Christopher Acker

Posted on May 8, 2017

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Asterisk

This must be how A-Rod feels, Taryn says to herself while hiding her new mini-saw under the waistband of her sweatpants. Like a fraud. Isn’t that what they call him? A-Fraud?

She does her best to squash her guilt before entering the kitchen. The last thing she needs is for her husband to take one look at her and discover the look of a cheater plastered all over her face.

“What took you so long?” Charlie asks.

“I was looking for my cell phone charger.”

On the television above the refrigerator, Jamie Lee Curtis can’t stop screaming for her life, and no one in her neighborhood seems to care.

Charlie takes a knife from off the wall. “Did you find it?”

Before her husband can spot the charger on the kitchen table and realize something devious is afoot, Taryn grabs it and puts it in her pocket. “It was under the bed,” she tells him.

“Strange place for it to turn up.”

“Yeah, pretty odd.”

Taryn finds a decoy knife in the kitchen drawer. Her fingers grip the handle just as Michael Myers appears out of a darkened closet and takes a swipe at Jamie Lee Curtis’ shoulder. Taryn lifts the knife over her head and makes a few stabbing motions in her husband’s general direction. It’s Halloween, she thinks, so why not?

“You’d make a terrible serial killer,” Charlie says after hoisting both pumpkins into his arms. “I can see your reflection in the glass.”

“If I wanted to kill you,” Taryn says and wipes her finger along the edge of the blade barely sharp enough to slice through an onion, “I’d use the Santoku knife you’re holding.”

Charlie steps outside. He puts the pumpkins on the patio table and asks, “What’s that about a Santoku knife?

“I’m just thinking out loud.”

“About what?”

“The different ways to kill you.”

Charlie lifts both pumpkins so his wife can slide some newspaper underneath. Once this is accomplished, he hands her a Sharpie. Whereas Taryn deliberates with the marker, her husband wastes no time exorcising the stem. His knife work is precise and the circle he carves without any marking for guidance is near perfect. But his focus is so intense that he fails to notice his wife slip the mini-saw out from under her waistband.

“Have we decided on a prize for the winner?” Taryn asks.

“Like what?”

“Dream big.”

“How about the loser cleans up out here?”

It depresses her that Charlie’s idea of spicing things up is not getting stuck with chores. She would’ve pointed this out to him had his gaze not drifted towards the house next door.

“Don’t go there,” she tells him.

“I’m not.”

“I saw your eyes.”

“Is that a crime?”

“I want you to stay here with me.”

“I’m just wondering if he’ll make an appearance tonight.”

“It doesn’t concern us.”

Taryn always found drawing a circle around the stem problematic. The issue isn’t how big or small an opening to make, but bringing the marker back to where she started without making the circle look misshapen. This year’s attempt isn’t perfect but it will do.

She then angles the pumpkin carefully so Charlie can’t see the mini-saw puncture the skin. The teeth are razor sharp and leave no noticeable incision. She feels like a surgeon, confident her precision will be rewarded.

After the saw works its way to the end of the circle, Taryn grabs the stem and drops the lid on the newspaper. The odor that jettisons from the pumpkin nearly makes her gag. To think pumpkin pie is somehow concocted from this mess. She hides the mini-saw under the Sunday comics before trying to scoop out the guts without throwing up.

“Did you call your sister to see if she’s available tonight?” she asks.

“It’s Halloween. She knows.”

The fear of all her efforts wasted over an oversight takes hold. “I would call her just to make sure.”

While Charlie picks up his phone, acting as if assigned some great burden, Taryn feels satisfied enough with her pumpkin’s interior to proceed with sketching the face. This year’s design comes from a website she discovered dedicated to the art of pumpkin carving.

Taryn remembers a quote at the top of the homepage: the simplicity of three triangles and a toothless grin evokes Halloween at its most joyous. Those words guide her Sharpie as it slides across the pumpkin’s slick skin, sinks into the vertical cracks, and leaves behind three flawless triangles.

