If the ghosts like you enough, they let down the elevator.
I was seven the first time it happened, though it happened to Jessie when she was six and to her little sister Josie when she was three. Or that’s what Josie says, but she lies sometimes. What’s important is that Jessie is my forever friend but she didn’t tell me about the ghosts, she just came to my house and used my Beanie Babies and talked to my house’s ghosts behind my back for a year straight.
And then one day we were playing Hungry Hippos and a lady appeared in my room, suddenly out of nowhere sitting on my bed, and Jessie acted like it was the most normal thing in the world. When I screamed, the lady said hush, be quiet.
She had big brown wide-set eyes and skin as dark as my skin looks in the deepest part of summer. Maybe even darker. She was so beautiful I stopped screaming.
Jessie was all business. She’d been sitting Indian style, but she quick stood up and grabbed my hand the way she’d grab Josie’s before they crossed the street. Jessie said that they liked me. When I asked who they were, her eyebrows reached up real high. The ghosts, she said. The ghosts like you.
The brown-eyed lady nodded, like she was saying yes, and I noticed the way she and Jessie looked at each other. Hard, like they were forever-forever friends, and there was a whole wall of secrets between them and me. I couldn’t stop looking at Jessie, even when the brown-eyed lady said the ghosts wanted to show me something.
The lady took my other hand, and her palms were slick and cold, like leftovers that were sitting in the fridge all night. She led me to my closet, a big white wooden door with a glass handle. All the doors in my house look like that: big and old with hinges that whine. That’s how Mom knows if Daddy sneaks down to the pantry at midnight. I don’t think Daddy likes living in a big old house with slanted floors and whiny doors, but Mom belongs to the historical society, so she does.
The lady nodded her chin at my closet door, and I heard a loud cheery ding and the door slid left, not sweeping out the way a normal door does, but peeling back right into the hinges the way an elevator would. And inside the closet-elevator was a tall man with no face, and Jessie ran to him and grabbed his hand and said, come on!
Jessie waved her hand and smiled and she looked happy, like she didn’t notice the man with a big gray space where his face should be. And the brown-eyed lady touched me from behind, a cold tickle between my shoulders like she was trying to give me goosebumps. But I didn’t get goosebumps. I took a long breath and stepped into the elevator the way I’d step up to the diving board at swim lessons. My swim coach, Miss Bethany, always says look brave. Even though you know you could fall—look brave. So I took the man with no face’s hand, and I nodded at the brown-eyed lady as the door slid shut, and when the elevator started to move I breathed out, because it was okay, we weren’t falling.
When you left, they called me lucky. They, as in Mrs. Schultze next door and my fellow baristas at Java Joe and the Spandex-clad women at the Y. They saw how the bruises on my jawbone shrank for good. The longer you stayed gone, the plainer my face looked—as plain as the ground in winter, when all the flowers have died.
When I lost ten pounds, they called me disciplined. One of the Y women cornered me in the locker room to ask how I’d done it; her pink shirt had 13.1: 1’M ONLY HALF CRAZY! stamped across the breasts. I stared at that HALF and told the woman I still had more to lose.
When I lost twenty pounds, they put on special faces for me. Concerned faces. So I stopped going to the Y, and I started checking my mailbox at night, but I kept pushing my electric toothbrush down my throat after every meal. Sometimes the vomit would splatter out of the toilet bowl and onto my cheekbones.
When I started going over it in my head, I realized what I’d done wrong. Gain and loss: it works with food but not with love. I couldn’t prod my gag reflex and undo the time you thought I flirted with your boss at the bar, or the time I didn’t call when I was late coming home, or the time I let dinner burn because I was on the phone.
When I lost thirty pounds, my sister visited from Doylestown. As if pinning me down, she kept her hand on top of mine when she spoke. She said I needed to take a long, hard look at how lucky I was: lucky for all that I gained when you left.
About the author:
Alaina Symanovich is working toward her Master's in English at Penn State University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Word Riot, Switchback, Fogged Clarity, Glassworks, under the gum tree, and other journals