Fire Department's Halloween Ball, short story by Linda Chandanais at
Wir Sind Klein

Fire Department’s Halloween Ball

Fire Department’s Halloween Ball

written by: Linda Chandanais


As Hank carried his delivery order into the house he stopped to watch the winged dinosaur mount a moped and pull away from the curb, its overstuffed tail flapping in the autumn wind.
His phone chirped. Seeing the caller ID he took a deep breath.
“Hey, kiddo.”
“Hi, Dad. How about I come over in the morning when the kids are at swim lessons and help you put a costume together.”
“Yeah, about that.” He pulled a fork out of the dish rack. “I’m not going.”
“Why not?”
“I’m not up to it yet.”
“But it’s the fire department’s biggest fundraiser.”
“I bought a ticket.” He’d really bought two out of habit.
“You and Mom always said it was your duty to go to the ball and show your support because Grandpa was a firefighter.”
She’s bringing out the big guns.
Hank rested the phone between his shoulder and ear and retrieved a Pepsi from the fridge. “I’ll go next year, Lizzy.”
“That’s what you said last year.”
“I know, but—”
“I know MOM would hate what you’re doing.”
Hank stood in the middle of the living room.
I was wrong. That’s the big guns.
He asked, “What am I doing?”
She’s right. Tara would be furious. But, she’s not here.
After a long pause, they both spoke at the same time.
“Dad, it’s been two years.” — “It’s only been two years.”
He looked out the window at the red maple he and Tara planted the year Liz was born. This morning it was heavy with crisp reddish-orange leaves but now its nearly naked branches whipped painfully in the blustering wind.
Liz’s voice was soft. “Dad, I’m worried about you.”
Hank closed his eyes. “I promise I’ll go next year, honey.”


As Hank pulled out his standing Friday night order something fell out of the bag, landing on the coffee table. Hank picked up a cellophane package containing not one fortune cookie, or two, which Hank had gotten a couple of times before, but three fortune cookies. He smiled at his luck and opened one immediately.

Life’s a ball, Eeyore, if you make it one.

Hank smiled faintly. Eeyore was Tara’s nickname for him. While he ate he tried to recall if he ever had a fortune cookie with a name in it let alone a character from a children’s book. When he was done eating he cracked open another fortune cookie.

Keep your promise, Mopey.

Goosebumps peppered Hank’s neck. Before Tara died, she made him promise he wouldn’t mope around forever.
But, what constitutes forever?
Although was not a religious man, he guessed he believed in a higher power and he was sure if there was a heaven Tara was there. But believing she was communicating with him? That was way beyond his comfort level.
He studied the last cookie for some time then snatched it up and crushed it in his fist. Slowly he pulled the thin white paper from the powdery crumbs and read the fortune.

Find JOY.

Hank roared with laughter. Tara never told him that. Find her keys, yes, her phone, all the time along with her sunglasses, but never joy.
He was still chuckling over his foolishness when he went to bed. The next morning he woke early and climbed the attic steps to dig through Tara’s costume collection.


Hank looked around the town hall freshly draped in gaudy orange and black streamers and balloons. Tables bordered the room, and costumed dancers of various themes occupied the center. He heard a wolf call and saw a group of guys from work laughing and pointing at him.
Hank nodded and waved.
What am I doing here?
His friend, Eric, walked over and handed Hank a beer.
“Don’t tell me now. Let me guess.” Eric looked Hank up and down.
“You’re a has-been ballerina.”
Hank adjusted his wig. “Nope.”
Eric rested his elbows on the large tinfoil-wrapped box covering his torso. “You’re a toddler playing ballerina.”
“You must be some kind of ballerina. You’re wearing a tutu.”
“A two what?”
Eric batted the pink ruffle trapped under Hank’s gut.
I’m a ballerina?
“I’m not a ballerina.”
“So what are you then?”
“You gotta guess.” Hank hedged, hoping Eric would come up with something he could claim. He hadn’t thought about being something. Tara always did that.
Finally, Eric shrugged. “I need another beer.” He shook his empty plastic cup. “And then I’ll get Sandy she’s good at guessing costumes.”
Eric weaved his body-sized toaster costume around a group of dancing gnomes and toward the Pop-Tart on the other side of the room.
We used to do couples costumes.
When Tara was pregnant with Liz she went as a bowling ball and he was a bowling pin. His favorite of all was from the movie Mr. & Mrs. Smith. He looked sharp in the tux but Tara was a knockout in a slinky black dress with a slit from floor to hip and a red garter for her water pistol.
Hank watched as Eric followed the Pop-Tart back across the dance floor. Without realizing it Eric bumped into a winged dragon on roller skates causing it to flail. As the dragon’s skate wheels clattered loudly on the wood floor Hank wondered if it was the delivery dragon from last night.

“You’re here!” Sandy beamed over the Pop-Tart box.
Sandy had been Tara’s best friend. They’d met at Mommy & Me Class when their girls were no bigger than a family-sized loaf of bread.
“What a little tart,” Hank teased.
“Guilty.” Sandy swirled her hand in Hank’s direction. “But the real question is, what are you?”
She took in Hank’s red sequined top, black-and-white striped leggings, long dark wig, pink tutu, and sneakers.
“Oh, honey!” Sandy tried to hug him but the Pop-Tart box got in the way. “You’re Tara!”
Sandy wiped her wet cheeks with the back of her hand.
“Everything you have on is from Taras’s past costumes. The wig is from when she was a princess and you were a frog, remember? The striped tights were when she was a sexy jailbird and your top is when she was the magician’s assistant.”

“What about the tutu?” Eric asked.
Hank muttered, “Ballerina bride.”
Sandy looked at his sneakers. “I don’t remember those.”
Hank looked down. “Oh, those are mine.” He didn’t mention how he’d tried to wedge his size tens into the tutus’ matching slippers.
Eric chuckled. “Tara would’ve gotten a kick out of this.”
“What do you mean would’ve?” Sandy shoved her husband. “She’s getting a kick out of this right now.”
Hank and Eric exchanged looks.
“Oh, come on. There are lots of times I feel her around, like right now. You do too, don’t you, Hank?”

Hank studied his size tens as he pulled at strands of wig hair caught in his beard.
“Excuse me.”
A pretty brunette with dimples and green eyes smiled at Hank.
“I have to meet the guy who’s brave enough to dress up like Jennifer Lopez.”
Hank smiled politely. “The truth is—”
“You guessed it.” Sandy cut in. “He’s Jennifer Lopez all right.”
“I absolutely adore her. I’ve seen everything she’s in. What movie is your costume from?”
Sandy laughed, “I just asked him the same thing, right Hank? And you said it was a conglomeration of different parts Jennifer Lopez has played over the years.” Sandy nudged Hank with the corner of her Pop-Tart box.

“Umm…ya, that’s right.”
The woman smiled up at him. Her dimples deepened.
“Hank, guess what she is.” Sandy prompted.
“What? Oh! Okay.”
Hank fumbled with a wig curl and looked at her costume. She wore a lumpy brown bodysuit that despite its dog-dodo appearance looked good on her.
Hank shrugged. “I’m afraid I’m not good at this.”
“I’m an Almond Joy bar!” She pouted, playfully. “But, that’s ok. No one gets it. I guess I need the wrapper.”
“No, no I see it now,” Hank said as Sandy pulled Eric away by the arm.
“I look like a lumpy bug or a dog turd with a head.” She laughed, touching Hank’s arm. “But it’s okay. I’m having a great time and, hey, I got to meet Jennifer Lopez!”
“A.K.A. Hank.” He grinned. He liked her smile.
“Nice to meet you, Hank. I’m Joy.”

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