Twilight settled on the mobile home park. August heat lingered stubbornly, but the chilly breeze whipped through, winning the battle. The four of us sat on Annette’s porch. I was leaning on the banister, picking at a chip of paint with my toe and daydreaming about school. I was going to start first grade soon and finally would be considered a “big girl” like my third-grade sister Marisol. The possibilities for first grade seemed endless as I thought of how younger kids would look at me in awe, whispering to their friends, “She’s in first grade!”
My thoughts were interrupted when Omar, Annette’s little brother, began to squirm. “Let’s play Power Rangers again!” Five minutes earlier we had collapsed on the porch, exhausted after an eternity of crime-fighting and high kicks. It hasn’t taken long for our flushed faces to sink into boredom.
Our mobile home park was called The Country Club Mobile Home Estates, but it was anything but a country club. Instead of playing racquetball or croquet, Omar, Annette, Marisol and I usually went exploring in others’ yards, stole oranges from neighbors’ trees, and, because there was nothing else to do with all the rocks, invented games throwing them at each other, or cats. We probably would have been at our idol Luis’s house but he had recently been taken away in handcuffs. We probably would have been riding our bikes, but Marisol’s had been stolen. Thus, boredom.
“Power Rangers is for babies,” Annette sneered, although a few minutes ago she had made a big fuss over who got to be the pink one. “Let’s do something different!”
“Okay,” we all agreed, but no one had any ideas.
“I know!” my sister exclaimed suddenly, her eyes expanding. “Let’s have a costume parade!”
“We don’t have costumes,” Omar and I whined.
“We have some old ones in the closet,” Annette’s eyes now matched Marisol’s.
“It can be a spooky costume parade,” Omar added, getting into the idea. “We can try to scare people!” We all raced in the house.
Annette’s home always smelled of rice and old blankets. Since her mother was a cleaning woman and her father a construction worker, they weren’t home a lot. Whenever I saw them, they had bleary eyes and drooping bodies. Her mother worked hard to keep the house clean so I was surprised to smell mold.
“Look at all this stuff,” Marisol proclaimed, pulling out a ninja mask.
“I get to be the ninja!” Omar whimpered.
“Omar,” Annette tsked, “You were a ninja for Halloween for the past two years. Don’t you want to be something else?”
But Omar was already pulling on the ninja robe. Annette chose to wear her old Pink Ranger costume, leaving Marisol with the best costume of all.
Marisol emerged from the closet triumphantly, clutching an old sheet. “Boo!” she yelled, throwing the sheet over her head. We all screamed and ran from the ghost in a giggling frenzy.
“What do I get, Annette?” I pulled on her shirt impatiently.
“Uh ...” Annette rooted in the closet even deeper.
I began to get teary, “I want a costume!”
“Here,” she handed me an orange bundle. “My cousin wore this for Halloween and left it here.”
I sniffed dramatically and doubtfully unrolled the bundle. It was faded and scratchy, with a green fuzzy felt collar. “A pumpkin?” I shrieked, throwing the bundle to the floor. “A pumpkin is not scary!”
“Sure it is,” my sister picked it up and smiled. “You’re a magic pumpkin that became evil after people tried to put you in a pie!”
“Yeah, and this parade is your revenge!” Annette exclaimed.
“Okay,” I grumbled warily.
Our costumes were thrown on over our clothes and we emerged, ready to spook. Omar wanted to run screaming through the neighborhood at dangerous speeds while Marisol and Annette wanted to stalk at a slug’s pace, wailing in an unearthly fashion. I had discovered a large rip in my costume and started to do some wailing of my own.
“Dani,” my sister soothed, “It can be part of the story. That rip is where people stabbed you with a fork when they were trying to eat you!”
I was reassured of my ferocity, but my confidence began to falter when I realized I was a pumpkin, and pumpkins don’t make much noise. Omar could make terrifying ninja screams, Annette could produce death-inducing karate shrieks, and Marisol could generate spine-tingling moans and groans. But what horrifying sound effect could I make?
Marisol had an answer, “If you’re a magic pumpkin, you could make any kind of noise you want. You could even groan and scream if you want!”
Groan and scream? Well! This made me the most privileged noise-maker of the group, and when we began our parade, I had the bounciest step of all.
