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Here is the Girl Ghost

Here is the Girl Ghost
By Gillian Daniels

Here is the girl ghost, Laura, hair a cloud of black and skin copper-dark. Her dress has a lacy hem and she cannot meet your eyes. She sits on the edge of your bed and admits she has done so every night. 

Look, she’s lonely. She’s been living in the house in Boston since 1915 and no one talked to her then, either. She was the darkest girl in the neighborhood. Her father tried to lie, said she was of mixed Italian descent, her great-grandmother maybe from South Africa, that was all, but nope. Mother ran from the Jim Crowe South and danced from Monaco to Genoa. She was told she was not suited for a child (she was) because she drank all the time (she didn’t). 

Laura remembers her mother teaching her how to speak French, Latin, and Italian. She played piano at the end of each day, feet hurting as the chorus girls sat around them in their long skirts. She promised Laura they would be in Paris soon.

After her white daddy took her away, Laura didn’t get the chance to go. No more French and Italian. The only thing she liked about Boston was the cold and snow. On Christmas, it sat on the on the sill, blue in the morning light, flecked with lamplight in the evening. There was a heaven of solid clouds on the ground.

She didn’t die violently. It was accidental and quick. Ice on the front stairs, not properly salted by the doorman. Look at the poor, bastard girl who went and busted her head.

Laura became aware of her new self slowly. She became aware of her father’s words on the subject of her death, first: “Well, that’s that.” As if he had tried to save the child from herself, but oh, she was headed for those icy stairs, nothing to stop her. 

Laura tried to return to her mother, but couldn’t find her. Walk down the street? No. It turned to mist, like the streets were undoing themselves beneath her buckled shoes. Her body was not her own anymore, but belonged to the earth and, she assumed, a headstone.

She wept. She tried to rend her garments, but they were now the same stuff as her, as tangible as smoke. 

This is the second thing you notice about her, right after her face. Her sadness turns the room cold. It’s always winter for her. When she sees you seeing her, she smiles. Even that’s sad, but it’s certainly a smile, small or not.

“Your bedroom used to be a study.” Her voice is scratchy-soft. “It’s not the best place for the winter.”

You pull the blanket over your head and try to go to sleep. You have a history of sleepwalking, vivid dreams, and seeing things out of the corner of your eye in the middle of the day. If you were from another time period, you would call them phantasms, but they can’t be. You’re too sensible.

She likes your post cards, the ones you stuck to your walls with packing tape. They’re right above your head, so she floats above you, horizontal. “Have you been to Paris? I almost went.”

You pull the blanket over your head tighter. It’s hard to breathe. The air is too warm.

“Was it nice?” she asks, excited, tentative.

“Yes,” you say under your blanket.

“What did you see? Was it these skulls, here? The ones that cover the wall?”

You know which post card she means. It’s the one you bought after you visited the Catacombs. You couldn’t think of anyone who wanted such a grisly image in the mail. The gift shop was stocked with soft, skull key chains, skull t-shirts, skull kitchen magnets, and posters of the place beneath Paris where they keep the bones of old, overflowing graveyards. The smell used to be so bad, it curdled milk. You read that in the guidebook. You’re not sure if it’s true.

“This looks a little like Hell,” she says. “Not that I’ve been.”

You sit up. You tell her no, no, it wasn’t Hell, but there was a moment, with the water dripping on the floor and what you thought might have been a rat crawling across the bones. You wondered if you had died and this was how people realized they were dead. Then you rounded a drum of femurs and saw a security guard slouched in a folding chair. He played with his cellphone. He said a brief, “Hello” in French-accented English and went back to texting.

“Were there cafes?” she asks. “Did you sit in them?”

You did. You tell her about wine that cost less than Diet Coke.

She doesn’t understand all you say, but she smiles for the novelty of talking to someone. “Did they have cobblestones? Were there women with parasols?”

Just sunglasses. It was spring, cool and damp. Everyone walked with ice cream cones and everything smelled like the sea. In your memory, you are on a boat going down the River Seine. It’s evening and the Eiffel Tower is about to light up. The breeze that runs past your ears still has the smell of winter on it. You pass under a bridge and there, standing with the tourists, looking down on you and holding an ice cream, is the girl ghost. Laura is too busy eating and laughing to wave back to you.

You wake up even though you don’t remember falling asleep.

Afterward, people say, “Oh, you went to Paris once, right?” and you say, “Yes,” because you remember remembering you went. You can’t recall if you went to any museums, though, or who you met or even why you were there. You remember the Catacombs because you told Laura about those. You remember the things you told other people. She has the rest and is keeping it safe for you until you’re ready to join her.

* * *

Gillian Daniels writes, works, and haunts the streets in Boston, MA. Since attending the 2011 Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop, her poetry and short fiction have appeared in The Dark Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Flash Fiction Online, among others. She also makes comics, writes theater, and definitely wants to see pictures of your cat.

What inspires you to write and keep writing?

Staying curious, asking questions, and being interested in people, history, and strange things. Also, figuring out new ways to outwit inner criticism to complete and send out new work is enormously helpful!


Joan Vanore said...

This is so beautiful I"m at a loss for words.

Joan Vanore said...

This is so beautiful I'm at a loss for words.