Samhain was always crazy for Kate. She celebrated ‘Halloween’ on the 31st with all the kids and held a private celebration on the cross quarter day. This year they fell over a week apart. Almost on her birthday. Since they hadn’t made much of Eric’s birthday she was trying not to let anyone remember what date hers was.
Jamie wanted to be a fairy princess for Halloween. They did costume parties at school. Mark wanted to be a mad scientist. Kate borrowed a lab coat from a friend who worked out at the hospital and found some plastic beakers, pipes and such to make up the outfit. Mark’s mousy hair was long enough to spike with enough hair gel.
Jamie on the other hand required yards and yards of tulle and pink satin. Just looking at it was enough to make Kate gag. She had forgotten how much she detested pink. And of course, it was Jamie’s favorite color. She was almost done with the dress, which was good as tomorrow was October 31st. Kate would do her usual witchy hat and cloak to hand out candy. Eric with Zach would get to take the kids out.
“Trick or treat!” Jamie squealed as Kate opened the door. She smiled to see her little princess holding a bulging bag of candy.
“Are you ready to come home dear?” Kate looked at Eric.
“Yes,” said Eric.
“Uhuh, ” echoed Zach.
Mark just looked from one man to the other. While Jamie began to bounce up and down.
“No, nonononononononno!!!!! There’s more houses! I gots to get more houses!” she said and began to pull the big eyes trick on Eric. She leaned up against Zach and said, “Puuuullllleeeaze Zach? Just a little bit more?”
Zach looked down, realized he was defeated and turned to go. Eric just sighed and ushered Mark down the stairs. “See you in a bit Sweetie.”
“Alright Eric,” Kate said as she shut the door. She didn’t want them to see her smile. Jamie was one fine little girl. She had both men wrapped around her little finger.
“An here’s one for you Daddy. An one for Zach,” Jamie said as she handed out candy from her bag after it had been checked over. Mark just sat there eating his candy. He had thanked Kate for his costume and then a few minutes later asked to go to bed.
“That is one strange kid, Eric,” Zach said.
“Yeah, but I don’t know how to help him be any different.”
“Neither do I,” said Kate as she sat down. She had tried. His teachers had tried. Granted, he was better than he was when school started, but still… he was one odd duck.
Kate woke up a few days later and knew that it wasn’t going to be easy tonight. Samhain. Honor the dead. Eric and the guys planned a dumb supper. They had everything in hand they said. She hoped so, because she was afraid she’d be in no shape to help.
Grabbing the step stool out of the kitchen, she got up in her closet and brought out a heavy black card board box. She dusted it off and set it down on the bed. Putting the stool back in the kitchen, she returned to the box on the bed. It was an eight inch cube. On the top it said,
David Henry Ratcovich
She wrapped the box in dark silk. It had been one of his shirts. Out in the living room, she had the ancestors altar set up on the cedar chest. Pictures of grandparents, departed aunts and uncles as well as a few small children were scattered over the top. All the pictures were so old, they were in black and white. She sat the box down in the middle. Kate looked at the altar and went back to her room. She shut the door behind her.
Eric peeked into the room after work. He knew that Kate had taken the day off. She was asleep. Quietly, he closed the door. Walking down the hall, he bumped into Andy. “Oh. Sorry Andy. Just checking on your mom.”
“She’s been in there ever since she brought Dad down.”
Andy motioned for Eric to follow. He stopped in the living room and pointed to the cedar chest. Eric saw what he’d meant. There in the middle was a cremation box.
“She still has him after all this time?”
“Yes. Wouldn’t let him go. I keep hoping, so does Zach, but she won’t. We even had a viking funeral send off planned. Clear down to flames and a boat. Still have the boat. She won’t do it though.”
“Viking funeral? I thought she was joking about that.”
“Nope. The boat is in the garage.”
Zach walked in just then and saw the altar. “You know, maybe it’s time we give Dad that send off. Don’t ask her so much as just have the boat sitting here.”
“You think that would work Zach? She threw it at us last time we brought it in.”
“Yeah, but she didn’t have Eric then either. Things have changed. Maybe she’s ready,” Zach finished.
“I hope so. I’m tired of her mourning her birthday away,” Andy said.
“Birthday? When is her birthday?” Eric was clueless. Kate had never told him her actual birthdate.
“It’s two days from now. She was born on Samhain. Cross quarter day that is,” Andy said. “You know, fifteen degrees into the astrological sign.” Zach nodded in agreement.
“Ah. I didn’t know. She said she didn’t want any fuss because we forgot my birthday in September. I just spaced asking her when it was.”
“She’s good at that. Makes you forget things,” Zach said.
“Oh,” Eric thought about it, and realized that Zach was right. Kate was good at that type of subtle magic. “Guys, I think you are right about the Viking funeral. Let’s bring in the boat. Just set it in front of the altar. Do we have a plate for your Dad at the table tonight?”
“Yes. The one with hot dogs, potato chips and a big glass of coke.”
“Ok. Let’s get things set up. I don’t know how much longer your mom will stay asleep.”
The three of them got busy. Andy brought the boat in and cleaned it up. Zach set the table and the smaller one for the dearly departed. Eric finished up and placed the candles like he wanted them. Then he went down to wake up Kate.
He opened the door to find her up and moving around. She was partially dressed in clothes he’d seen in the closet, but never on her. A straight black skirt, a severely tailored black blouse and her hair pulled back in a tight bun.
“Hello Eric. I guess everyone is ready except me,” she said quietly.
“No, I don’t have my clothes changed.” He moved towards the closet. He grabbed a shirt and changed quickly.
“Now I’m ready.” He held his arm out to her. She took it and they walked down the hall together. He hoped that Zach heard them and had started to light the candles. As they came closer, he could see the glow and realize that all was going to plan. At least for the moment.
