Distraction (October 2016)

Lena crouches down and brushes back spiraling leaves to uncover a tiny pumpkin sitting in the dirt. She cups it in just one hand, dusting off flecks of dirt with the other. There are so many pumpkins that surround it that are fuller, more evenly shaped and vibrantly colored. She stares at the one cradled in Joanne’s arms, with its perfect curved stem and skin so orange that it pops against the dim, overcast sky. But there’s something that draws her back to the one she’s holding – she can feel a strand of life humming inside it. It hadn’t been given much chance to become something, but it held on.

“I don’t think you’ll be able to carve much onto that one,” Joanne points out as Lena rises to her feet, and she shrugs. It seems better to leave it unscathed and whole.

When it begins to rain, Joanne steps in closer to her and warms her. Lena tucks her pumpkin into the folds of her jacket, sheltering it away from raindrops and the mud that splatters up her shins as they cross the length of the pumpkin patch. Joanne pays for their pumpkins – Lena’s is worth only a handful of change. They head home and Lena watches the pumpkin rattle in her lap as the car coasts along the road.

She goes to place it on the coffee table as soon as they get inside and keeps it steady by balancing it against an almost empty glass of water. She hears the squeaking of their shower handles as Joanne turns them, and remembers that her clothes are heavy and soaked against her skin. She washes the cold away, embraced by steam and kisses.

When they return to the living room, Lena has a blanket draped around her shoulders that her fingers stroke and clench around. She goes to rest on the couch by the fireplace as Joanne sets up her pumpkin to carve on the table and begins to dot around it with puncture holes. She listens to the thuds on the table as pieces of the pumpkin give way under Joanne’s tools, and the crackling of the fire. She wiggles her toes as they’re enveloped with comforting heat and starts to trace around the bumps and ridges on her tiny pumpkin.

“You look comfy.” Joanne startles her out of her patterned movements as she comes to join her on the couch, her large, full pumpkin now inset with two curved eyes and an arc for a mouth. It glows with the small candle tucked inside, and she watches the light waver as the flame flickers. Lena hums in affirmation, bouncing a little when Joanne plunks down next to her.

Her gaze drifts back to the pumpkin in her lap. It’ll last a while longer. It’ll hold up through the nights to come, kept safe from trick-or-treaters stomping around the porch, and the cold loneliness that will sweep through the ending of fall.

It should have a face too.

Lena disturbs their position on the couch as she moves to the kitchen to grab a sharpie out of one of the drawers. She uncaps it and holds the pumpkin steady as she draws a smiley face on it. It deserves to be happy for making it this far.

She returns to her spot. Joanne yawns beside her and Lena is pulled into her drowsiness. Her eyes lower into slivers, her tiny pumpkin growing blurry. Its black smile remains in her mind.

 

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