art by Melissa Mead
by Terra LeMay
For Halloween, Josefa's mother puts her in a pair of wings and the same white dress she wore to her First Communion ceremony, two years earlier. Sadly, it still fits. She has hardly grown. Taller, a little (not even a full inch), but she's lost seventeen pounds. She's a bird on stilt-legs. A swan with a long, skinny neck.
"Mama!" she cries at her mother's reflection in the mirror and "Papa!" when her father steps in from the hallway to see her.
"My angel," he says, but though she's still beautiful--will always be beautiful to him--he's not smiling. He has dressed for Halloween, too, like Josefa. Only, his wings are black for mourning. So are his wife's.
It's late when they finally take Josefa out for Halloween--nearly two a.m.--and the houses in their small, suburban neighborhood have all already put out their porch lights. They bundle Josefa into the car (buckled in tight, for safety) and drive her into the city, to an upscale, gated community full of multimillion-dollar homes. They make the drive in silence, but Josefa smiles all the way there, her grin as broad as the grin of the jack-o'-lantern face painted onto her plastic pumpkin candy-basket.
When they arrive, Josefa asks her mother if the rich people will give her more candy.
"Yes, my sweet girl," her mother replies, " a mountain of candy." But in Spanish.
Josefa's father casts a disapproving glance in his wife's direction. They had agreed to speak only English in front of their daughter, so the other children at her school would not laugh at her for speaking Spanish--and so she would more easily integrate with her American classmates and have nothing but success in life. Of course, now that can never be.
Even so, they have never spoken Spanish to Josefa. She has never learned it, and should not know it, so it's a surprise when she replies, "¿Vamos a romper una piñata?" Are we going to break a piñata?
"No sé, Josofa," says Josefa's mother. I don't know, Josefa.
Well, thinks her father. Her grandparents must have taught her. He frowns, and tries not to feel envious of the time she's spent with them, this last year.
So what? It's a miracle that he and his wife have even this single day, and it surely does no good to dwell on the days they've missed or any of the other surprising or disappointing aspects of this precious gift he and his wife have been given.
Josefa's father pulls the car up beside an intercom and security keypad at the gated entrance of the very fancy neighborhood, a neighborhood Josefa's father built, then puts the car in park so he can search his pockets.
He finds the card he had secreted away in his inner breast-coat pocket, and enters the number jotted on the back of it into the keypad. After a moment, a gentleman's tinny voice comes from the speaker, and Josefa's father replies, "Sí. Josef and Maria Lopez. And Josefa Lopez."
"Ah," says the speaker. "Good. I'm glad for you. We'll see you shortly."
The gate opens, and Josefa's father drives in.
It's far too late for door-to-door trick-or-treating, but Josef has prearranged things with his employer so that his daughter can ring the doorbell and ask for candy like an ordinary child, before they go into the house and join the party. Josef parks behind a Lexus at the end of a long line of cars much nicer than his own, and the three of them walk up to the house.
Adeleine--the boss's wife--answers the doorbell, and Josefa squeaks at the sight of her. Adeleine died of complications during surgery to remove her failed thyroid. Josefa's father had not worked for Mr. Fuentes at the time, but this is Adeleine's seventh Halloween party since her death. Her state of decomposition is dramatically more advanced than Josefa's.
But Adeliene smiles at Josefa and says to her, in a voice so clear and easily understood that it can only be explained as a miracle, "Oh my! Has an angel come all the way down from Heaven to ask me for candy?"
"I'm not an angel," says Josefa. "I'm a swan." She lifts her arms over her head and rises onto her toes, then executes a perfect pirouette, like a ballerina.
With no warning at all, Josefa's mother bursts into tears.