Kate stopped in front of the altar and as she looked down, she saw the viking boat the boys had made so many years before. It was full of marigolds, rosemary and sage. She bit her lip to keep from breaking into tears. She would not cry. She silently said her prayers and moved into the dining room.
She was astonished by the light in the room. Every surface possible was covered with candles. Two tables were set up and all of the family was sitting at the table. Even Peaches and Angel were quiet. Jon had cleaned up and sat nearest the door. Kate took a deep breath and took her place at the table. Eric moved to her left. There was one candle left to light, the one in front of her.
Not use to having so many with her on Samhain unsettled her. She didn’t realize that they knew what she had done for so many years. To find everything in place was overwhelming. She took another deep breath, and then picked up her taper and lit it from Eric’s. Kate called the quarters, asked the gods to be with them this night and asked all of the dearly departed to join them in their feast.
Andy and Pat served dinner. Andy had cooked. Kate could tell by the spices in the meat and vegetables. Her big surprise though was dessert. Pat brought out a cake. Andy was beaming from ear to ear. He’d made a mayonnaise cake.
“Andy, how did I miss the smell of this baking?”
“Easy. We did it at Suzie’s house.”
“Oh. You are too clever,” she said with a smile. The first real one of the evening.
“Thanks Mom. Oh, and we forgot something.” He stood up and handed her a scroll of paper. Kate unrolled it to find a single candle wrapped up in a fire burn permit. They had gotten it from the fire chief who signed it with a flourish and ‘Happy Birthday Kate!’.
Kate smiled, and then slowly started to cry. “Oh you boys.”
“Hey Mom. No tears. We finally got you! Birthday cake will be eaten and songs sung,” Andy took the candle from her hand. “Of course the chief would only let you have one.”
Kate smiled, and wiped her eyes on her napkin. Andy lit the candle and everyone started to sing happy birthday. Kate just rolled her eyes. It had been way too long since she’d celebrated a birthday. When they finished, she blew out the candle. It stayed lit. She blew it out again. It came back. By this point, Pat and his brothers were laughing so hard, she realized that they had stuck a trick candle in the cake.
“You louts!” This time, she wet her fingers, blew it out and quickly snuffed it. “There.” Everyone clapped and then from under the table, they brought out small prezzies.
“Oh no, not prezzies too!” Kate said with mock fear.
“Yes! You hasta have prezzies on a birthday Moma Kate!” Jamie said with a big smile. She had made hers that afternoon. It was a bit sticky still, and so she hadn’t wrapped it.
“Ok. You first then.” Kate sat down again. Eric reached out and held her hand for a moment and then got up to help Andy with the cake. Pat and Suzie had cleared dishes and brought back dessert plates.
“Here you go Moma Kate,” Jamie said.
Kate looked down on a macaroni, string, yarn and crayoned picture. In it was everyone in the family. Plus, there were all the cats, and three dogs. Kate looked at it and then asked Jamie a question she wasn’t sure she wanted an answer for.
“Jamie, why are there three dogs?”
“Oh that’s the doggie that comes to visit Luna an Gretchen,” Jamie said.
“Oh.” Kate let the subject drop. Kate got prezzies from everyone. Bookmarks, books, seeds for spring, a silver wolf’s paw from Eric, and then it was Zach and Andy’s turn.
“Mom, we want a favor of you. We want you to give yourself a prezzie,” Zach started.
“What do you mean?”
“We want you to let a little more sunshine into your life. You have a fine start with Eric here. You are so much happier,” Andy said.
Kate was trying to figure out what they were on about. Trying not to think of the boat in the next room.
“Mom, would you please light the fire for Dad’s funeral barge for us tonight?”
Kate swallowed hard. She rested her chin on her hand and let the tears flow. She nodded. Eric leaned over and held her tight. She turned to him and cried. Oh this was hard. It was time, but it was so hard.
They all met out at the cars about twenty minutes later. David’s box was wrapped in the ship, with small charges that Zach, Andy and Eric had made. Pat had his bow and quiver, as well as a small can of gas. They drove out to the lake and went in the lower end where they were farthest from the ranger station.
Kate said her last goodbyes. Something she should have done nearly five years ago. Then she stepped back. Wrapped in her cloak, she was warm. Eric stood beside her, as this was the boys job, and not his. He had made that agreement with them earlier. Zach doused the boat with gas and soaked the rag on Pat’s arrow. They said their goodbyes and then set it out to drift towards the center of the lake. Jon lit the arrow and Pat aimed high. All watched as the arrow streaked upwards and then arched and descended towards the boat. No one knew if it really hit or not. The arrow seemed to hit the boat and suddenly it was in flames.
Zach handed Eric back the electronic igniter switch that had sparked the actual fire on the boat. Nothing had been left to chance. They stood there and watched the boat burn. It didn’t take as long as they thought it would, but it was good enough. When it sank beneath the waters, they got in the car and drove home.
Everyone said their good nights, and Eric put the kids to bed. He came in just as Kate was getting undressed. She dropped the skirt and blouse in the trashcan next to the door.
“Kate? Did you mean to do that?”
“Yes. I wore those to the funeral, and for every year since. Now its time for them to go too.” She turned to him and snuggled into his arms. “Hold me please.”
“Of course. How could I do any less?. Let’s finish getting undressed and I will hold you all night long.” Eric tried to get out of his clothes with Kate still holding him.
She let go of him long enough to finish undressing. They crawled into bed, and Eric held her while she cried and then slept. He too fell asleep at last.
The ranger out at the park that night wrote of a fire out on the far side of the lake of unknown origin. He drove out there but found no signs of a fire. He chalked it up to teens.