Kage Baker, about a year before we found out she had cancer, asked me to stop alerting her whenever someone we knew died. We had reached that age (mid 50’s) when our peer group began exhibiting signs of mortality. And Kage wasn’t ready to hear it.
So I pretty much stopped the River Styx Sigalerts. When it was someone who had mattered to her very much – a close friend, a member of the “family” – she generally already knew they were failing, from other sources. Sometimes she would ask me to check on someone; other times, it was just that I decided she needed to know. But I stopped telling her about everything. It was getting all too frequent …
Naturally, when her own illness was discovered to be first serious, and then mortal – she didn’t want it broadcast. We kept the secret from Spring to the dark heart of Winter, with only a few people finding out. Even when Kage attended a World Fantasy Con in a wheelchair, she was obviously so cheery and having so much fun that most people believed her when she said it wasn’t an emergency yet. It’s hard to believe someone is dying when they spend a Con racing around on wheels with a bowl of candy on their lap, clipping doorways and tossing chocolate to the masses and laughing like a loon.
Heck, at that point even Kage didn’t believe it was that bad. I don’t think she gave in to the idea until that last doctor’s visit, when her oncologist gently told her it was time to relax to the inevitable. And even then, once he was gone, Kage commented that she still wouldn’t believe it – except that he had made a HOUSE CALL. She figured an actual house call meant she was, yes, dying.
But it still made her laugh.
We are come round to that season again, when the walls of the world are thin and the beloved dead rise to haunt at least our memories. I have lights lit every night. Candles, both faux and real – the twin Lamps of the Weird on my desk – a Halloween tree decked with flame lights and bats – a glass skull with a tea light in it. The porch light has been changed to a livid green, and orange lights are all over the railings and the tree.
And there is chocolate all over the house, as well the weird special candies that only show up at Halloween. Blood-orange flavoured Dots, which are magnificent. Licorice in all shapes and sizes, Smarties and Chicken Stix and Dum Dum suckers. We buy huge bags of goodies for the trick or treaters, and we buy them early and often: because all the teeny princesses and Iron Men at the door are gonna be getting the 3rd or 4th generation of the sweets. Kimberly and I ate all the earlier ones …
We made it through Kage’s last Halloween flying high on hope and theobromos – chocolate was something she could always eat, no matter how sick her treatments made her. “Is there nothing chocolate cannot do?” she would marvel, holding some exotic chocolate bar up to the autumn light from the window. Lavender, sea-salt, chile, coffee nibs, goat’s milk … she tried everything we could find, because what did she have to worry about? Weight was melting off her and everything but chocolate tasted nasty and strange: a touch of sage or a dusting of sweet corn meal could only improve it for her.
This Autumn has so far been a season of loss and flames for me. The heat has nearly killed me – it’s still 90 degrees here right now, and parts of the city are (as usual) on fire. And my oldest and dearest friends are dying on all sides, the playmates of the magical youth Kage and I shared under the oak trees. Holes in my heart, every death – too many and too close together, so that there’s no peace or resignation to be had. Not this year. There’s been no breathing space.
In future years, I’ll be more used to it. Pain will retreat, the fresh gall of the burns will fade to the ache of scar tissue; one can deal with that. And I can enjoy the lamps and the sweeties that I light and dispense, sharing illumination and sugar with whatever walks up in the warm breathing dark – because it might be someone I loved. Even if it’s not, it’s someone somebody loved; that’s why we light the lights and hand out the candy.
I give freely for the sake of my own honoured, beloved, much-missed dead. And so do we all, Dear Readers, this time of year – eh? We’ll stand in one another’s lights and share out the goodies, and take comfort.
It’s that season.