The ghost that haunts my house comes home drunk on Thursday nights. Every Friday morning, she sits at the edge of my bed and tells me she’ll never do it again. But every Thursday night she paints her lips in my mirror and curls her hair around my barrel iron and tells me not to worry.
I try to hold her hair back as she wretches into my toilet, but the tendrils slide like storm clouds through my fingers.
The ghost that haunts my house tries on my clothes and leaves them in piles on the floor. She picks them up when I tell her to, but she complains the whole time. She leaves soda cans and cigarette butts on my kitchen counter.
I tell her to clean up after herself, that I can’t have her here if she’s just going to make a mess. She smiles a toothy smile that makes my stomach turn.
The ghost that haunts my house taunts me. She laughs as I prep my week’s meals on Sunday afternoons. She sneers as I iron my sheath dresses and blazers for work and calls me frumpy. She changes the channel to teen dramas as I’m settling down to watch Netflix documentaries on Friday nights.
Are you as bored as I am? She asks as I do crossword puzzles in bed.
I tell her it’s not about boredom. It’s about growing. It’s about the process. It’s about wanting to climb and earn and be better. Her eyes glaze over in a pearly stare and she tilts her head. She calls it a waste.
I wonder how much more I can stand her. She takes up no space and yet fills every room. Her voice echoes through my bathroom and down my hallway, her high-heeled footsteps clicking through the attic all night.
I am red-eyed and frantically tired from caring for her, picking up after her, talking to her when she cries.
I tell her to leave. That I’m sorry. I have to focus, be serious. I need to sleep again.
I’ll leave when you want me to, she says. But you don’t want me to go.
She starts to float toward my front door to test me, and I reach for her hollow wrist to pull her back.
No, I say. No. I’m not ready.
She laughs her ghastly laugh and flashes her smile that makes me clench my jaw. You won’t ever be ready, she giggles, and floats back to my bedroom.
I can’t let her go.
Instead, I comb my fingers through her milky hair on Thursday nights and ask her how she died. She just looks at me with her lonely empty eyes, and I realize I don’t really want to know.
Madeline Anthes is the Assistant Editor of Lost Balloon. You can find her on Twitter at @maddieanthes, and find more of her work at madelineanthes.com.
Photograph by Audra Kerr Brown.
The NFFR and Madeline Anthes Interview
It’s obviously been an insanely rough year. What’s been your favorite artistic escape either book, music, or tv?
I have found it almost impossible to create anything this year. Even before COVID I found it difficult to create with any regularity, but the pandemic has taken up some of my already limited time and energy. By the time I’ve put my kid to bed and I open my computer, I feel completely drained of all creative energy. I’m not saying this as a complaint, but it’s the reality and I know many are struggling with this, too. I’ve come to terms with the fact that our lives turn in seasons, and this season is not one of productivity for me. One day I’ll have the space to write more.
I’ve also really struggled to read. My attention span and memory aren’t the sharpest these days, so flash fiction has been an amazing escape. Thank you to all you amazing writers who have published flash this year – you’re all my heroes.
My true escape is trashy TV. Real talk, I watch a lot of garbage; any respect you may have had for me is about to go out the window. I (over)think hard all day, so I often choose mindless entertainment that doesn’t take any mental exertion. In the last 6 months I’ve watched Gilmore Girls, the Vampire Diaries, and every baking show on Netflix. And like the true April Ludgate that I am, I’ve also watched every serial killer documentary ever made.
We’ve been thinking about the elusive definition of Flash Fiction. What’s your working definition of it?
I don’t have a very fancy definition. I define flash as a very short story that’s about 1,000 words or under that still has a complete beginning, middle, and end. Sounds simple, but as any flash writer knows, that’s easier said than done.
What was the inspiration for this story?
I am fascinated by the concept of hauntings. I write about literal ghosts, but more often I write about nostalgia and how our own memories haunt us. I wanted to write about someone who is haunted by a past version of themselves; she wants to move on and be a new and improved person, but she’s constantly reminded of who she used to be. She wants to grow, but she’s having trouble letting go of who she once was.
I think we’ve all struggled with this before; while you may be happy with where you are in life, you might still miss aspects of your younger, less-burdened, more carefree self. I decided to take that concept and make it literal.