Hansel, age 8, hangs out the back window of his family’s idling car while we old people talk. He still has an Indiana Jones scar face-painted on his cheek from his Halloween costume. Gretel, age 6, waves from the other side of Batman, age 4, who sits in the middle in his car seat.
Our neighbor family is returning home after gathering fallen maple leaves for turkey art, and we — our dog Ruby, the Bearded One, and I — are on a walk. We meet on the road. We meet everyone on the road, and, more often than not these days, we talk about the road.
Hansel studies the HUNDREDS of potholes, each full of murky brown water.
“We found a hubcap next to that one,” I say and point. “That’s the granddaddy pothole.”
“Hey, there’s a car down there!” the Bearded One says as he leans over the monster pothole.
Hansel and his father laugh. Batman listens from his car seat, and thinks about the word hubcap. Gretel adjusts her golden headband and smiles at me.
Then the father gets serious and says, “Any idea when the road’s going to be fixed?”
“Didn’t Edeltraut call you?” I say. “She left a message on our phone machine a week ago.” Edeltraut and her husband are the new road managers.
Hansel’s mother leans over her husband and says, “We got rid of our landline, Christi.” I remember our conversation about both of us being maxed out with solicitors and political calls. She’d told me about a new cell phone tower close enough that we can all get more bars, and I’m considering following her lead.
The Bearded One takes back the conversation. “They got 18 checks out of 25 households, a new record. The road company’s scheduled. Should be just a few days now.”
“We’ve never seen it so bad,” the Bearded One says, still talking about the road.
“Turned out the hubcap came off of Honey Girl’s little Geo,” I say, referring to another neighbor.
“Hubcap,” says Batman.
“Honey Girl not only lost a hubcap,” the Bearded One says. “She lost half her laying chickens to weasels. I just talked with her yesterday, and they dug under her pens and killed fifty more hens. That makes 70 out of a hundred gone. The weasels went wild up there.”
Hansel’s father shakes his head, and I make a sad face. I’m glad that the Bearded One doesn’t elaborate on the grisly pictures of scalped layers that Honey Girl showed him on her phone. Weasels tear into the heads and suck the blood.
“Honey Girl sells eggs,” I say, “or she used to.”
Hansel has never seen a weasel, but he imagines he knows where they live: in the potholes! You can see it plain as day on his face as he leans farther out the car window. If only he had brought his Indiana Jones bullwhip, he’d stir that brown monster pothole water up good, force the monster weasels to the surface, chicken feathers still stuck to their lips, their razor-sharp teeth glistening with fresh chicken blood, and whack their heads off, one after another. He fairly glows at the sheer glory of it all. I remember our grown son at this age.
“Speaking of eggs,” Hansel’s mother says leaning over her husband again, “we’ve got some egg cartons for you.”
Gretel is out of her seat now and crowding Batman and Hansel, who suddenly snaps out of his daydream. “I’ll bring them over!” she says, and then elbows Hansel aside so she can see Ruby. “I’ll do it, Mom, I’ll do it!”
“Thanks,” I say. “Bring them any time.”
Batman cries for Gretel to get off of him, and it’s time for us all to say good-bye.
Hansel smiles and sinks back into his seat, having defeated the Weasels of Doom. He waves to us and chews a piece of well-deserved Halloween candy as his reward.