“I’ll text you a picture in half an hour,” Charlie says before ending the call.

Taryn takes a break from the pumpkin to ask, “How’s Loraine doing?”

“Oh, you know. Working hard.”

“And her new business?”

Charlie slams a glob of seeds and pulp onto the newspaper. “Thriving from what I can tell.”

Taryn pulls out of her pumpkin the perfect equilateral triangle. She feels like taking a bow.

The admiration is brief, though, broken up by Charlie’s loud—psst. He points towards the neighbor’s house, where a light has suddenly turned on. “Like clockwork,” he whispers.

Their neighbor Carlos appears in his living room window. The part of him that Charlie couldn’t stop talking about all summer is thankfully covered up by a pair of gym shorts hiding the monster underneath.

“What would possess someone to parade around like that with all the blinds wide open?” Charlie asks.

“He probably doesn’t think anyone would be snooping.” Taryn then adds, “Like us.”

“Still. He should know better.”

“Let’s stop talking about it and get back to our pumpkins.”

Charlie makes a couple swift passes. But he stops again to ask, “This doesn’t bother you?”

“What goes on inside his house does not bother me in the least.”

Taryn thrusts her blade into the middle of her pumpkin’s mouth. She makes a few sawing motions, but truth be told, she’s not feeling it. The spirit of Halloween left their backyard somewhere around Carlos strolling into his kitchen to crack open a can of Pringles.

“I bet he can’t have just one,” Charlie says.

The frustration of yet another night of competing for her husband’s attention causes her to return to her pumpkin with a feverish intensity. She no longer cares if she’s caught holding a mini-saw. It would mean Charlie is paying attention to her.

The saw maneuvers in and around the tight corners of the mouth with unparalleled ease. The movement of her hand is steady and determined. Like A-Rod in the on-deck circle, nothing can distract her renewed focus, not even the fans in the upper deck chanting—asterisk!

In an effort to get Halloween back on track, Taryn asks her husband, “How’s your pumpkin looking?”

Charlie abandons the show next door. He takes a few more precise cuts before responding, “I think this just might be my masterpiece.’”

“I could say the same about mine.”

“Then why don’t you.”

Taryn peels away the last chunk of pumpkin and says, proudly, “I think this is my masterpiece.”

Tradition requires them to lift their finished submissions and walk them to the front porch. Neither sneaks a peek of the other’s design. They continue practicing restraint even after they position the pumpkins on the bottom step. Charlie then takes two battery-powered candles out from his pocket and puts one inside his and the other inside his wife’s.

“Should we look now?” Taryn asks after they walk silently to the end of the sidewalk.

“It’s time.”

When they about-face, two nearly identical jack o’ lanterns stare back at them. The one on the left—Taryn’s—has two eyes pointing up, a nose pointing down, and a grin with three teeth. The one on the right—Charlie’s—differs in only the direction the three triangles point.

“Impressive,” her husband says.

“Yours too,” she says, wondering if this isn’t her comeback year after all.

The click from Charlie’s phone as he takes a snapshot of their porch puts an end to any last-minute touches Taryn now sees she should’ve made.

“And now it’s in the hands of the judge,” Charlie says after sending his sister a text.

The minutes pass.

“Anything yet?” Taryn asks.

“Nope.”

Then, a minute later, “Anything?”

Charlie doesn’t look at his phone before answering, “Relax, will you. I would’ve heard something.”

The desire to hug her husband suddenly overtakes Taryn. She throws her arms around him and whispers something generous into his ear, which causes him to squeeze her tight. But as he gets closer to her, she feels a sharp object jab into her side. For a second, she thinks she’s been stabbed. But the thought doesn’t last. Charlie is her husband. He would never hurt her. This much she knows.

****

Christopher Acker is a husband, father, and full-time clinical social worker living in Bridgewater, New Jersey. His work has appeared in The Raven’s Perch, Inwood Indiana, Fictive Dream, Spelk, Firefly Magazine, The Molotov Cocktail, and No Extra Words.

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