The third Elsa was the first Delores got to sing for her. It was a little Mexican girl who grinned shyly, painfully so, and I would’ve guessed didn’t speak English. But then her mouth split open and out burst that song. Delores tossed back her head and cackled madly, delighted. She sang along for a couple bars and then let the poor thing into the candy. The girl’s parents watched from the street until she returned. My wife called a happy Halloween to them all. I stood in the picture window and lifted a hand. They didn’t see me.
“Oh, that was just fine,” Delores said.
After that I went to the garage. I kept the door down, and it was hot, last warm snap of summer. Outside I heard the rustle of feet to and from our door, Delores roaring. She had a joy for strangers. I had a miter saw. I’d bought it from Sears 15 years earlier, right before Halloween, actually, and I’d used it in making a stand for Delores’s pumpkins. I was surprised what I remembered from high-school shop, and it became a sort of tradition for me to spend the whole godawful night in isolation, making something. This year I wasn’t even using the miter, though. I wasn’t using much of anything. I had a piece of plywood covered in white linen, and I was driving small, thin nails halfway into it. I had a tissue-paper pattern I followed, something taken from an old book Delores found at a yard sale. When it was ready she’d wrap string of different colors around the nails. String-art, she called it. This one would be a ballerina.
I poked out again for a while, hoping maybe we’d have a trick-or-treater dressed as a graceful dancer, a little swan. We didn’t. That wasn’t fancy enough. I saw three princesses, a couple Iron Men, a chubby and unhappy Hulk. I started to tell her to give that one some extra but kept my mouth shut, figured we ought to give him less. For his own good. We weren’t the carrot or toothbrush types, but I felt sorry for him. I wanted him to have what he needed.
“This is such a fine night,” Delores said. “You wouldn’t believe. Earlier I saw a marionette. A little girl—a marionette!”
I went back to the garage. I was 40, 50 nails shy of finishing. Delores had been a ballerina. I’d gone to see her dance. I’d loved it about her. I hammered home another nail and rocked up on my toes. I remembered her on the stage, lovelier than anything I could say about it. She stepped and leapt, no lodestone about her neck yet. She was 19 and had the future. I tipped forward, years later in the garage, had to catch myself against the countertop. I lost that image of her in my head. My heart beat fast.
“Let it go,” sang a tinny, wavering voice, and then my wife chimed in. “Let it go.”
“That’s just fine,” Delores said, and the procession continued.
She’d become obsessed with the song, but I didn’t remember watching the movie. Didn’t know why we would have. I had to stop hammering a while. The nails were sinking too deep, and I stared at them. The ones in and the ones waiting. I sweated and listened to children come and go. I breathed. The traffic slowed after a time and Delores came looking for me. She opened the inside door and stood watching me.
“You OK?” she wanted to know. “Did you want me to reheat dinner? Are you hungry?”
I told her I didn’t know, and I didn’t. I heard our doorbell.
“It’s so warm out here. Don’t make yourself sick.”
“Almost finished,” I said. “With this thing for you.”
Delores waited until I made eye contact. She shook her head. The doorbell rang again, and she glanced over her shoulder. I looked away.
“Fine,” she said.
“Maybe that’s another Elsa.”
“That’d be fine.”
She disappeared into the house. I listened for another voice throwing it all away, and when no one sang out I looked back at the board. I’d driven too many nails too far, and I didn’t feel like pulling them out. I thought I’d just cut another board and copy another pattern and make a fresh start. I needed to get it right for Delores, give her what she wanted and have it ready, something to do when the day was ended and everything quiet and we were alone together again.
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