A Look Inside

by Simone Boone

Even though the hot black of the playground seemed to bake the soles of my shoes, I stood there motionless--adoring her. Other masqueraders zipped about in wild pursuit, but nothing was powerful enough to lure me from my devoted stance.

Yes, it had occurred to me that if I ruined my only pair of patent leather shoes, Mama would be furious. But the threat of a whoopin' did not move me to lift my feet, blink my eyes, or turn my head. Cement-footed, I studied her. I studied her like I had since the first day of school, and I must say, I thought I knew everything about her.

Mrs. Kofacks drove a Mercury Grand Marquis. She was twenty-eight years old, and her husband's name was Randall. He was a boss in the coal mines. Her son's name was Joey, and she was expecting a baby girl she planned to call Amanda.

What was obvious to me, and every other student, was Mrs. Kofacks was the prettiest teacher in the school. She wasn't grey-headed and wrinkled like my third grade teacher. Instead, she had shiny yellow hair--the kind baby dolls have. Her eyes were a translucent blue, and her cheeks were rosy pink, even when she wasn't blushing. Most of her students adored her and bragged when they found out they would be in her class. It was no secret that she was the most beloved teacher at East Side Elementary, but I was the only one looked precisely like her that day.

While the others lined up along the fence to be judged "most original," or "scariest, I weighed the similarities between Mrs. Kofacks and myself. I too had yellow hair that day. It was soft and shiny and hung to my waist. I had even practiced making it sway from side to side the way hers did when she walked. My cheeks were damasked with perfect crimson circles, a bit brighter than hers, but red nonetheless. I could have passed for her daughter had it not been for the sad brown stare that gazed in her direction.

My Princess Barbie deluxe costume came with every accessory: white gloves, pink dress, even matching earrings and necklace. Golden hair flowed from a peachy face that, of course, came with ocean blue eyes. Unfortunately, Mama insisted on mutilating them so that I could see where I was going. While she gouged them with a paring knife, I argued that the pinholes that served as pupils would suffice. As usual, it was a short argument.

"Girl, you better get your behind in that bath tub and stop worryin' me about this damn Halloween costume," she snapped. "You lucky I spent fifteen dollars on this."

"Mama," I pleaded, " I can see out of the eye holes, I promise."

"Sianne, I done told you."

I knew that was the end of the debate. The only thing that came after "I done told you" was the belt, and I knew better than to press my luck. Besides, I knew Mama had done me a favor by getting me the deluxe costume instead of the plastic mask-suit ensemble I had worn in previous years.

Although I had a superb costume, I didn't bother entering the traditional judging rounds that took place at the end of the school day. My goal was much more elusive, but it seemed suddenly within reach. Mrs. Kofacks was walking toward me, hands outreached. I could hear the click clack of her shoes as they shuffled across the pavement. With one hand protecting her belly, she made her way through the line of hopeful contestants. Behind them all, I stood against the chain link fence, secretly monitoring my teacher.

As if in slow motion, Mrs. Kofacks made her way to my side, bent down and looked directly into my eyes. "Who's in there?" she asked. "Is that you, Janie?"

"No, Mrs. K. It's me, Sianne." At that moment I felt a bead of sweat trying to fall from my brow into my eye and tried frantically to blink it out--I did not want to take off my mask and have Mrs. Kofacks see my face wet with perspiration.

"Well I hardly recognized you. You're all covered up from head to toe. Do me a favor and hold this for just a second." While I clung to the Diet Coke in my gloved hand, she waved in the others and made her announcement.

"All of my students, gather around," she said. " I would like to present each of you with a ribbon for Halloween because I think every one of you is a special person. Happy Halloween boys and girls."

With a pleasant smile, she doled out purple pumpkin-shaped ribbons that said, "I'm special." With my eyes to the ground, I accepted my award and made my way to the bus stop. She hadn't taken note of me after all.

As the afternoon passed, I found the excitement of going trick or treating miraculously rekindled my spirit. Every year, no matter how tired she was, Mama took my cousin Sissy and me around the neighborhood until our feet throbbed.

"Sianne," Mama yelled from the living room. "You ready? It's almost 6:30. If you don't hurry up, all the good candy's gonna be gone. And you know I have to get home and finish foldin' up these clothes."

I pranced into the room where, behind a stack of crisply folded towels, I saw Mama resting on the couch. Her head was laid back on the sofa cushion, and her feet were propped up on the coffee table. She was shoving the last remnants of a bacon sandwich into her mouth when I tapped her on the shoulder. "Ready, Mama," I said softly.

"Well, ain't you somethin'," she exclaimed. "You look like you ready to do some serious trick or treatin'."

