They call your mother a witch, a prostitute, a con artist. The kids at school have a lot of questions for you. At recess there is no shortage of palms to read and even the teachers think you have something valuable to tell them. Your sister, skinny and dark-eyed like you, is your only friend. Those years when she moves ahead to another campus without you are torture.
You don’t like lying to people or stealing their money, but that doesn’t stop the steady stream of spirits from entering your life. Dead siblings and lost pets flock to you. You are at your most vulnerable whenever intimacy is possible. A cold breeze blows up your skirt at a family barbecue. A ghost boy, his tux bloody, begs for a dance at the prom. A cat slides its claws through that liminal space where she can’t scratch but can still make you cry with her silent meow.
Your sister laughs when you say you just want to be normal. What do you mean?, she asks. Would you like to shake off unbidden spirits or would you rather evade Child Protective Services? The questions pile up over the years. Can you have an affair with someone from beyond the grave? Can a ghost be prosecuted? Is there a statute of limitations on emotional manipulation?
How about this one: is your mother a fraud? Does she lie about the dead?
When it’s her time, you and your sister throw handfuls of dirt into the grave and hope this gesture will seal the pact. Maybe in death she will finally be a normal mother.
(One question remains: did she ever love you?)
You find each other. He wants to bathe in your darkness and you can’t get over the novelty of his light. You are destined to go home with him and meet his family. Seduced by promises of white lace and a lily-of-the-valley bouquet, you hope for the impossible and drive across a cold river to a little country house.
Before the car is parked you can feel it starting. You cross your arms to stop the trembling. You turn pale and fragile, but not in the way of a bride. The temperature falls and the earth shakes.
Only for you.
Someone’s waiting on the back porch. You see him through the picture window in the kitchen. He is always there, wearing the dress shirt he was buried in, one eyebrow raised. You know he’s trouble, the kind who will not stop until he makes his presence known. He will make you suffer for your happiness.
Darling, your fiancé calls to you from across the house, sprinkling the air with sugar.
You balance in a moment of stillness between the two worlds. Closing your eyes, you breathe in the electric charge of the other side. You see your mother’s face and open your mouth to break the silence of the grave.
Jan Stinchcomb’s stories have appeared most recently in Whiskey Paper, Atticus Review, Five:2:One and Gamut Magazine. She is the author of Find the Girl (Main Street Rag, 2015) and she reviews fairy tale-inspired works in Notes From Rapunzel’s Tower, her column for Luna Station Quarterly. She lives in Southern California with her husband and children. Find her at http://www.janstinchcomb.com or on Twitter @janstinchcomb.