We roamed the darkening streets as wild children. We were not concerned with neighbors’ opinions but we reveled in their stares. We proudly displayed our strange attire, not aware of its shabbiness. We did not care about the dangers of young children unsupervised; we danced in the middle of the road with closed eyes and heads flung back. We were free from all rules.
“Aieee!” Omar would spring and leap, hunting man-eating tigers in the humid jungle.
“Hi-ya!” Annette flew through the air at least a hundred feet, successfully knocking a shady criminal unconscious with a precisely aimed, lightning-quick karate chop.
“OOoooOOoo” Marisol hovered in the air; a spectral horror to all who were unlucky enough to lay eyes on her.
And I, overwhelmed by the number of sounds available to me, decided to laugh at all the people who would soon be given a deadly lesson. “Bwahahaha!” The neighborhood shivered in fear.
The parade was an overwhelming success. We inhaled the crisp air and let the cool breeze wash over us, knowing we were masters - all powerful conductors of the Earth that none could stop.
Whack! While twirling and laughing, I tripped over something and fell to the asphalt. My eyes filled with tears until I realized what I had fallen over - a Malibu Barbie pink Land Rover convertible.
I scrambled to my feet and saw I was standing in the middle of a Barbie metropolis. Bride Barbie. Veterinarian Barbie. Teacher Barbie. Rollerskate Barbie. Hiking Barbie. Sleepy-time Barbie. And the accessories! A wedding cake, a dance floor, a bouquet, a little sick dog, an operating table, a stethoscope, a chalkboard that could be written on, a teacher’s desk, tiny plastic books, pink roller skates, a detailed walkman with headphones, a minute visor, a backpack, hiking boots and a compass. But most of all, a huge playhouse complete with a garage.
Before I knew it I was on my knees again examining the playhouse. I picked up Sleepy-time Barbie to see if she fit in one of the little beds when -
“Hey! What are you doing?” A familiar voice rang in my ears. My brain rushed to recognize it when suddenly I remembered that that same voice yelling, “Get down from there!” “No children allowed in the clubhouse!” “No splashing in the pool!” I concluded it was The Manager. The Manager! The title that struck dread into the hearts of all the neighborhood kids. She and her family were the only well-to-do people there. Their house couldn’t be towed away. It sat in a spacious yard often littered with The Manager’s daughter’s toys. She was the only blond-haired girl I’d seen here and her shoes were always on and always so new that they sparkled.
The Manager snatched Barbie from my hand, “Kay eestas hasyendoe?” she tried to speak Spanish. “Do you speak English?”
I glanced upward, wincing, “I was just-”
“I swear! You can’t have something out in this neighborhood without someone putting their grubby hands on it and trying to sneak off with it. Where are your parents? How dare you try to steal my daughter’s toys!”
My pride swelled. “I wasn’t-”
“I am completely outraged! It’s a disgrace! What are your parents teaching you? Go back to your own house. Andahlay! You can’t play with these toys ever again!”
I looked hungrily at the Barbies, which were being quickly gathered up by The Manager. As she was carrying them off, my heart burst. “Couldn’t we play with them just for a little while? Your daughter could play with us,” I asked
She seemed amazed that I could talk. Then she snorted. “Are you crazy? Look at you all! My Alice play with you brown ragamuffins?”
I couldn’t understand what she was talking about. What was wrong with us? I examined my friends closely and saw things I had never noticed before. Omar’s ninja robe hung several inches too high and he had mud all over his chin from crawling on the ground. Annette’s Power Ranger suit was ill-fitting and tattered. Marisol’s grungy sheet was threadbare and looked like it hadn’t been washed this millennium. I could smell mothballs and dirt from where I knelt. Then I scrutinized myself - a soiled old pumpkin with grimy feet. Ragamuffins. Annette’s creaking porch. Brown. Annette’s parents. Ragamuffins. Moldy closet. Brown. Kay eestas hasyendoe? I suddenly understood.
The wind howled around us as we stood there. Lamenting what, we weren’t exactly sure. But as I looked down at the rip in my costume, where the pumpkin had supposedly been stabbed by carnivorous people, I realized I had more in common with the pumpkin than I had thought.
I calmly took off my costume and left it on The Manager’s fence post. I could pretend no longer. I turned to walk home in the gathering dusk just as the streetlights flickered on.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.