I must have been about five years old. We were living in a two-bedroom apartment in an unremarkable, dull brown complex called Royal Manor. It didn’t look royal and it certainly didn’t feel royal, but I fancied the name and looked for opportunities to tell people the name of the place where I lived.
Royal Manor was housing for medical residents at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan and was filled with young families, like ours, whose parents spoke with funny accents, like mine. Upstairs lived my friend Sapla who wore pretty dresses and gold bangles that jingled on her thin brown wrists. I ate rice with melted butter at her house. Sapla ate with her hand and I used a fork. I also tried pomegranate seeds for the first time at her house. To this day, every time I spend a meditative few minutes dislodging pomegranate seeds from the waxy white pith, my thoughts turn to Sapla’s mom, beautiful in her diaphanous saris, telling me they were called Indian Apples in a voice as thick and golden as honey.
One night our buzzer rang. I jumped up, leaving my dolls in a shocked heap – frozen and wild-eyed – and slid to my mother’s side in socked feet. She opened the door and there, in the florid yellow light of the hallway, stood a perfect fairy princess. She was shorter than me – and much more beautiful, with long, wispy, white-blond hair, a poufy pink skirt, sparkly wings and a tiny tiara on her head. She was holding an orange globe and she positively took my breath away. I hid behind my mother.
“Trick or treat,” she called in a tinselly but surprisingly loud voice. My mother cocked her head to one side, put her hands on her hips and bent over to peek inside the globe. I held my breath.
“Ay, ohkay, leetle bayllerina . . . wait, wait.”
My mother turned and strode into the apartment, leaving me alone with the fairy princess. I lowered my eyes to her ball, wondering what my mother had seen. She reappeared shaking a box of white peppermint Tic Tacs – the box that normally shimmied around her purse with a crinkly blue pack of Parliament cigarettes. She was about to toss the Tic Tacs into the girl’s ball, when suddenly the door burst open and a jumble of children pushed their way into the hall yelling “trick or treat” in a rowdy chorus. My mother calmly assessed the motley assortment of streaked face paint, vampire teeth, capes and wigs and, ever the pragmatist, proceeded to shake a few Tic Tacs into each expectant bag.
My cheeks burned. I didn’t know exactly what was going on, but I did know that these kids were at least entitled to a whole piece of unopened candy. The children fled, their excited voices growing fainter and fainter, finally flittering away through darkened branches into the night sky.
My mother closed the door and with a casual flick, turned off the light and laughed, “No tengo mas!” She thought this was funny and my shame flipped to anger. As I glared at her in the dark, she reached behind me, pulling my long black hair up into a ponytail, smoothing the sides, checking for stray wisps with her warm fingers. She held my hair in her hand and gently led me to the front window where I plopped down, my hair dropping heavily around my shoulders. She sat behind me – much younger then than I am now, remembering all of this – and curled her body around mine.
My mother and I waited in the dark for what seemed like a long time, peeking out from behind the sheer white curtains. Shouts and laughter signaled the approach of more children and we tensed up and giggled as they ran up our steps and rang the buzzer. We waited, covering our mouths, frozen for an eternity until they thumped back down the steps. I looked at my mother and laughed, but I felt sad to see them go. I felt sorry for having tricked them. I exhaled a cloud of breath onto the cool glass in front of me. As I watched the foggy ghost I had made slowly recede, I mouthed those magical words silently to myself, feeling them in my mouth like a couple of slippery white Tic Tacs. Trick or treat.