Friday, November 4, 2016

Endings: Halloween as Symbol

On Tuesday or Wednesday, I was driving home from work.  The weather felt more like late spring--not the fierce heat of summer, but not autumnal either.  The occasional porch still had a jack-o-lantern.  One house had things dangling from the porch rafters:  perhaps ghosts or perhaps plastic sheeting from a paint job in process.

I felt a bit sad, like I've missed one of my favorite seasons.  Last year, I took evening walks and enjoyed the Halloween lights.  This year, I'm not sure there were that many to be seen--but I don't know, because I haven't been out to look.

Perhaps I had Halloween on the brain yesterday when I once again turned my attention to my short story, trying to figure out a more satisfying ending.

I did, in fact, finish my story.  It's about a woman who has spent her life thinking about apocalypse and expecting it:  first a nuclear apocalypse and then later, terrorism.  Along the way, she endures hurricanes.  And yet, the apocalypse that comes is a mass lay-off at her for-profit arts college.

Let me hasten to add that this story is not autobiographical; well, the ending is not.  I left my job voluntarily to go to a new job.  I know that I'm lucky.

I did include some hurricane recovery details from my past.  And the main character in the story remembers leaving her college boyfriend for summer break in 1986; she was headed to DC, and in the wake of the Libya bombings, she's expecting massive retaliation--that part, too, was true. 

For those who are interested, below I've pasted what I wrote on Thursday.  I could do more with the Halloween themes.  Hmm.  But for now, here's how the story ends:


        I took a sip of water and watched the next wave of the dispossessed faculty and their carts. I noticed one cart with a bright orange, plastic jack-o-lantern perched precariously on top of some Halloween bunting. I watched another faculty member stop at a picnic table to leave at least 10 coffee mugs. I knew that faculty member; we teased her for her collection, and she said, “I always had this vision that I’d have students gathered for tea, but so far, it’s just me and my one favorite mug.”
       As I walked out, I stopped by the huge bowl of candy that the administrative assistant kept stocked with the best kind of miniature candy for Halloween. I stuffed the rest of my box with handful after handful. At least I wouldn’t have to spend any of my emergency funds on candy for trick-or-treaters this year. It wasn’t my most mature moment.
     As I waited for the elevator at the parking garage and looked at the overflowing garbage cans, I thought of Civil War soldiers who sewed envelopes into the seams of their uniforms, envelopes that had the addresses of their loved ones, so that they could be remembered in death. I thought of other things we might sew into our seams and hems: jewels to sell once the new world was reached or maybe some heirloom seeds.
     I thought of the latest wave of refugees flooding into the Mediterranean Sea, swamping boats. I thought of corpses washing onto distant shores. I got into my hybrid car to begin my own journey.