An Already Haunted House

An Already Haunted House

By: Jennifer Anne Gordon

I was a ghostly girl, playing with a Ouija board on the kitchen floor while our family…this is when we still had family—poured in. The house was warm. The air was sweet with sticky buns, and almost oppressive with turkey smells. My body felt starchy like I had a thin layer of mashed potatoes rubbed into my skin like a fine French lotion.

My mother stepped up and over me, as little Missy and I tried to conjure the dead. We were close to the kiddie table but had aged out of it. Thank God.

We had not gotten big enough for the grown-up table, so we knew we would eat in the living room, in front of the turned-off television. The carpet stained where my cat Casper would religiously spill any drink we brought in there.

This was before the family drifted apart, becoming wraiths. This was before my mother stopped coming home at night, before my father got a cancer diagnosis that he ignored, and before my cousin Jessica turned her first trick…she became a heroin addict before or after that…I don’t know.

Her eyes were haunted that day—I thought she was tired, but there was something inside of me that knew I could not let her touch that Ouija board. Instead, she watched, her eyes were wide and dark.

Missy and I talked to the dead. 

We talked to someone named Mama, and this was before we would find this ironic. We were both still young enough to love our mothers with abandon.

My mother complained that we were morbid, that this was not the way to spend Thanksgiving.  I told her we were witches, but I didn’t really know what that meant. Not yet.

I was fourteen and wearing an oversize peach sweater from the Limited, a pair of frayed denim shorts that hung loose on my bony hips. Under the shorts were floral long johns. I wore combat boots inside. My bare skin didn’t touch our house. I was afraid something in the walls or floor would burn me, and leave me covered in scars.

I was right.

 My fourteen-year-old face was puffy, my body was skinny, even though I thought—no, I knew it was fat.

I had thrown up three times already that day, and this was before our stuffing and cranberry sauce.

My father, though he was not sick, still sat silently at the kitchen table, ignoring the family, staring out the window, his eyes seeing past our crowded driveway, and past the lilac bushes that had lost all their leaves.

He was looking at something I could not see, he was looking at before, and maybe sensing an after.

I am just a ghostly girl, bored, and bulimic.

My mother has a hot flash and has to leave the kitchen. The stove was making everything worse. When she leaves the room, the air changes, it loses the overpowering always floral scent that she gives off. The room feels less like a greenhouse, and more like a graveyard.

Missy and I talk about feeling a cool breeze, a cold spot.

A ghost.

I know now the house was already haunted, not with befores, but with what would come after.

My father glares at my mother when she walks back into the room.

This was before he knew he was dying, before he kept that secret from us until it was too late. This was before he wrote her a love letter every morning when he woke up, and every night before he went to sleep.

Nine notebooks of letters that she never responded to.

After he died, my mother left in the night, leaving the house empty except for piles of unpaid utility bills, and Casper’s old litter box. This was before I looked in one of the closets, before I saw the Ouija board was still there. 

It was calling to its ghostly girl.

I moved into this empty house.

I painted my childhood bedroom “drama red”, the living room was painted royal blue. I pulled up the stained carpet, it smelled like milk, old photos, and cigarette smoke.

I did not paint over the fingerprints on the door jamb of my father’s old room, the place that he would hold onto to steady himself, the place he would hold onto to catch himself, the place he would hold onto when he looked outside, searching for the before and after.

I wonder if he saw me there somehow, his before, his after, his ghost girl in an already haunted house.

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