Witchy lore states the veil is thinning at this time of year; on Halloween, the barrier between this world and the next is at its weakest. On an intimate level this proved to be true: the veil inside me thinned and broke on a Halloween night and, through it, my youngest was brought into life an hour after the day ended.
On the first hour of the first day of the eleventh month of the eleventh year,
nurses put a witch’s cap on our newborn and we called her “Spooky Bickell.”
Children often cling to the thing you show emotion at. If you show shock when they bite as they nurse, that child will bite again and again and again, choking on milk in their laughter. It’s how they’re made, they have no choice. Like honeybees.
Usually peaceful, honeybees don’t sting unless our shock causes them to label us a threat. Our fear is their interest and even if only one in hundreds of bees chooses to sting, pheromones mark us and make the swarm return again and again and again. It’s how they’re made, they have no choice.
It is for this reason I didn’t much humour Littlest’s strangest stories. I worried that to show surprise or intended interest would lead to an obsession with the topic, weird toddler tales told in grocery store check outs. Instead, I changed subjects and, but for a do you know what your daughter said today? late night conversation with my husband, we didn’t speak of it.
The first time it happened she was only two years old, playing My Little Ponies at the table while I baked in the kitchen. She sang as she played, as she always does, my little towhead in the princess dress with her tiny toys and sweet song.
“You sure love horses, don’t you, Littlest?”
“Yes,” she said. “When I was a daddy, I had lots of horses.”
She looked up from her game and met my eyes.
“The horses’ house was on fire when I got dead. We burnt up.”
“Oh. Well. We should never play with fire.”
A couple of years later our family was camping on the shores of the lake my husband and I grew up on. It was a bright, blue-sky day with only the slightest breeze. Husband suggested we pack a picnic and adventure off in his little tin boat to find an isolated beach.
We pulled up to a small, sandy spot among reeds and far from people. We stretched a blanket and ate sandwiches and took photos of the kids and then went exploring.
The girls ran ahead as we strolled hand-in-hand behind. Along the walk, we found artifacts from fishermen’s boats: fishing jigs and old minnow containers, vintage beer cans and a ball cap or two. We wondered aloud how long it had been since the beach had last hosted human visitors. We stopped and looked at the washed up treasures and then kept on our way, my husband collecting litter into a small plastic bag.
But ahead of us, at the tree line, a curious site: a five gallon bucket overturned on large driftwood.
“How is it staying like that?” Eldest asked.
“Must be stuck on a branch,” Husband replied.
We stood by the water while she ran to the suspended pail. She placed her seven years old hands on either side and lifted as the black cloud swarmed out from underneath.
I grabbed Littlest but Eldest was so far away, paralyzed with fear in the middle of the darkening swarm (the veil between us thickening, as it were). Time slowed as if it were about to stop, but I couldn’t make my legs move.
“Run!” I screamed, “Run!”
Where I froze, Husband raced.
“Drop the bucket!” He yelled. He reached our eldest and pulled her from the driftwood, swatting the bucket out of her hands. “Drop it!”
And then, each pulling a child behind us, we outran the swarm.
We stripped the girls out of their clothes and combed through hair but no rouge insects were found. No one suffered so much as a sting. Jokes were made but we were shaken. When we returned to our camp, Eldest left the beach for her bed.
But Littlest wanted to talk. She put her soft, warm hands on either side of my face and pulled me down to her big brown eyes, her s’more speckled cheeks.
“Mom,” she said. “When I was a daddy, a boy couldn’t breath after bees.”
She lifted her chin and pointed to skin.
“I had to cut a hole.”
She tapped just above the base of her throat, “Right here.”