Hardtimes
Chapter 7

Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac

Halloween showed up at Burl’s house big time. The whole front yard was decorated like a cemetery with tombstones sporting humorous little sayings. Fog flowed over the ground and spooky noises originated from speakers that had been carefully placed out of sight.

Burl, dressed up like a farmer in overalls with a straw hat, was seated in a lawn chair in front of the house. He had a big plastic pumpkin filled with candy bars and a pot of hot cider on a television stand next to his chair. It didn’t take much imagination to know that his house was a favorite stop for kids and their parents. The kids loved the candy and the parents enjoyed the hot cider.

His first visitors were George, Junior, and Maggie. Maggie was pushing a stroller. Being too young to wear a real costume, Junior was wearing a superman bib. It was kind of cute.

“Hey, Burl,” George said.

“Hello, Maggie, George, and Junior,” Burl said.

George looked at all of the Halloween decor. He asked, “Have you got enough stuff here?”

“Maybe,” Burl said.

“How did you get all of this stuff? You didn’t have it last year,” George said.

“Last year I bought the last of the stock from Maxwell at the mall. I got Halloween and Christmas stuff at about ten cents on the dollar,” Burl answered.

He had purchased a hundred dollar fog machine for ten dollars. All of the headstones had come to five dollars. The plastic pumpkin had come to a dollar. The skeleton in the corner that made spooky sounds had been two dollars. He had gotten even more stuff for Christmas.

“That’s a good deal,” Maggie said.

“If you tell me what you want, I’ll see if I can get it for you. It’ll have to be after Christmas though,” Burl said.

“That would be great,” Maggie said.

“I’ll let you know what he’s got left,” Burl said.

Knowing the answer to his question, George pointed over at the pot and asked, “What’s that?”

Burl answered, “Hot apple cider. Have some.”

“Will do,” George said.

“Who’s handing out candy at your place?” Burl asked.

Some of the older kids were liable to throw eggs at houses that didn’t hand out candy. It hadn’t been that long ago when he or George could have been the ones throwing eggs. They had never done it, but a lot of other kids they knew had.

“Me,” George said. “I can get back there before anyone gets to the house.”

“The older kids won’t be along until later,” Burl said.

“I know,” George said. He held out a cup of hot cider for Maggie.

Maggie rocked Junior by pushing the stroller back and forth a little. She took the cup of cider from George and took a sip.

“This is good,” Maggie said.

Burl said, “It’s my Mom’s recipe.”

“You’ll have to give it to me,” Maggie said.

Burl pulled a piece of paper out of the top pocket of his overalls. While handing it over to her, he said, “Last year I had so many requests for it that I printed up a couple dozen copies.”

“Thanks,” Maggie said while slipping it into the diaper bag hanging from the stroller.

“You’re welcome,” Burl said.

Maggie said, “I’d better get next door. I’m sure that Herbie is ready to head out trick or treating.”

“The kid has a great costume – Captain America,” Burl said.

“How did Kat afford that?” Maggie asked.

Burl said, “I stopped by the Halloween store and picked it up for him. Maxwell was discounting everything by then.”

“That was nice of you,” Maggie said.

“It was just a couple of bucks,” Burl said dismissively.

George shook his head thinking that it was likely to have been more than a couple of bucks. Burl had spent a hundred dollars helping Laura get a brake job and a new spare tire. He doubted Laura even knew about it since all she had been charged for were the parts for a long overdue oil change. He hoped that Burl had gotten laid out of the deal, but he doubted it.

“See ya’ later,” Maggie said heading over to Kat’s house. She was going to hand out candy while Kat took Herbie trick or treating.

“I’ll be right here in case you have a problem,” Burl called after her.

“You’re always around when someone has a problem,” George said.

“If you can help, you help,” Burl said summing up his lifestyle in one sentence.

“Have you heard from Laura?” George asked.

“I got a letter from her. She made it to California. She says that there are a lot of buskers there, but she’s added storytelling to her repertoire and manages to collect a pretty good crowd,” Burl said.

He had been very surprised to get a letter from her. It had been a long letter. She wrote about her trip across the country and the stops she had made along the way. She described some of the people she met. It seemed to him that she had run into quite a few characters. There had been one teenage fellow who tried to build a house out of plastic bottles as a school project. Thinking that he would be clever, he had filled them with water to give them a little weight and strength. Everything was great until the first freeze when all of the bottles burst. An entire wall of the house had come down. He was rebuilding it using sand to fill the bottles.

“That’s nice,” George said.

“She’s going to do okay,” Burl said.

“I’m sure she will,” George said.

The door next door opened and Captain America came charging out holding an empty pillowcase. He ran directly for Burl shouting, “Uncle Burl, I’m Captain America.”

“You sure are,” Burl said laughing at Herbie’s enthusiasm.

“Mommy kept telling me that I was going to have to go as a ghost because she couldn’t afford a costume, but this morning she had this one for me. Isn’t that great?” Herbie said excitedly.

The ghost costume would have come from an old sheet with a couple of holes cut in it for eyes. He had nearly died on seeing the simple Captain America costume.

“That is great,” Burl said. “Now aren’t you supposed to say something when you go door to door?”

“Oh, yeah. Trick or treat!” Herbie shouted.

“I’ve got some treats over in that plastic pumpkin for you,” Burl said.

Herbie ran over to the plastic pumpkin and looked inside. He could hardly believe his eyes – there were a half dozen varieties of chocolate bars. Now he was faced with the problem of choosing which kind to take.

Turning to Kat, Burl added, “I’ve got some hot apple cider if you’re interested.”

“Thanks, Burl. Thanks for everything,” Kat said watching Herbie pick through the candy in the pumpkin.

“My pleasure,” Burl said.

George looked down the street and said, “The kids are starting to come out. I better get back to the house.”

“Good move,” Burl said.

Kat said, “I’ll be over there in a few minutes.”

George returned to the house pushing the stroller. He was going to watch Junior while Maggie handed out candy at Kat’s house. Maggie had come down with a bad case of cabin fever and wanted a little time out of the house. George was only too happy to spend a little time at home with Junior.

For the next hour, young mothers with their even younger children stopped by the house. The kids went ape over the candy while the mothers appreciated the apple cider. A good percentage of the mothers were single, but none eyed Burl with any real interest. Everyone knew Burl. Everyone liked Burl, just not in that way.

Next door, Maggie handed out candy listening to the women discuss Burl. The core of their comments were positive. After all, they were talking about Burl who would help anyone when there was a need. Despite that, all of the women couldn’t keep from making negative comments about his appearance.

There were a few single women who complained about how hard it was to find a nice guy. Maggie was tempted to point out that Burl was a nice guy, but she knew how they would react. It was always the same – he’s like a brother and dating him would be icky.

Of all of the women in the neighborhood, Maggie knew Burl better than anyone other than Kat. She felt that if anything happened to George that Burl would be the first guy she would turn to for comfort. Her opinion of her own gender was getting lower with every negative comment the women made about Burl’s appearance.

It was starting to get dark and the older kids started making their appearance. Rather than mothers or fathers escorting their one or two young children, there would be one adult watching a herd of kids. It was always the same.

Maggie was handing out candy to a pack of kids when Kat returned with Herbie. The pillowcase wasn’t exactly billowing with candy, but it was enough to excite Herbie. He could hardly wait to get inside to survey his take for the night. Maggie opened the door and let him into the house while warning him not to eat anything until she had a chance to check the candy.

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