Thirty-One and a Half RegretsBy: Denise Grover Swank
Since I didn’t have any children and none were in the foreseeable future, Muffy would have to bear the brunt of my overzealous desire to participate in all the holidays. And while she might not like this costume, I was sure she wouldn’t protest the Christmas presents I planned to get her.
My eyebrows lowered as I took in the yellow-and-black-striped stuffed costume that covered most of her trunk and the short gauzy wings that stuck out from its sides. The plumpness made her spindly legs look even skinnier, but her dark fur blended perfectly with the color scheme. My mouth twisted to the side as I debated whether it was worth my trouble and Muffy’s obvious reluctance to try to get the cap with the antennae fastened on her head. Ultimately, I stuffed the little hat in the bag I’d packed to take along. No sense pressing my luck.
“Okay, girl. Let’s go.”
As I let Muffy outside and turned to lock up, Heidi Joy’s four older boys came piling out of their front door, shoving and shouting, each of them clutching an orange plastic pumpkin. Muffy usually ran right to them, but this time she bolted into the front yard, throwing herself to the ground and rolling onto her back.
“Muffy! Stop that right now! You’ll mess up your costume!”
The boys ran over and stood in a semi-circle around her, their mouths hanging open. Andy, Jr. grabbed his belly and burst out into laugher. “What in the world happened to your dog? Did she jump into a hill of fire ants?”
The other boys giggled.
“What’s she wearing?”
“She’s wearin’ a Halloween costume, just like you. What’s it look like?”
His eyes narrowed. “She looks like a hot dog with mustard stripes.”
“She’s a bumblebee, not a hot dog.” I knew I sounded defensive and I was. I didn’t like it when people made fun of her.
“Where’s her stinger?” four-year-old Keith asked.
“She doesn’t have one.”
He shook his head and mumbled, “If she don’t have a stinger, she’d be dead. She don’t look like a dead bumblebee.”
Muffy continued to roll around and let out a loud fart, the smell permeating the air.
A chorus of giggles and “Ewww…” erupted from the boys.
“But it smells like she’s dyin’!” Andy, Jr. waved in front of his face and burst out laughing again.
I gave the boys a frown before scooping Muffy into my arms. “Y’all are gonna hurt Muffy’s feelings.” I looked down at Andy, Jr. “What are you supposed to be?”
“I’m a pirate.” The six-year-old tugged on the patch covering his eye. His three little brothers crowded around him, dressed as Spider-Man, a dinosaur, and a cowboy. Heidi Joy came out her front door with the baby, who was dressed as a puppy, on her hip. She was wearing a long-sleeved black T-shirt with a baby-sized skeleton overlaying an adult-sized skeleton.
Andy, Jr. held up his plastic sword and spoke in a growl, “Give me your buried treasure or I’ll make you walk the plank.”
I considered telling him he wasn’t getting anything after making fun of Muffy, but decided I could be more mature than a six-year-old. “I left you some treasure on my front porch, but it’s not buried. It’s hiding behind my pumpkins.”
The boys ran onto the porch while I shifted Muffy’s costume back into place and put her in the truck with my tote bag, hoping she wouldn’t hurt herself by trying to get the costume off in there. The boys’ squeals of delight made me smile.
“We each have our own bag!” four-year-old Keith shouted.
“You spoil them, Rose.” Heidi Joy shook her head with a smile as she transferred the baby to her other hip.
“They’re not bags full of candy, I promise. I put coloring books and a puzzle in each of them. I figured they’ll get enough sugar tonight.”
“Like I said, you spoil them.”
“I’m headed to Violet’s. Can you keep an eye on my house? After all the craziness in the neighborhood over the last few months, I’m worried about what the older kids might do, especially Thomas and his friends.” Thomas was a high school senior who seemed determined not to graduate and had gotten mixed up with Daniel Crocker’s friends. He’d made no secret that he didn’t like me and had insinuated that Crocker’s men were upset with me for helping putting their boss behind bars.
I suddenly wondered if Bruce Wayne’s disappearance was somehow tied to Daniel Crocker. When the police threatened to arrest him for the murders committed by Jonah’s mother, he’d sought refuge at Weston’s Garage, the former headquarters of Daniel Crocker’s drug and stolen car parts ring. Bruce Wayne had worked for Crocker a year ago, before he was arrested for the hardware store manager’s murder, and Crocker’s men were loyal to their own. But if Bruce Wayne had sought help at Weston’s Garage, what had scared him in the first place?