
not if you keep your teeth together.”
Strange things…
At the end of our street there is a big house, with big windows
and a big garden which goes all the way around. Mr. and Mrs. Bury
live here, alone. Just like their house, they are both very big. “Which
means they’ll have treats. Unless they’ve scoffed them all already,
big buggers.”
With Grandpa keeping watch from his eyeholes, we sneak
up to the front door. I call through the letterbox, “Trick or treat!”
Heavy footsteps, the door opens, and we’re greeted by lounge light,
the aroma of baking, and the big Mrs. Bury.
“Good gracious! A witch? At this hour?” she gasps, clasping
her hand to her heart. “Words escape me! And what could be
glowing under that sheet? A lantern?”
“It’s a ghost. A ghoooost,” I say in my best ghost voice. As
a rule, Grandpa doesn’t waste his breath on strangers. Even when
he’s a ghost. “And I’m not a witch,” I correct Mrs. Bury, “I’m a
“Are you now? Then you won’t want any treats. Necromancers
don’t like treats. It’s poison to them. Everyone knows that.”
I didn’t.
“Such a pity,” Mrs. Bury sighs, “I’ve gone and wasted the
entire afternoon baking sweet goodies for nothing. Oh well, I guess
I’ll just have to throw them all–”
“No!” I shriek, lifting my veil and pretend nose. “It’s me,
Jenny Hindley. From number thirty-three. Look!”
“Well, that changes things,” Mrs. Bury smiles, producing
from behind her back a tray of steaming, golden-brown gingerbread
men. “Go ahead, my dear, take as many as you like.”
I do. I really like gingerbread. “And so does my grandpa.”
“Then you must take some home for him. Wait there, I have
a cookie jar you can borrow. It’s around here somewhere.”
“That’s okay, Mrs. Bury,” I say, pulling back the bed sheet
and offering up Grandpa’s skull. “They’ll be safe in here.”
Mrs. Bury looks uncertain. “But there’s a candle in there, dear.”
“Oh, I’ll take it out.” I also extinguish the candle, just to be
safe. Mrs. Bury still looks uncertain, even a little surprised, but, at
my insistence, she begins filling the skull.
“When you next see your grandfather, be sure to ask him
what he thinks of my gingerbread.”
“Why wait?”
I lift up the skull, and ask:
“Do you like Mrs. Bury’s gingerbread, Grandpa?”
Seeing that I’ve pressed Grandpa to my ear, as though he
were a smelly old seashell, I explain to the very surprised Mrs. Bury,
“He’s very old, and speaks very softly. He’ll only speak to me when
no one’s– what’s that? Super delicious? Good and chewy, just the
way you like it, so much so,” I turn to Mrs. Bury, “that Grandpa
wants to take it all. Please.”
Mrs. Bury clutches her heart again; her big mouth is hanging
open. Similarly, I open Grandpa’s jaw all the way until the bone
makes a clicking sound, like the sound your finger makes when you
pull it back too far. Grandpa doesn’t mind. “I’m used to it.” This
doesn’t seem to reassure Mrs. Bury; even with my help she struggles
to put all the little men into Grandpa’s mouth without dropping
them, or knocking their little legs against Grandpa’s two remaining
teeth. One of the teeth pops out and bounces down the path like a
little rusty coin. When I comfort Grandpa with a kiss on his bullet
hole, Mrs. Bury trembles uncontrollably.
“Are you cold, big lady?”
I reach inside Grandpa’s mouth, all the way in.
“Perhaps a nice warm gingerbread man would–”
“No, that’s alright, dear,” Mrs. Bury gulps, staring at me and
Grandpa like she’s seen a ghost – like an actual ghost. “I’ll just go
back inside. You run along, now. You and your…grandpa.”
“We will,” I call over my shoulder, skipping away down the
path. “Say goodbye to Mrs. Bury, Grandpa.”
“Goodbye to Mrs. Bury, Grandpa,” he cackles, spitting
gingerbread limbs all over her lawn. “Hey, don’t forget my tooth!”
Mrs. Bury latches the door. The curtains behind her big
windows snap together. Me and Grandpa hurry along to the next
house: Mr. and Mrs. Bannister. Like Mr. and Mrs. Bury, they are
also childless. But they make tofu in the shape of eyeballs, Grandpa’s
favourite. “You’ll have to chew’em for me, though.”
I can’t help but laugh.
“Grandpa, you’re so strange.”

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