By Adam Prato
“Trick or treat!”
Something small and green dropped into the plastic bag Jennifer had held out.
“What is that?” she asked.
“A Brussels sprout,” said the man who had answered the door.
Jennifer looked up. The man was a little fat and going bald, like an older version of her father. He wasn’t in costume, and was smiling the way Dad did when he told a joke she didn’t get. Dad was always making little jokes that he thought were funny but Jennifer didn’t. That was one of the things Mom always complained about.
”It looks like … a vegetable,” she said.
“It is a vegetable,” he said. “Can’t have treats at every house.”
Jennifer just gaped at him. Why did he tease so meanly?
The man smiled again and said, “It’s good for you,” then closed the door.
Jennifer, age eight, a little blonde witch in a black robe and pointy hat, peered again into her loot bag.
The Brussels sprout, a head of lettuce the size of a ping-pong ball, was nestled smugly among handfuls of Smarties rolls and Bit-O-Honeys, and a box of something called Good & Plenty. She didn’t know what a Good & Plenty was, but it wasn’t chocolate. Her jaw tightened, and the early autumn dusk blurred with tears. Mom would say she was having another tantrum.
So, she did what her Mom had taught her to do when she got frustrated. She closed her eyes and imagined herself far away in a quiet sunny place. Mom watched a lot of videos and did exercises that, like this one, were supposed to make her feel better. Jennifer wiped her eyes with her long black sleeve and shuffled sadly back to the end of the block, to where her mother was pacing back and forth, talking on her cell phone to Aunt Stephanie about Dad and the divorce. Jennifer could not catch her attention.
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Her mom was only sort of dressed up, the way grown-ups did when they weren’t trying very hard. Moms always seemed more interested in dressing their kids up. Jennifer’s mom wore an orange Houston Astros cap and jersey with her blue jeans. The jersey had the number 34 and the name Ryan on its back. Mom had told Jennifer that she really liked Nolan Ryan when she was a kid because he could throw a baseball faster than anyone.
After a couple of minutes her Mom, now doing some listening to Aunt Stephanie, finally noticed Jennifer fidgeting impatiently and smiled. She nodded at Jennifer’s loot bag indicating she wanted to see what was in it. Jennifer held it out and opened the mouth of it.
Mom squinted inside for a long moment and then looked back at Jennifer’s pouting face. Mom closed her eyes and went to the sunny place in her mind. Jennifer could hear Aunt Stephanie talking. Mom’s eyes remained closed.
“Steph, let me call you back in a minute,” Mom said, finally re-opening her eyes. She put the phone in her back pocket, and in the same motion held out an open palm.
“Jennifer, give me that thing.”
* * *
As Mom wound up like she was Nolan Ryan, Jennifer wondered what was the absolute fastest a Brussels sprout had ever been thrown. Then Mom rolled onto her front foot, and her arm came forward without much coordination. The pitch looped lazily towards the one window that was still yellow with incandescent light. The Brussels sprout smacked the glass, but didn’t break it. The sound, brief as a bird flying into its own reflection, made Jennifer jump. Shadows moved back and forth across the drawn curtain, and she heard muffled but excited voices.
Jennifer looked at her mom with surprise and terror. Mom looked back at her and then said, “Run!”
Next to her mom, Jennifer flew down the darkening street like a little witch, black dress fluttering behind her, laughing.
Adam Prato is from Long Island, New York and now lives in Iowa City. He has not yet found a bagel worth eating here but will not hold it against the place. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 208.