At first the idea is nothing but brilliant, economical, creative. Ricardo and I, perusing shelves of stuffed animals at Goodwill once discarded by previous owners, sold now for ninety-nine cents or maybe three dollars. The perfect price range for costume-making materials. I rummage through piles until my eyes hone in on stuffed horns attached to a bison. Or maybe a buffalo. It's hard to say. But it's darn near perfect, so I add it to my stash of random findings. Ricardo makes a noise as near excitement as I ever hear from him, his eyes wide and mischievous, and pulls a stuffed dog the size of a five-year old off the top shelf. "I've got an idea," he says, waving the dog in the air. It appears the stuffing migrated long ago to the dog's extremities, and so its head slumps over a flat neck and chest, despondent. I know this because as a child, I mastered the skill of intuiting the emotions of stuffed animals, and apparently, I have this skill for life. I feel his droopy plastic eyes pleading with me.
But Ricardo's thread of creative thought is unraveling faster than I can keep pace. The dog's fate is already sealed.
We arrive home and spread the elements of my costume across the carpet. I sit, beneath the gaze of a court of stuffed animals on the armchair, holding my scissors. Snip. Snip. Scissors slice across the horns and stuffing sprouts out of the severed ends. I wince. I'm so sorry, Mr. Bison. I really need you for this costume, understand? Ricardo is laughing at my theatrics, and I know it's irrational, still I actually feel guilty. By night's end, Mr. Bison's remains lie in a pile on the couch.
At work the next day, it's my turn to share a story with the customer who is gradually revealing memories from his childhood, and I choose to tell him of Mr. Bison and my costume-in-progress. It's disturbing me, I admit, that I am an animal-loving vegetarian, and here I am, dismembering a stuffed bison. He turns counselor on me with his nod and thoughtful hmmm, and then replies with a story of why he stopped celebrating Halloween when he was eleven.
Dressed as a gangster, he said he was walking through a frat row when a couple of guys enticed him to come trick-or-treat at their door. As he approached the house, he remembers a group of guys emerging out of the darkness and chasing him. Some college guys next door witnessed this and comforted him, saying what a nasty prank that was of their neighbors, and invited him to come to their door for treats. When he arrived at their door, more guys jumped out and chased him into the street. He was traumatized.
"And that's why I can't dress up for Halloween," he says to my coworker and I. "I'm broken. A broken Halloween participator." He pauses, looking me in the eyes without a trace of smile, "Like your bison."
I call Ricardo up on my break. "Please, save the dog," I'm pleading like a child, my last ditch effort for appeasing a guilty conscience. "Where is he?" The dog, that is.
"Oh, Ita... he's drying in the laundry room."
At least the costumes will be economical and creative.