These human children were altogether inferior. Sometimes at night, I wished I could be back prowling the forest, spooking sleeping birds from their roosts, stealing clothes from clotheslines, and making merry, rather than en-during page after page of homework and fretting about my peers. But for all its faults, the real world shone, and I set my mind to forgetting the past and becoming a real boy again. Intolerable as school was, my home life more than compensated. Mom would be waiting for me every afternoon, pretending to be dusting or cooking when I strode triumphantly through the front door.
"Theres my boy," she would say, and whisk me to the kitchen for a snack of jam and bread and a cup of Ovaltine. "How was your day today, Henry?"
I would make up one or two pleasant lies for her benefit.
"Did you learn anything new?"
I would recite all that had been rehearsed on the way home. She seemed inordinately curious and pleased, but would leave me at last to the dreadful homework, which I usually managed to finish right before suppertime. In the few moments before my father came home from work, she would fix our meal, my company at tableside. In the background, the radio played her favorite ballads, and I learned them all upon first hearing and could sing along when the records were invariably repeated. By accident or ignorance, I mimicked the balladeers voices perfectly and could sing tone for tone, measure for measure, phrase for phrase, exactly like Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney or Jo Stafford. Mom took my musical ability as a natural extension of my general wonderfulness, charm, and native intellect. She loved to hear me, often switching off the radio to beg me to sing it one more time.
"Be a dear boy and give us Theres a Train Out for Dreamland again."
When my father first heard my act, he didnt respond as kindly. "Where did you pick that up? One day you cant carry a tune, now you sing like a lark."
"I dunno. Maybe I wasnt listening before."
"Youre kidding me? She has that racket on day and night with your Nat Cole King and all that jazz, and Can you take me dancin sometime? As if a mother of twins .. .What do you mean, you werent listening?"
"Concentrating, I mean."
"You should be concentrating on your homework and helping your mother with the chores."
"If you pay attention and listen instead of merely hearing the song, you can pick up the tune in no time."
He shook his head and lit another Camel. "Mind your elders, if you please, Caruso."
I took care not to be such a perfect mimic around my dad.
Mary and Elizabeth, on the other hand, were too young to know any better, and they accepted without question my budding talent for imperson-ation. Indeed, they begged for songs all the time, especially in their cribs, where Id trot out all the novelty tunes like "Mairzy Doats" or "Three Little Fishies." Without fail, however, they fell asleep as if knocked unconscious every time I sang "Over the Rainbow." I did a mean Judy Garland.
My days with the Days quickly fell into a comfortable routine, and as long as I stayed inside the house or inside the classroom, all went well. The weather suddenly grew cooler, and almost at once the leaves turned garish shades of yellow and red, so bold that the mere sight of trees hurt my eyes. I hated those bright reminders of life in the forest. October proved a riot to the senses and climaxed those giddy last weeks before Halloween. I knew that parties were involved, begging for nuts and candies, bonfires in the square, and playing tricks on the townsfolk. Believe me, we hobgoblins did our share of mischief—unhinging gates, smashing pumpkins, soaping the library windows with cartoon demons. What I had not experienced was the folderol among the children and the way that even the schools had gotten into the act. Two weeks before the big day, the nuns began planning a classroom party with entertainment and refreshments. They hung orange and black crepe paper along the tops of the chalkboards, pasted paper pumpkins and black cats on the walls. We dutifully cut out scary things from construction paper and glued together our own artistic efforts, pitiable though they were. Mothers were enlisted to bake cookies and brownies, make popcorn balls and candy apples. Costumes were allowed—indeed, expected. I remember exactly my conversa-tion on the matter with my mother.
"Were having a party for Halloween at school, and teacher says we come dressed in our trick-or-treat outfits instead of our uniforms. I want to be a hobgoblin."
"What was that?"
"You know, a hobgoblin."
"Im not sure what that is. Is it anything like a monster?"
"Or a ghost? Or a ghoul?"
"Perhaps a little vampire?"
"Im no bloodsucker, Mother."
"Perhaps its a fairy?"
I howled. For the first time in nearly two months, I lost my temper and screamed in my natural wild voice. The sound startled her.
"For the love of God, Henry. You scared the wits out of me, raising the dead and howling like a banshee. Therell be no Halloweenin for you."
Banshee keen, I wanted to tell her, they wail and weep, but they never howl. Instead, I turned on the tears, bawling like the twins. She drew me to her and hugged me against her stomach.
"There now, I was only kidding." She lifted my chin and gazed into my eyes. "I just dont know what a hobgoblin is. Listen, how about going as a pirate, youd like that now, wouldnt you?"
And thats how I ended up dressed in pantaloons and a shirt with puffed sleeves, a scarf tied around my skull, and wearing an earring like Errol Flynn. On Halloween day, I stood before a class of ghosts, witches, and hoboes, the only pirate in the school, probably the whole county. Teacher had tapped me to sing "The Teddy Bears Picnic" as part of the scary entertainment for our party. My normal speaking voice was a squeak like Henry Days, but when I sang "If you go out in the woods tonight," I sounded exactly like the sonorous bass of Frank DeVol on the record. The imitation shocked nearly everybody. In a back corner, Caroline Hines sobbed in fear through the whole song. Most of the slack-jawed kids gaped through their masks and makeup, not quite knowing what to believe. I remember that Tess Wodehouse sat and stared without blinking, as if she realized a fundamental deception but could not unravel the trick. But the nuns knew better. At the end of the song, they whispered together in a conspiracy of penguins, then nodded in unison as they crossed themselves.
The actual trick-or-treating left much to be desired. My father drove me into town at dusk and waited for me as I walked the row of houses along Main Street, spying here and there another child in pathetic costume. No hobgoblin appeared, although a black cat did try to cross my path. I hissed at the creature in perfect cat, and it turned tail, running away in panic to hide beneath a hon-eysuckle bush. An evil grin crossed my face. It was good to know I had not yet lost all my tricks.