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Jenny Bitner

How I Saved My Mother's Life

"But some mothers are worried," I say. "Some mothers arenít letting kids go out this year."

"Oh," my mother says, "Iím not worried. I always went out. This is Middletown. Iíll look the candy over when you get home if you want."

It is Halloween and I am ten, but the difference between this Halloween and other Halloweens is that lately people have been dying from cyanide in Tylenol. Someone is tampering with the bottles. Perfectly healthy people, with only a headache, have been given this medicine and died. I donít know if my mother understands the gravity of the situation. The person who did it is still in the world, so are copycat poisoners, copycat poisoners who might decide that Halloween is the perfect chance to do their dirty work.

I am dressed as a gypsy. I go as a gypsy about every other year because itís so easy. I just put on a lot of my momís jewelry and a flowing skirt and rouge on my cheeks. I think that my mother likes it when Iím a gypsy. She has some framed prints on her wall of gypsy children with dark, handsome looks and I think she wishes they were her children. I am blonde and pale-skinned.

My mother makes my sister take me trick-or-treating even though she would rather go with her friends. We live in a neighborhood with lots of kids, so just about every house has people at the door giving out candy: women dressed as witches; old men sitting in the yard on a rocking chair with an axe next to a lawn ornament of a duck; sexy younger mothers dressed as French maids. My sister is dressed as a bride. I donít get her costume. Itís not fun. The skirt is tight at the waist and she has a long train in the back, which gets gutter juice on it, and itís so girly. My sister is fourteen and likes being girly. She kisses and wears a bra. She has changed so much I donít even recognize her anymore. When Iím not a gypsy, Iím usually a farmer, with overalls and a straw hat and pipe, but I also would like to be a lion tamer. This year every other kid is wearing an E.T. mask, but my mom hates packaged costumes, so Iím a gypsy again. Some girls dress as nurses and people ask them if they want to be nurses when they grow up. I donít really understand why they ask that. Dressing up for Halloween is confusing. Iím not sure if you are supposed to dress as what you want to be or what is most exciting. I donít really want to be a gypsy when I grow up.

We walk up and down the streets and my sister doesnít want to go to the actual door. She says sheís too old. She waits at the sidewalk while I have to go up and ring the bell.

"If it werenít for you," she says, "I could be at Sarahís party."

"Go," I say. "I donít care."

"I canít," she says. "Mom wonít let me," she says in a voice that lets me know she hates me.

I take the candy from everyone who offers, but I donít eat it or even touch it with my naked hands. I keep my gypsy red gloves on the whole time. I make notes on who I think is a killer. The woman who gave me the Snickers bar looked nice. I might take a chance and eat that. Old Mr. and Mrs. Houser wouldnít really poison a child, would they? They have oodles of kids and grandchildren over at the house, but maybe they just pretend to love children so they can poison one here and there. And the strange man who lives by himself with ten cats, I take the Laffy Taffy that he gave me and throw it down the sewer when my sister isnít looking.

"Whatís with you?" my sister asks when she notices Iím not eating. "You hording this year?"

We always make fun of the few kids, usually poor or with granola parents, who horde their Halloween candy like itís gold and eat one bar a day to make it stretch for months. My sister and I have never been hoarders. We have usually not been gorgers either. Gorgers have their candy finished by the afternoon of the day after Halloween. This usually means eating four candy bars an hour for ten hours straight. My sister and I eat our candy quickly, but it usually lasts two weeks. I think about telling my sister that some of this candy is poison, trying to convince her that she shouldnít eat her candy either, but I know from experience that she wonít listen.

"Yeah," I tell her. "This year I want to still have Halloween candy on the fourth of July."

"Good luck weirdo," she says.

 

Itís the morning after Halloween and I am still not eating my candy. I am trying to hide it from my mom by flushing one piece of candy down the toilet every time I go in there, but I canít really flush the lollipops because the sticks might get caught. The bars might get stuck too and then I would have to explain everything. I canít throw them in the trash because she has all-seeing eyes. She knows when I throw away things I shouldnít, like the Christmas sweater from grandma or my sisterís mood ring that I accidentally broke.