"Yep, sure am!"

"Looks like you missin' the gloves that came with it. What happened? D'you lose 'em at school?"

"No, I got pop on 'em at school. I guess I don't have to wear 'em."

"Okay, baby. Then let's go." Mama grabbed my hand and gave it a tight squeeze before we left.

When we got to Sissy's house, she was already running toward the curb. She must have heard the screeching fan belt of Mama's 1978 Vega before we pulled up. "Ma, Aunt Patty's here," she yelled. She held her mask in her hand, and as she got closer to the car, I could hear the "swish" of her lesser, plastic costume. She didn't even have a shirt on underneath to cover her bare arms.

"Nice costume, Sissy," I teased.

"It don't matter. Besides, I'm out to get me some candy, not to look cute. I can't wait, can you?" It was practically impossible to make her mad. So I joined in her excitement.

Before we realized it, we had covered our neighborhood and two surrounding neighborhoods. Our paper grocery store sacks were filled with candy bars, suckers and the few pieces of fruit that we traditionally threw away.

"You girls ready to call it a night?" asked Mama. "It sure is gettin' late."

"I guess," answered Sissy as she gobbled down a Three Musketeers.

"Mama," I said. "Can we hit just one more neighborhood?"

"I guess. Where to?"

"Malibu Estates."

"Malibu Estates!" Her voice shot up an octave. "We don't know none of them crackers that live out there."

"Please, Mama. I heard from a boy at school that they have the best candy and..."

Bringing the car to a complete stop, Mama turned around and explained, "Just because they rich white folks, don't mean they got any better candy than what you got in your bag. Girl, they got the same candy as everybody else."

I knew that all candy was the same, but I also knew that Mrs. Kofacks lived in Malibu Estates on twenty-three Richview Road.

"Oh Mama, come on, " I pleaded. "Just a few houses. We'll hurry, won't we Sissy."

"Yeah, just a couple of houses, Aunt Patty. Please!" We begged Mama like that until she put the car in drive and headed to the west side of town.

As we neared the private subdivision, I imagined myself ringing Mrs. Kofacks's doorbell. "Well hello Sianne," she would say with her most pleasant smile. "Here. I would like you to have some extra candy. It's so nice to see one of my favorite students outside of school."

My imaginings were interrupted by Mama's sarcasm. "Well, here we are. Which houses look like they got the best candy?"

"Right there." I directed Mama to park near Mrs. Kofacks's house. "Let's go, Sissy." Within seconds I was on her doorstep. I gently rang the doorbell and while awaiting her response, I returned to my earlier musings. Maybe she'll even invite me in, I thought to myself.

Before the door was fully opened, Sissy jumped in front of me, holding out her pudgy chocolate arms, and barked "Trick or Treat!" in a loud voice that seemed to startle Mrs. Kofacks. I immediately pushed Sissy to the side and held out my shaking hands. With her hand on her tummy, she looked toward the car and then down at us with an unfamiliar expression.

"Um, I'm sorry. I already gave all of the candy to the kids who live in this neighborhood," she said, closing the door behind her. I was petrified, unable to move or say a word. I convinced myself that she must not have known it was me, so I decided to take my mask off and ring the bell again.

"Come on, Si," Sissy urged. "She said no. Besides, we still have two more houses to try." Sissy was waddling off toward the next house before I realized what she had said. At that moment, I let loose the tight grip I had on that mask and dropped it in the shrubs that decorated Mrs. Kofacks's entryway.

"Girl, why aren't you with your cousin?" Mama asked as I got back into the car. "And where in heck is the rest of your costume?"

"I had to take it off," I said as I watched Sissy stroll toward the third house. "I couldn't see so good."

"I knew I shoulda cut those eye holes a little bigger. Well, I guess it don't matter now. Halloween's officially over." She leaned over, held me close, and then added "Girl, you sure looked cute tonight. But you know you always were the cutest baby in this family. And you know why?"

"No Mama, why?"

"Cause you got your Mama's eyes. With them eyes you can't be nothin' but beautiful."

I looked into my mother's eyes for a few moments trying to see whatever it was she was describing. Her explanation that night had made little sense to me because I was still more interested in somebody else's mother.

Mama restarted the car as soon Sissy hopped into the back seat. She held open her filled bag and explained "Si, you shoulda came with me. You don't know what you missed out on." The car approached the exit gates of Malibu Estates, and I looked back to Mrs. Kofacks' house. The porch light that welcomed eager solicitors was still shining brightly, but the interior was completely dark.

A Look Inside by Simone Boone

© Copyright 1998. All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be duplicated or copied without the expressed written consent of the author.

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