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Suzanne Beecher

Dear Reader,

Due to hurricane Ian delays, the winning columns of 18th Annual Write a DearReader Contest will now be featured the week of November 14th. Stay tuned!

Last night my husband went to the wholesale club store and when he came back home he proudly showed me a "Value Bag of Child's Playtime Candy"--5 1/3 pounds of candy: Tootsie Roll Juniors, Tootsie Pops, Tootsie Roll Midgees, Tootsie Fruit Rolls, Tootsie Snack Bars and Mini Dots (made by Tootsie Roll, who else?) There were 200 pieces of candy in the bag--I counted them. Well, 204 to be exact, minus the lollipop in my mouth and the three other pieces of candy I snuck out of the bag, before my husband suggested we make a pact, not to open the bag, until Halloween, so we wouldn't be tempted. 

But I was--tempted. (Tootsie Rolls are just as good as I remember them.)

My husband longs for the good old days when it comes to Halloween, and I admit so do I. It's fun when kids come to our door and we get to hand out candy. But the good old days are gone, because here's the reality of our Halloween statistics: five years ago 35 kids showed up, four years ago 27, the year after that 20, two years ago 11 and last year 6 teenagers knocked on our door and said, "Trick or treat." And if the trick or treat market continues its steady decline this year, we can expect two kids to holler "Trick or Treat!"

Okay, I'll be generous for my husband's sake and think positive--probably three tiny tots will show up at our door this year for Tootsie Treats. And if I don't want to be eating Halloween candy until July, that means in order to get rid of the 5 1/3 pounds of Tootsie treats, my dear husband bought, we'd need to give each of the three kids 66.6 pieces of candy--I hope they're each carrying a big sturdy bag.

But my husband is hopeful, insisting we could beat the odds this year, "Maybe a family with children will move into our neighborhood the week before Halloween."

"Yes Dear, or we might get lucky and a dad who's driving his son's Boy Scout troop around to trick or treat might run out of gas in front of our house. You're right Dear, anything's possible."

In the meantime, I think I'll find three Halloween Candy Bags that are strong enough to hold 66.6 pieces of candy!

Thanks for reading with me. It's so good to read with friends.

suzanne Beecher

P. S. This week we're giving away 10 copies of the book Signal Fires: A Novel by Dani Shapiro. Click here to enter for your chance to win. 

August 27, 1985

Sarah and Theo

And it's nothing, really, or might be nothing, or ought to be nothing, as he leans his head forward to press the tip of his cigarette to the car's lighter. It sizzles on contact, a sound particular to its brief moment in history, in which cars have lighters and otherwise sensible fifteen-year-olds choke down Marlboro Reds and drive their mothers' Buicks without so much as a learner's permit. There's a girl he wants to impress. Her name is Misty Zimmerman, and if she lives through this night, she will grow up to be a magazine editor, or a high school teacher, or a defense lawyer. She will be a mother of three or remain childless. She will die young of ovarian cancer or live to know her great-grandchildren.

But these are only a few possible arcs to a life, a handful of shooting stars in the night sky. Change one thing and everything changes. A tremor here sets off an earthquake there. A fault line deepens. A wire gets tripped. His foot on the gas. He doesn't really know what he's doing, but that won't stop him. He's all jacked up just like a fifteen-year-old boy. He has something to prove. To himself. To Misty. To his sister. It's as if he's following a script written in Braille, his fingers running across code he doesn't understand.

"Theo, slow down." That's his sister, Sarah, from the backseat. Misty's riding shotgun.

It was Sarah who tossed him the keys to their mom's car. Sarah, age seventeen. After this night, she will become unknowable to him. The summer sky is a veil thrown over the moon and stars. The streets are quiet, the good people of Avalon long since tucked in for the night. Their own parents are asleep in their queen-size bed under the plaid afghan knitted by one of their father's patients. His mom is a deep sleeper, but his dad has been trained by a lifetime as a doctor to bolt awake at the slightest provocation. He is always ready.

The teenagers aren't looking for trouble. They're good kids-everyone would say so. But they're bored; it's the end of summer; school will resume next week. Sarah's going into her senior year, after which she'll be gone. She's a superstar, his sister. Varsity this, honors that. Bristling with potential. Theo has three years left, and he's barely made a mark. He's a chubby kid whose default is silence and shame. He blushes easily. He can feel his cheeks redden as he holds the lighter and inhales, hears the sizzle, draws smoke deep into his lungs. His father—a pulmonary surgeon—would kill him. Maybe that's why Sarah threw him the keys. Maybe she's trying to help—to get him to act, goddamnit. To take a risk. Better to be bad than to be nothing.

Misty Zimmerman is just a girl along for the ride. It was Sarah who asked her to come. Sarah, doing for Theo what Theo cannot do for himself. Change one thing and everything changes. The Buick speeds down Poplar Street. Misty stretches and yawns in the passenger seat. Theo turns left, then right. He's getting the hang of this. He flicks the directional, then heads onto the parkway. As they pass the mall, he looks to see if Burger King is still open.

"Watch it!" Sarah yells.

He swerves back into his lane, heart racing. He almost hit the guardrail. He gets off the parkway at the next exit and eases up on the gas. This was maybe a bad idea. He wants to go home. He also wants another cigarette.

