A Brooklyn Halloween Parade – excerpt from Song of the Shaman . Happy Halloween!
PARK SLOPE’S SEVENTH AVENUE Halloween Parade begins at dusk. Today she and Zig turned onto Seventh Avenue and Park Place at 6:30 p.m. — plenty of time to walk up to the center slope and join the parade coming back down the avenue. Her son beamed, happy to have his mother with him for once on Halloween. The streets were packed with colorfully costumed children and adults. A group of swarthy pirates went by, waving plastic swords and yelling, “Aye aye, Captain” to a boy wearing a huge three-cornered hat. A horn honked and a blond curly wigged Harpo Marx ducked and dived between the crowd, chased by a cigar-tipping Groucho Marx. King Tut, all of four feet high, with smeared but expertly drawn indigo eyes and a gold painted face, walked like an Egyptian while his mother jogged along snapping photos. The assortment of characters was endless; Sheri couldn’t believe she had missed the spectacle all these years. Two Grim Reapers on Rollerblades appeared, gliding like ghosts, menacing in their stark white hockey masks and black hooded capes, wielding a fake sickle in the air. When one came Sheri’s way she stepped aside to let it pass. Instead, the Grim Reaper skated right up to her, raising its sickle over her head. Sheri screamed. The stupid thing gave her a good scare. She laughed to cover her embarassment, but Zig did not find it funny.
“Don’t worry, Mom. It’s not time to go yet. When you’re number’s up it’s up. That guy has no control over it.”
“Okay, Z, don’t be so morbid.”
“I’m not morbid! Halloween is the day when spirits come out to play, when magic is the most powerful.” Zig spread his arms in wide reference to the crowd. “Some of these may be costumes…and some of them may not,” he joked, doing his best Twilight Zone, Rod Serling imitation. An impish grin spread across his face.
“You can’t scare me Injun Joe!”
Sheri went to grab him but he ran ahead of her. Then she noticed how his shoulders were hiked up to his ears. The weather had changed sharply since this morning; leaves flew like a flock of geese in the cold, brisk wind. Was he wheezing again?
ZIG DARTED THROUGH THE CROWD, under the arms of a giant clown on stilts and around a clan of shrieking witches.
“Slow down! Wait!” she yelled.
Heads turned to Sheri’s frantic call. Cold fall evenings had a way of messing with Zig’s lungs, especially if he started running around. And just the other night he’d had a hard time breathing. Where did he go? It made her nervous not to be able to see him, even for a few seconds. There he was, crouched behind a fruit stand, laughing his head off. She grabbed him tightly under his armpit and lifted him from his hiding place.
“It’s not funny, Zig—I told you to stop. If you won’t listen to me we’re going home.” The smirk fell off his face. Just as she feared, he was struggling to catch his breath and began to cough.
“Get your inhaler out and take a puff right now.”
Zig’s eyes glinted in the early evening light. He patted down his front pants pockets. Giggles escaped from his lips in little spurts between coughs. He patted his back pockets.
“Uh, I think I left it in my backpack.”
“What! I asked you if you had it before we left home!”
“I thought I put it in my pocket.”
A festive mob was assembling to start the parade a few blocks up. Where were they? She squinted to read the nearest sign: Twelfth Street. Sheri filled all Zig’s prescriptions at the Duane Reade near her office in the city; they should have it on file here in Brooklyn, but the closest store was on Flatbush Avenue, almost a mile away. Zig sat on a fire hydrant to catch his breath, his cough building in intensity. He could have a full-blown attack in no time. They had passed Methodist Hospital on their way up at Sixth Street. Much as she loathed the emergency room scene, it was her best option. She reached into her bag for a bottle of water.
“Here, take a drink, then climb up on my back. We’re going to the emergency room.”
Zig wagged his head. He swallowed a mouthful before picking words through a wracking cough. “Piggyback?” his said, his voice hoarse. “Daniel (cough), Kwami (cough) are gonna see me!”
