Thirty pairs of flickering eyes gave the garden an ethereal glow. Mabel stroked the raw skin on her palm and grimaced. She’d laughed with the cashier, yesterday, over her trolley piled high with pumpkins. But an afternoon gouging out the fibrous pulp and sculpting ghoulish features was less amusing.
The final candle lit, she basked in the golden light. Last night’s gales had spoiled the maple’s autumn show, but the tapestry of titian leaves covering the lawn created a jewelled blanket underfoot. Mabel sighed. All too quickly, they’d turn brown and curl, needing to be raked and composted.
Tiny white flowers on the Choisya shone like fireflies in the waxy radiance. A clump of plucky dahlias, strong enough to withstand the storm, now oscillated elegantly above rows of carved faces. But Mabel knew the purple clusters on the Beauty Berry would catch her daughter’s eye. As a toddler, anything mulberry-coloured had fascinated Naomi, so Mabel highlighted these gorgeous berries with blue smoking candles.
A quick glance at her watch sent Mabel hurrying into the house to grab her witch’s cloak and pointed hat. Five minutes and they’d be home. Excitement always gave Naomi an appetite and the smell of home-made pizza filled the kitchen. Two short blasts on the car horn announced their arrival.
She scooted back into the garden, where her husband’s patient voice floated through the air.
‘See the lights, sweetheart?’
Since the accident, James had become the best father imaginable. The side gate creaked open and he pushed Naomi’s wheelchair along the path lined with happy orange lanterns. Naomi clapped in delight. Crouching down, Mabel dabbed spittle from her child’s chin.
‘Isn’t it magical, darling?’ she said, caressing her ten-year-old’s bony shoulders.
Naomi reached up and James lifted her into his arms. Swallowing hard, Mabel encircled them in her cape and they swayed, their shadows dancing.
James whispered in her ear. ‘How are the blisters?’
‘Sore. And we’ll be eating pumpkin soup for months.’
He groaned, making Naomi chortle. The sound was perfect for dulling the pain.