November 5

Guy Fawkes Night


“Penny for the guy.”

You prepare to avert your eyes from the approaching group of school kids, and the holiday manikin-slash-effigy they’ve prepared for their fundraising effort.  They’re simply quoting a traditional chant — you know they expect more than a single penny.

With a casual movement, you put your hands in your pockets as you get closer.  By accident, your ring clinks against your house keys, making it sound like you’re carrying a pile of loose change.

“Penny for the guy.”  This time a different voice offers the chant.  He’s one of the older kids — or at least practiced enough to embed a veiled threat into his words.

Let them all chant.  You give money to worthier causes than children’s candy.

Their eyes glower at you.  You try not to glance in their direction, but the collective gaze is unsettling.  You almost get the impression that the Guy is glaring at you, too.

He’s only a suit of clothes stuffed with straw or wadded newsprint, gloves tied to the sleeves, socks dangling from trouser legs, and some kind of hat-topped mask emerging from the collar.  The kids carry this life-sized dummy to represent Guy Fawkes, the thwarted conspirator who hoped to blow up Parliament in 1605.  Tonight they’ll throw the dummy on the bonfire, straw and newspaper igniting quickly, and they’ll cheer as it burns — especially if flames give the Guy a moment of artificial life, stuffed limbs flailing in simulated agony.

The sidewalk pushes you closer to the group than you’d like.  The children have started chanting in unison, as if casting a spell.  The Guy is raised above their heads, and different amateur puppeteers move the arms and legs.

Guy waves a greeting, his legs making bicycle kicks in the air.

You recognize him.

Only a glance, out the corner of your eye, but you’ve seen him before.  The striped pattern of the jacket, the slightly frayed cuffs of his matching trousers.

He’s you.

Your clothes, to be exact.  The effect startles you only for a moment, since you have an easy explanation:  last week, you’d dropped off a sack of old clothes at a local church, as a charitable donation.  These young scavengers appropriated a few items for their mischievous purpose.

“I know your tricks,” you say, and turn to confront them with an adult’s scorn — but you’re hit with another shock.

Not just the clothes, but the mask, too.  It’s your face.

Guy has your face.

His body wriggles in familiar, discarded clothing, and Guy’s head bobs unsteady from the suit collar.  The head looks like a plastic bag stuffed with garbage, taped in an oval shape, then painted to add facial features.  The mouth hangs open dumbly beneath a jutting putty nose.   The eyes are out of alignment, but bulge realistically — with wire lashes and stiff bristled eyebrows arched above.  The eyebrows, and the matted locks spilling out beneath the hat, appear to be actual hair.

Animal hair, or human?  You wonder if the hair is your own.

Penny for the Guy.  Penny for the Guy.

The puppeteer on one side waves the right sleeve.  On the fingers of the attached glove, you notice small white crescents taped to the tips.  Fingernail clippings.

Penny.  for.  the.  Guy.

You break eye contact and hustle past the schoolkids and their gruesome craft project.  They keep chanting, and you almost break into a run as you struggle to get out of earshot.

At the bottom of the hill, you round the corner and head up a side street.  You can still hear them.

But it’s not them.  Another group of kids offers a similar chant.  They have their own dummy, fashioned from a different set of your donated clothes.

From a distance, this Guy’s head looks even more like your own.  The kids lift and push and wave, and you see yourself dancing.

Instead of walking toward this group, you change route and duck down an alley.  A large overflowing dumpster looms on the left, and a bag of clothes has spilled out the top.  Two children are fighting over it, pulling the bag in different directions and hoping to tear it open.  Straw or newspaper might fall out, or clothing you’d recognize, or maybe chunks of spoiled meat spilling wet and red onto the ground.

You find another side street, run down it, afraid what new obstacle you might encounter.  You’re dreaming, or something terrible has happened to the world and its children, and your scalp and eyebrows itch as if your hair has been pulled out, the tips of your fingers are sore, and you keep running even as the ground falls out from under you.  You make bicycle kicks in the air, and it feels like it getting warmer and warmer, and you hear young voices cheering.