"Pull over," Sarah says. "I'll drive."

Theo looks for a good spot to stop. He has no idea how to park.

Sarah's right—this is stupid.

"Actually no, forget it. I shouldn't," she says.

They're almost home. It's like a song in his head: Almost home, almost home, almost home. Just a few blocks to go. They pass the Hellers' house, the Chertoffs'.

As he leans forward, the lighter slips through Theo's fingers and drops into his open shirt collar. He lets out a yelp and tries to grab it, which only makes matters worse. He arches his back to shake the burning metal thing loose, but it's wedged between his shorts and his belly. The smell of singed flesh. A perfect shiny half-moon will remain. Years from now, when a lover traces the scar on his stomach and asks how he got it, he will roll away. But now—now their futures shoot like gamma rays from the moving car. Three high school students. What if Sarah had gone out with her friends instead, that night? What if Misty had begged off? What if Theo had succumbed to his usual way of being, and fixed himself a salami sandwich with lots of mustard and taken it with him to bed?

The wheel spins. The screams of teenagers in the night. Theo no stop jesus fuck help god and there is no screech of brakes—nothing to blunt the impact. A concussion of metal and an ancient oak: the sound of two worlds colliding.

The fender and right side of the Buick crumple like it's a toy and this is all make-believe. Upstairs, on the second floor of Benjamin and Mimi Wilf's home, a light blinks on. A window opens. Ben Wilf stares down at the scene below for a fraction of a second. By the time he's made it to the front door, his daughter, Sarah, is standing before him—thank god thank god thank god—her tee shirt and her face splattered with blood. Theo is on all fours on the ground. He seems to be in one piece. Thank god thank god thank god. But then—

"There's a girl in the car, Dad—"

Misty Zimmerman is unconscious. She isn't wearing a seat belt—who wears seat belts?—and there's a gash in her forehead from which blood is gushing. There's no time to call an ambulance. If they wait for EMTs to get here, the girl will be gone. So Ben does what's necessary. He leans into the driver's door, hooks two hands beneath the girl's armpits, and drags her out.

"Your shirt, Theo!" he barks.

Theo's belly roils. He's about to be sick. He pulls his shirt off and throws it to his father. Ben lifts Misty's head, then wraps the shirt tightly around her skull in a tourniquet. His mind has gone slow and quiet. He's a very good doctor. He feels for the girl's pulse.

Mimi is on the front steps now, her nightgown billowing in the wind that seems to have kicked up out of nowhere.

"What happened?" Mimi screams. "Sarah? Theo?"

"It was me, Mom," Sarah says. "I was driving." Theo stares at his sister.

"That doesn't matter now," Ben says softly.

Up and down Division Street, their neighbors have awakened. The crash, the voices, the electricity in the air. Someone must have called it in. In the distance, the wail of a siren. Ben knows before he knows, in that deep instinctual way. He couldn't see in the dark when he dragged the girl out of the car. He registered only the head wound, the uncontrollable bleeding. He now knows: her neck is broken. And he has done the worst thing imaginable. He has moved her. In the days to come, he will tell the story to the authorities, to the life-support team, to Misty's parents. The story—that Sarah was driving, with Misty riding shotgun and Theo in the backseat-will not be questioned. Not this night, not ever. It will become the deepest kind of family secret, one so dangerous that it will never be spoken.

December 21, 2010


The boy is at his window again. It is 10:45 at night, surely a time boys his age—he is nearing his eleventh birthday—should be asleep in their beds, dreaming their twitchy, colt-like dreams. But instead, like clockwork, here he is: dark hair glimmering in the light cast by the full moon, small hands grasping the windowsill, his thin neck craned upward through the open window, searching the sky. The boy's breath makes vaporous clouds in the cold. Now he picks up that gadget, pointing it this way and that like a compass, its eerie, milky-blue glow illuminating his pale face. What the hell is he doing? It's all Ben can do not to open his own window and yell across Division Street to the kid: Be careful! The words are in his throat.

Where are your parents?

But he can see the parents too, the entire house, except for the boy's room, lit up in the night like a love letter to Con Ed. The mother sits at the kitchen table, bent over a magazine, a wineglass near her elbow. The shape of the father can be made out in the gym they built over the garage. The man is rowing like a maniac, as if propelling himself toward a drowning person.

The house across the street used to belong to the Platts, and before that, to the McCarthys. Back when he and Mimi had first moved into the neighborhood, when Division Street actually divided (though it was considered rude to talk about it) the more desirable part of town from the houses closer to the train station, there were no home gym additions, no pool houses like the one that seemed to spring up overnight behind the Berkelhammers' old house, no outdoor fireplaces and elaborate sound systems built into mossy stone walls.

A lone car slowly makes its way down Division and turns on Poplar. In the distance, the yowling of a cat. The stiff leaves from the holly bush scrape against the kitchen window downstairs. Ben had meant to ask the gardener to dig it up last fall before it rotted any more of the house's old clapboards, but with everything else going on, it had slipped his mind. Now, it's about to be somebody else's problem. The new owners, a couple he hasn't met, are relocating from Cleveland. Along with two small children. And one of those sad-eyed basset hounds.

(continued on Tuesday)

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