Flash Fiction by Karen Crawford
A Ghost Hangs in My Closet
A Ghost hangs in my closet, tucked behind turtlenecks and cardigans. When it’s quiet; like 2am no sounds of cars on the avenue kind of quiet, she comes out and models my old clothes.
I breathe in the smell of her flowery perfume. Take in the pink ruffled top and Jordache jeans.
Then I cover my ears as she rants about a squeaky old headboard with peeling blue paint, and the sticky feeling of a Pretty Boy’s tongue in her ear and how she pretends she’s not a virgin and how he pretends he’s single, and how five minutes later he’s in the shower removing every last trace of jasmine, honeysuckle and rose, while she tries to clean a spot of blood from the sheets.
A Ghost hangs in my closet, squeezed in between the button-down shirts and tailored pants. When it’s dark; like I can’t see my hands in front of my face kind of dark, she comes out and curls up on the braided heart-shaped rug.
I can tell from the faint smell of cigarette smoke, hair spray, and peppermint schnapps that she’s wearing black spandex pants and that ripped fringe tee I used to love.
She starts to retch from morning sickness or after-hours sickness or Bad Boy sickness, so I turn on the light, take her into the bathroom and wash the puke and Aqua Net from her teased-up hair. Then I lay her on the cold tile floor, hoping it will chill the heat inside her.
A Ghost hangs in my closet, crouched underneath sheath dresses and pencil skirts. When it’s hazy; like I can’t see the skyscrapers for the clouds kind of hazy, she comes out and sits cross-legged on the floor in grunge cutoff shorts and a Victoria Secret crop top.
She reeks of weed and tells me how Preppie Dude smokes pot every day. I tell her I don’t want to hear about Preppie Dude. She shushes me with a wave of her hand and goes on and on about his wandering eye and how they move in together even though his frat boys say she’s not right for him. She shows me how she tilts her head at a cute guy at work because she knows what Preppie Dude is up to when he’s out of town and how she might have to leave him before he leaves her…
I feel a headache coming on. I tell her to be quiet that I have to wake up early because tomorrow is a busy day. She rolls her eyes and rolls a joint.
The sky lights up like orange sunshine. I haven’t had a wink of sleep. I call in sick and cancel a blind date a co-worker set me up with. It’s just as well, I tell myself. I can see from his profile pic that his hair is too blonde and his eyes too blue.
The Ghost is back in the closet like a fur coat waiting to shed. I don’t know how much more I can stand her. Maybe it’s time to clean house. I grab a big trash bag, push aside my work duds and toss every article of clothing not of this decade inside. I know I should take it to Goodwill, but it’s heavy luggage in my hands so I shove it under the bed.
The sky turns black and the apartment feels empty; like a ghost town that’s frozen in time kind of empty. I disappear under a haven of fluffy white covers, hoping to get some shuteye. But the bed is big, the covers are cold, and I am shriveling. My phone dings it’s Blind Date looking to reschedule. I ignore it and breathe in deep, hoping to catch a whiff of the Ghost.
I breathe in and wait. Breathe out and wait. I can’t move.
When I’m right on the precipice of sleep, a torrential rain falls, drenching the pillow. The Ghost slips out from underneath the bed wearing nothing but the scent of my perfume. She wraps me in the comfort of her weightless arms and whispers, I’m still here.
The kitchen is dark with night shadows except for a flickering wash of yellow coming from the ceiling light. The hanging rice paper shade still swings, covered with bits of tomato. Warm spaghetti noodles stick to the walls. Meat sauce is splattered everywhere, dripping, settling deep into the cracks within the plaster.
Penny sits at the table, eyes unfocused, chewing the pink polish off her fingernails. I pick up the pieces of Mama’s shattered dinner plate. A bedroom door slams, rattling the windows along with what’s left of our nerves.
I grab Penny and speed into the safety of our box-of-a-room. Heated whispers hiss through the vents. We press our ears against the wafer-thin walls. Daddy is telling Mama he needs more time. Mama is telling Daddy his time is up. It’s that woman—or us.
Silence blankets the apartment. We hold our breath until the sound of wire hangers clatter to the floor. Then Mama starts breaking things, screaming like a feral cat, “Get out!” The door opens with a bang. Penny chases after Daddy, who holds a suitcase full of clothes. “Don’t go,” she wails and wraps her pudgy arms around his pant leg.
We all freeze, Mama in the doorway of her bedroom. Me peering out the door of Penny’s and mine. Penny in the hallway flat on her tummy, hanging onto Daddy’s leg.
Daddy curses in Spanish and starts walking, dragging a sobbing Penny along with him. When he reaches the front door, Daddy kneels down and peels Penny’s hand off his leg, one small finger at a time. He stands up, straightens his shoulders, and leaves without another word. Mama makes her lips thin, which is hard to do. She goes into the kitchen and starts to clean. She’s long mastered the art of crying without making a sound.
Penny’s shoulders shake. I blink my eyes to burn back tears. We sneak into their bedroom. Daddy’s dresser drawers are all pulled out, a few of his white t-shirts strewn about. I pick one up and hold it to my nose. Penny kicks at the hangers on the floor with her toe.
We sit on their bed and stare at Daddy’s empty closet. The door hangs open, crooked from a broken hinge. Penny puts her head on my shoulder. Only then do the tears fall. A touch of Old Spice envelopes us, swirling around the room like a vaporous ghost. I hear Penny breathe it in. I breathe in too. We stay like that, Penny and me, until the musky scent begins to fade. Until it slips out the open window.
Karen Crawford grew up in the vibrant neighborhood of East Harlem in New York City. She currently lives in the City of Angels where she exorcises demons one word at a time.
Flash Boulevard is edited by Francine Witte. Banner photograph Wes Candela.