This is my sister’s first Halloween with her older brother. She’s heard of trick-or-treating, of course, perhaps from some of the other children at Fort Chaffee, but that first October after they had arrived at the National Guard base was too confusing. Many of the other refugee families came with nothing, so there’s nothing to give out, and this is not home, this former POW camp. Who goes door-to-door in a barracks?

No, her first Halloween is in Carbondale, where the family’s sponsors, Mr. and Mrs. Lee, live. The Lees are elderly, religious, and that Sunday, when the family trots off to church on Sunday, she leans against her father, who has closed his eyes in a good approximation of prayer, and naps.

The end of October air is brisk. The Lees’ church provided them with some cool weather clothing, but no costumes, and so she wears her everyday clothes. She feels conspicuous. She is nine; her brother is twelve.

The sun has disappeared under the horizon, but orange light still suffuses the sky like fire. Jack o’lanterns exude the odor of pumpkin from jagged mouths. Her brother rings the doorbell, and they hold out their plastic grocery bags.

“Trick or treat,” he says, and she echoes it a moment afterwards.

Puzzled, the homeowner reaches for the candy bowl. He speaks very slowly, as if they can’t understand.

“Halloween is tomorrow,” the man says.

Her brother whispers to her in Vietnamese: I’ve got it covered.

“It’s a school night,” he says.

This is my sister’s first Halloween with her younger brother. He’s heard of trick-or-treating, of course, since he’s spent most of his life in America, and now that they’ve moved to Aurora, Colorado, Vietnam seems further away than ever. This is the suburbs; they have their own furniture (not new, but new-ish), and even their parents know to turn off the lights to discourage people from coming to the door.

She’s long outgrown trick-or-treating, but her little brother seems excited by the promise of free candy. Each year, Halloween grows larger and larger; Vu Lan and Tết Trung Thu seem distant, like days that appear on the calendar, but nowhere else. Tonight, she will take him door-to-door.

Snow starts to fall; the first snow of the season. Her brother has refused to wear the plastic frock that came with his Smurf costume; he only wears the mask, but he complains that it makes it difficult to breathe.

“You don’t have to wear it all the time,” she says. She is fourteen; he is five.

He has started to make friends with other kids on the street; she has her friends at school. Her other brother is looking at the School of Mines. Next year, he will not need her to accompany him. She tells him to use a pillowcase, and not one of those tiny baskets the other children use. “You can fit more candy in.”

He looks at her for tips on sugar acquisition.

“I used to trick-or-treat the day before Halloween,” she says. “Then again on Halloween.  Twice the candy!”

Advertisements