There’s the navy fringe dress from H&M that I wore to Erma’s wedding last year. There’s the pair of seal brown oxford pumps I bought a million years ago in Japan. There’s a strand of fake pearls, a fluffy white flower pin, and makeup to make me look like Clara Bow. For the first time ever, my hair is right; bobbed to just underneath my chin. I will be a flapper for Halloween in Italy. Halloween in Italy – why not? I’ve seen some pumpkins loose in the centro. There are Halloween decorations at Orizzonte – housing goods store extraordinaire. My friends say: Yeah, there are parties in the pubs. Us? Naaaah, we’ve never celebrated Halloween. It’s really new here for us, remember. Mostly the kids do it. But, sure, there’ll be something in the centro. Check it out. Have fun! I’d been prepared to spend a dismal November 1 with my hands pressed against my computer screen, gazing in lust at all of my friends’ Facebook Halloween photos, but this – the pumpkins, the spatter of decorations, the supposed parties in pubs – all conspire to give me hope. In front of my bathroom mirror on October 31st, I smudge black hollows around my eyes; extend the line of my eyebrows into sad commas; paint a tight, pointed cupid’s bow on my mouth. I see myself in black and white, hear the Charleston buzzing through the decades. My lungs fill with air; my soul is buoyed.
Because I love Halloween.
I love Halloween.
I freaking love Halloween.
I get in my car and I drive to the centro. I expect road rage but the streets, instead, are relatively clear. I expect, also, to see people in costume. I don’t. I walk down Viale Noemi. It’s dark, lit softly with orange street lamps. There’s a little boy in a gelateria wearing a plastic Halloween hat. All the adults are gaping at me. I draw my coat tighter around me and press on; the heels of my oxfords clacking against the sidewalk past the movie theater – dead – and down the main drag – scattered with clots of young people, none of whom are in costume, all of whom turn to stare at me as I pass.
I walk to the edge of town. I see, finally, a pub with cobwebs in the windows. A peek inside shows me that the bartenders are wearing witch hats. I push open the doors and see that there’s barely anyone inside; just a few people eating dinner, and none in costume.
Happy Halloween! I say hopefully. Blank faces.
Are you waiting for someone? asks the barman.
No, I say. There are skull candles on the tables and the barman has a spider drawn on his cheek. A ghost hangs from the ceiling and shrieks each time a draft billows up its skirts. I just want a beer.
We don’t have that. We have Paulaner –
I get the beer and sit down at a table in the corner. 80s pop is on the stereo and the bartenders poke each other in the ribs. The little ghost shrieks. People begin to stream in and out of the pub; no costumes. I drink my beer and focus on the pub’s walls. Exposed stones; yellow moulding. There’s a brigand theme here because we’re across the street from the big rock, the former hideout of Terracina’s famed brigand of yore.
The minutes tick by. I finish my beer and head back out onto the street. I text one of my friends: Where was that Halloween party you were talking about? He texts back: Past the bus station. Check it out. The streets are thicker with people now, crowded around the gelaterie and in the town square, and they all turn their heads to stare as I pass. I find myself ducking, hiding the makeup job I applied so gleefully, tucking my chin into the collar of my coat. And then I find the party – a clusterfuck with kids packed around the entrance. A peek into the windows shows that no one is wearing a costume. What on earth is the point of co-opting another culture’s holiday if you’re not going to embrace the thrust of it? What is this, pagan rules? If so, where are the hollowed-out turnips, where are the bonfires? Why just cobwebs and skulls on the walls – what’s the fun in that? Halloween without costumes? Does not compute.
I click clack back to my car, ducking the stares. Silly, so silly to expect to celebrate my favorite holiday when I’m far from home. Spoiled expat. I got Halloween in Japan. I got Halloween in Ireland. There were signs of hope here in Terracina. But I’m not home. I’m a 1920s flapper in a crowd of 21st century city dwellers. I haven’t felt this foreign in a long, long time.