The Love Story of Henry Van Pennyshaw

He was born the instant she christened him.

Henry Van Pennyshaw.

The name his girl had chosen for him.

Her father used a moist hand towel to wipe the strands of orange pulp from around his eye holes, his nose, his widely grinning mouth.

“Henry Van Pennyshaw!” Ivy said again, stepping back to admire him, the serrated carving knife with the bright plastic handle clenched in her slimy fist.

“Now, you know what we can do with all the yucky stuff inside?” Daddy said.

“What?”  Ivy said.

“We can bake it for a treat!”  Daddy grinned.  “We’ll wash off all the seeds, and cover a pan with tinfoil, then we’ll lay out the–”

The serrated knife clattered to the floor.

“Honey, what’s wrong?” Daddy asked.

“You want to eat Henry Van Pennyshaw’s brains?”

Ivy was looking at her father like some primeval cannibal wearing a necklace of human finger bones.

“Well…”  Daddy hesitated.

“You can’t do that!” Ivy cried.  “That’s… that’s criminal!”

“No, no,” he said.  “It’s just something that–”

“Criminal,” Ivy insisted.  “It’s out of the question.”

“But what–”

“We’ll bury them in the garden,” Ivy said.  “That’s the proper thing to do.”

Ivy took a fresh sheet of newspaper from the stack on the kitchen table and unfolded it.  With infinite tenderness, she gathered Henry Van Pennyshaw’s cold slippery insides and wrapped them in the paper.

“Come on,” she said.  “We need to find a shovel.”

Daddy followed Ivy out of the kitchen.

Henry Van Pennyshaw was grinning wider than any creature, living or carved, ought to have reason to grin; he’d been born into a good and happy place.

*     *     *

 

Ivy made a home for Henry Van Pennyshaw at one end of the green wooden bench on the front porch.  She and Mama surrounded him with ears of Indian corn and small square bales of hay.

In the crisp mornings, as she bounded out the door for Daddy’s car, Ivy would stop to say goodbye.

“Be good and have a good day,” she’d say.  “I’ll be back before you know it.”

Then she’d pat him gently, glance at the house across the street–“We don’t want Jamie Benson to see this, he might get jealous,” she explained–and kiss him between the eyes.

In the afternoons, when the sunlight fell dappled on the rusted leaves, she’d stop on the way inside and sit on the bench and tell Henry Van Pennyshaw about her day.

“Jamie gave me one of his cupcakes at lunch,” she reported once.

Another day, she told him, “I’m going to be a clown.  I was going to go as a witch but every other girl I know is going as a witch.  It’s so unoriginal.  So I’m going to be a clown.  A clown… with a secret!”

She smiled at Henry Van Pennyshaw then made a stabbing motion with her fist.

“Don’t tell Mama,” she said.  “Daddy bought me the bloody knife when we picked you out at the pumpkin farm.  But you won’t remember.  You weren’t born yet.”

*     *     *

 

Henry Van Pennyshaw loved the evenings best.

When the sky, bright and deep and blue through the last October days, turned dusky, lights appeared in the houses on Ivy’s street, and candle flames flickered on the porches.  Henry Van Pennyshaw watched these flickers closely.  He was very happy with Ivy.  He couldn’t have been blessed with a better girl, not if he’d carved her himself.  But there was a hollow place inside him deeper than any manmade spoon could scoop.  It ached, and those flickers eased it some.

One particular flicker caught his attention.

Directly across the street, on the corner of a concrete porch step, sat a beautiful creature whose delicate rind matched the color of the turning maple leaves.  Her eyes were fierce and angry; her leer was jagged and cold.

But Henry Van Pennyshaw could see past that fearsome expression to the warm flame within her that spilled its light into the night like a star.

After Ivy kissed him goodnight, when the street was emptiest, Henry Van Pennyshaw focused his bright smile on that terribly beautiful creature.

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