Sheri took the bottle from him. “It’s too far for you to walk and we’ve got to hurry. C’mon!”
Zig glanced around covertly; he couldn’t bear to have any of his buddies see him scrambling onto his mother’s back. She hoisted his thin legs around her sides and he clasped his arms under her chin. At ten years old he still felt light but was cumbersome to carry. His cough went deeper. She could feel his chest rising and falling rapidly against her spine. Sheri wobbled along, dodging the throngs of trick-or-treaters darting in and out of stores, grabbing cheap foreign candy. She had to stop to redistribute his weight every couple of feet. Carrying him six blocks would take forever. According to Dr. Breen, almost half the kids in New York City had asthma; it was as common as pimples. Someone out here had to have an inhaler. She searched the crowd for anyone who was coughing or dragged along or jumping around, the way Zig got when he took his medicine. Today all the kids fit that description.
“I can’t believe you forgot your inhaler, Zig! How many times have I told you—”
“Mom, stop! There’s Kwami!”
He pointed to the boy she had seen at school this morning, the one dressed as a blacksmith. The boy spotted Zig at the same time. He and his mother, a plump, buoyant woman in a Yankees baseball cap started for them. Could they have an inhaler? Zig slid off Sheri’s back; her shoulders numb. She hurried to meet the mother on the curb.
“Hi, I’m Sheri, Zig’s mom.”
“Hi, I’m Gina!”
“This may sound like a strange question, Gina, but would you happen to have an inhaler? Zig forgot his and he’s having trouble breathing.”
The woman’s smile faded. “Oh, gosh no, I’m so sorry!” Her posture hung forward in apology. “Great costume!” she said, praising Zig in his haggard state. “You should win a prize for that one.” Zig covered his mouth, hacking his reply. Gina watched him struggle. She put her hand on her cheek.
“Inhaler…oh! Daniel! He carries one.”
“There he is—over there!” Kwami exclaimed.
“Which one is Daniel?” Sheri craned her neck to see above the crowd.
“He’s the gladiator—see the helmet with the long plume?” Gina pointed. “Clara is his mom.”
Sheri dashed across the avenue, leaving Zig behind on the sidewalk with Gina and Kwami. She followed the plume waving above the crowd, pushing her way through. The boy’s mother was straightening his helmet.
“Clara! Clara!” she yelled. “It’s Sheri, Zig’s mom.”
“Oh hi! We were just looking for Zig. Daniel talks about him all the time. He’s dying for a play date.”
“I’m in a bit of a dilemma, Clara…Do you have an inhaler on you? Zig forgot his and I think he’s having an asthma attack. Kwami’s mother told me you might have one.”
Clara read the desperation on Sheri’s face as only a mother with an asthmatic child could. “Yes, I’m sure we have it.”
“Can I trouble you for a puff or two? It might help me avoid Methodist’s emergency room. I’ll pay for the cost of the inhaler—”
“No, that’s okay, it’s no problem.” Clara looked down at her son. “Daniel, can Zig borrow your inhaler? He needs a puff.”
Daniel’s pert little face appeared beneath the cardboard helmet. “Where is he?” he said, digging deep in his pocket and handing Sheri his inhaler.
“He’s right across the street.” Sheri looked back through the crowd. Zig was doubled over, half gasping. She ran to where she left him with Gina and Kwami. Clara and Daniel followed her.
“I told you we were supposed to meet here!” Daniel chided his mother, running over to Zig. Gina was patting Zig on the back and looked relieved when Sheri returned.
“He’s not doing so great,” she said, stepping back so Sheri could see him. His face was red; veins rippled in his neck.
“It’s okay! Daniel had his inhaler! Hurry, Z!” Sheri immediately shook the inhaler and pushed it into his hand. Zig hesitated.
“Go on! Take a puff!”
He just sat there on a milk crate, eyes closed and head bowed. Sheri became frantic. “What’s the matter?”
