At the grocery store around Halloween, two elderly people sat in the waiting area when James and I came in. JR, with his usual assumption that anything in his path is a hologram, barreled through the old man’s walker, pushing it into his lap. With all his heart he said, “Hi!” The old man’s toothless mouth made a macabre grin. He cackled. This put an immediate halt to JR’s plan for a game of one-sided twenty questions. The old woman understood his reaction. She tried to explain, twirling her finger at her temple then pointing to the old man. But even if JR hadn’t been in shock, that would have gone over his head. While he was frozen like Wile E. Coyote, she grabbed his face and kissed his cheek, which he did not get sick from later.
My little statue came to his wits and slowly backed away from the old couple, but no sooner did he turn around than he came face to face with a pair of spooky displays just about his height, laying menacingly in wait on either side of the candy display. They were remarkably realistic, the witch and the shriveled, warty nosed ghoul. It took a few minutes to get him to move past them. He looked at one, then the other, then across the aisle to freedom, clearly not certain which way was the safest out of the nightmare. I tried to convince him they weren’t real but he wouldn’t buy it. After a moment I nudged him close and pulled the pants back from the old ghoul to expose the plastic stand the flimsy costume hung on, but he dared not look. I puffed with self-congratulation when I finally persuaded him to touch the witch’s nose with one finger. “Look,” I said. “It’s a plant stand with fabric. They want $50.00 for this!” How to make him understand that no demons live in the grocery store?
As we picked up the few items I came for, JR was still obsessed with the old man and peppered me with questions. He asked why the old man didn’t talk but also babies can’t talk, and if the old man was going to die tonight. I didn’t know how to explain the man’s mental condition, so I copped out with, “He’s just old.” Upon consideration of this mystery, JR said, “I’m new.” I categorically agreed with him, but that didn’t end the questions. Feeble attempts to explain death, reincarnation, and illness aren’t helpful to an eight-year-old. But he did leave with the sage conclusion, “The old man will talk when he’s new again.”