At first, her ghosts are just shapes, but in time, they grow into themselves. Her sister cuts her bangs, and her husband starts writing lyrics again. The dog aggravates her parents. They’ll spend eternity with a yapping puppy who won’t train like Jack, their beloved golden who passed before them. The new dog thinks the grass smells like dead animals now—and not the kind he’d like to roll in or eat—but ones that serve as a warning: nothing lives here.
“Nothing leaves here.” Momma’s dyed-blonde hair has come back gray. She combs it incessantly. “Death isn’t a place. There’s no coming or going. We just are,” she says.
But Maggie tears into books and falls deep down dark-web forums. Maybe she can bring them back. “But you still are, aren’t you? A shade, but still, a shade.”
The how-tos and spells and rituals require wildly different materials. Some say sage and star anise and lavender. Others require goat blood and chants in writing Maggie can’t understand.
Your drawing needs darkness. It’s empty, her art professor says, standing over her unshaded bedroom sketch. The wooden bed she designed for her lover centers the room. Frankenstein’s monster, an antique dream, brought to life.
Now, Maggie studies her husband; he’s smooth not stippled. His songs are all about walruses. The night before the accident, they’d watched a nature documentary about Arctic walruses and their disappearing habitats. Nowhere else to go, blubber-filled bodies fell slack from cliffs and bounced to their death on the rocks below. “Stop this,” Adam says. “You don’t know what could happen. We could change.” “Remember all those horror movies we used to watch?” her sister asks. “No,” Maggie lies. “But I remember watching Practical Magic over and over.” Mary’s face fragments into crosshatches.
Maggie smells butter. Mary is ten, and her cheeks are so full of popcorn when she laughs, it spills out the sides of her mouth and onto the couch they share. The movie is loud, but they are louder, and soon, Momma stomps up the stairs. You know better than this, Maggie. Y’all are keeping us up, Momma says.
“Do you remember what it’s like to be alive?” Maggie asks each of them, but none will say.
Build it! her professor says, pointing at her pencil. Maggie’s grip tightens. The dots grow in the corner of the room, multiplying, creeping toward the bedpost. That’s more like it, he says.
When she goes to bed, curling wooden arches threaten and cradle her. She sleeps on her husband’s side and buries herself in her momma’s quilt, squares of ornate flowers and ferns. When she wakes up, time starts over. She opens her eyes and peels the quilt back. Under the bathroom mirror, hot water steams from the tap, and Maggie draws shapes in the fog with her finger pad. A dog, a car, silhouettes of necks, twisting.
Blake Bell enjoys writing and teaching teenagers writing in South Louisiana. Find some of her recent work in Entropy Magazine, The Adroit Journal, and X-RAY Magazine, or visit blakelbell.com and follow her @blakelbell.