by Meg Tuite
A phantom in life can become a ghost. I had my own paint-by-number vision of Aunt Helen. She was a thick slab of beige that looked like my Mom, except not outlined. She came to visit once. Mom and her talked about the weather. They talked about their kids. Their eyes jumped around like crickets in a paper bag. My Aunt had hair wig-piled on her head. Sometimes she stopped eye-flailing and stared at the rug. Her sausage-link legs sandwiched into pantyhose. Her hands shuddered and clutched each other and she never smiled. I wanted to hug her hell away. I wanted to unhinge her skull and see what it was that kept her alive. Sometimes she tugged and pulled her long, brown skirt down over her knees as though there was something under there she didn’t want to know. She sniffed before she spoke, rustled her words and looked troubled. I deadlocked her until I could barely see. My Mom, pale and empty, embraced her before she left. Aunt Helen’s slackened face stumbled around itself. She groped for my hand. Her dry fingers brittle-cold. I narrowed my eyes until she was a blur of washed out bone swallowed up by the world. Mom, I said, as I watched her leave. Don’t let her go. My Mom looked vacant and smiled at the door.
A scream shook with the annihilating beat of a death rattle. It came from downstairs. It was Mom. I’d never heard her scream. She was a brow-beaten housewife who Dad terrorized into a zombie. Her owl eyes rarely blinked anymore. I descend. Maybe she jumped, or better yet, plunged a kitchen knife through his gut. Step by step. Whimpering echoes from her room. I push the door open and it creaks, like in the movies. She rocks, teetering on the edge of the bed. Her marble eyes stare into a place I’m afraid I’ll go. “Mom?” The phone is off the hook in her lap. “Mom?” The phone starts beeping and Mom moans. She looks at the wall and whispers to herself, Aunt Helen killed herself.