I try to keep my worries about the candy a secret from my mother. I like her to think that Iím a normal child. If it were just me, it wouldnít be a problem. I could keep the candy in the bag until it fell apart and got moldy, but I also have to keep my mother from eating the candy. My mother likes candy too much for an adult. She typically eats seven to twelve percent of my Halloween candy. I hide the candy from my mother in a box under my bed, which is against house rules because it draws ants.

I try to imagine what someone could do to a bar in a wrapper. The wrapper seems kind of tight, but they could probably take a needle and inject some poison in it, or they could drop the bar into a liquid that seeped through the wrapper. What kind of person would do it? Maybe a bitter man whose child had been run over by a drunk driver would decide that he has to kill as many children as he can because he canít stand the sight of them running around like rats.

At breakfast, as I am eating my Lucky Charms, my mother asks me where my candy is.

"Oh," I say. "Itís in my book bag. I need to take it into school to show the other kids."

"Why?" she asks.

"Show and tell," I say.

My father appears at one end of the kitchen, grabs a bagel, kisses my motherís ear because itís closest to him and then the top of my head and runs out the door looking at his watch.

"Show and tell in fifth grade? The other kids have seen candy before."

"Weíre doing a study to see what kinds of kids get the most candy."

"Oh, thatís kind of neat," she says. "Like big kids might get more or gypsies. I bet gypsies get the most," she says, smiling at me.

I nod my head, "Yeah, like that." I donít like lying. Iím really bad at it too.

"Well tell me how the statistics work out," she says. "Iím curious."

What my mother doesnít know is that evil exists in the world. Sheís just too good and she thinks other people are good like her. But the family of the people who died from the Tylenol wasnít expecting evil either. I take a few candy bars with me, determined to throw them away at school.

At lunch everyone is eating lots of Halloween candy. These kids act like they never had any candy before and they are wolfing down five or six candy bars at a go. I look at the bologna and cheese sandwich my mother packed for me and ants on a log. My god I hate ants on a log. Then I remember the Rally bar that I brought with me. I want the candy bar. The other kids are eating their candy and not dying, yet. I break down and eat the bar.

In the afternoon I feel sick. My heart is beating too quickly and I ask permission to put my head on my desk because Iím not feeling well. I have my head on my desk for the rest of the day, but the symptoms luckily do not escalate.

After school my mother meets me at the door. "I found the candy under your bed," she says.

"Iím sorry," I say.

"Did you lie about the class project?"

"Yes," I say. "Iím sorry."

"Why?" she says. "Are you so afraid your dear mom and dad are going to eat some of your precious candy?"

 

I wake up in the middle of the night and check on my candy in the kitchen. The bag looks like itís been touched. I look in the trashcan and there, right on top, is a Milky Way wrapper. My mother ate it. I know itís my mother because she is the only one in the family who can stomach the nougat center in Milky Way. I tiptoe to my parentsí room and look in on her to see if she is still breathing. She appears to be, although it is hard to hear over my fatherís loud snoring.

I pour my Halloween candy on the kitchen table and push it into piles. There are many miscellaneous candies like Twizzlers, Smarties, Pixie Sticks, candy corn, Nerds and Gummy Bears. My mom wonít eat these. These she considers kidsí candy. Sheís purely a chocolate fiend. There are four Snickers bars, three Milky Ways, three Hershey bars, a Rally Bar, a Charleston bar, a BarNone, a Baby Ruth, an Almond Joy, a Butterfinger and a Heath bar.

I canít live without my mother. Yes, she is naÔve, but she sings me songs. She tucks me in. When Iím scared of the serial murderer coming for me because we live in a house with the number seven in the number, and serial murderers love seven, she tells me not to worry. If my mother dies from my candy, I would be responsible.

I do what I have to do. I sit down at the kitchen table. I eat the remaining seventeen candy bars.


Jenny Bitnerís stories have appeared or are soon appearing in Best American Nonrequired Reading, The Sun, Fence, Comet and To-Do List. She is currently finishing a novel called The Librarians. Her visual art and links to her writing can be found at www.jennyart.com

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