In the near distance the peal of African drums cut through the commotion. The parade stopped. Everyone grew quiet and stood on their toes to see what was going on. Drummers dressed in flowing batik gowns with matching caps marched up the middle of Seventh Avenue. The count appeared endless; fifty or more musicians advanced steadily like an army of sound and fury.
“Zig, please hurry! Why are you waiting?” She shook him by the shoulders; still he made no move. Was he losing conscious-ness? At once the noise was maddening; there were too many people, not enough air. She wanted to sweep him up above the scene and carry him to safety. Suddenly he tilted his head as if he were listening. The force of the drummers’ rhythm stunned her; the vibration was so powerful it nearly threw her to the ground. But the sound had the opposite effect on Zig. He moved toward its thunder. Lips parted, he seemed to be breathing, in time, to the beat.
The drumming ended as abruptly as it started. People in the crowd exchanged looks of wonder.
“Whoa! I’ve never seen African drummers at the Halloween parade!” Gina gazed after the performers.
“Me neither! Where did they come from?” Clara too was straining to get a last glimpse of them.
“Take a puff right now, Zig, before you have another attack!” Sheri demanded, trying to contain herself.
“I don’t need it.” He put the cap on the inhaler and gave it back to Daniel.
“What’re you talking about?”
Zig shook his head. “I don’t need it.”
Sheri pressed her ear against his back. The two women waited for her reaction. Sure enough, his lungs were clear, completely clear. She pulled her head back. How could that be? He looked into her eyes. Feathers hung limp around his head; shards of cloth blew wildly at his sides. Zig was like an Indian warrior on his last leg, weary from facing a long battle. Sheri faked a smile and fingered his headdress, her hands shaking. She glanced nervously at the other mothers.
“Maybe I was overreacting. Maybe you weren’t as bad as I thought.”
“Overreacting!” Gina blurted out. “I was terrified waiting for you to come back—he worried the heck out of me!”
Clara looked at Sheri. Zig got up, dusted off the seat of his pants.
“I needed some help, so they came.”
There was a pause. The two mothers bent down to his level. Kwami and Daniel moved in.
“Who?” Gina asked.
“Sweetie, it’s getting late—”
“The drummer spirits! See, it’s kinda like the inhaler…I sucked in the beat and the silence between the beats, and the pain in my chest stopped. The drumbeats beat the cough out.”
Sheri observed the two women, wondering what was percolating in their minds. Gina pushed up her baseball cap. Clara brushed hair out of her wide eyes.
“The whole universe moves to one beat,” Zig continued, placing his palm on his chest. “Even your heart and breath moves to the same beat. In fact, it never stops beating, unless your body is dead, course. It just gets out of rhythm sometimes and makes everything go crazy inside. That’s when the drummer spirits come—to put the right beat back into you.”
She could just imagine the gossip at school tomorrow. Kwami looked down the street for the drummers. Daniel could hardly contain his excitement. He put the inhaler in his pocket.
“I have a drum at home. Think that could work for me?”
“Zig, it’s getting really late and cold out. We better go.” Sheri steered him to the middle of the sidewalk.
“But I didn’t even get to trick-or-treat!” he protested.
“Can’t he stay a little longer?” Daniel and Kwami pleaded.
“Sorry, guys, we have to go. Thanks again for all your help, really. Nice meeting you!”
“Same here…get home safely,” Gina said with uncertainty. Clara stared after them. The mothers waved but their brows were crumpled. There would be talk at school. Zig lagged behind a bit until Sheri yanked him by his sleeve.
His two friends ambled into the street.
“See you tomorrow!” Daniel yelled.
“Bye, Zig!” Kwami yelled even louder.
“Bye, Daniel! Bye, Kwami!” Zig voice was as crisp as the night, the cough and hoarseness gone. A breeze blew the feathered strips on his headdress straight up in the air, like a peacock fanning his plumes.
Copyright © 2013 by Annette Vendryes Leach