Anna Dressed in Blood / Page 7

Page 7

Instead, I grab the pet carrier and get out of the U-Haul. It isn’t ten seconds before I hear my mom’s footsteps behind my own. I wait for her to unlock the front door, and then we go in, smelling cooped-up summer air and the old dirt of strangers. The door has opened on a large living room, already furnished with a cream-colored couch and wingback chair. There’s a brass lamp that needs a new lampshade, and a coffee and end table set in dark mahogany. Farther back, a wooden archway leads to the kitchen and an open dining room.

I look up into the shadows of the staircase on my right. Quietly, I close the front door behind us and set the pet carrier on the wood floor, then open it up. After a second, a pair of green eyes pokes out, followed by a black, slinky body. This is a trick I learned from my dad. Or rather, that my dad learned from himself.

He’d been following a tip into Portland. The job in question was the multiple victims of a fire in a canning factory. His mind was wound up with thoughts of machinery and things whose lips cracked open when they spoke. He hadn’t paid much attention when he rented the house we moved into, and of course the landlord didn’t mention that a woman and her unborn baby died there when her husband pushed her down the stairs. These are things one tends to gloss over.

It’s a funny thing about ghosts. They might have been normal, or relatively normal, when they were still breathing, but once they die they’re your typical obsessives. They become fixated on what happened to them and trap themselves in the worst moment. Nothing else exists in their world except the edge of that knife, the feel of those hands around their throat. They have a habit of showing you these things, usually by demonstration. If you know their story, it isn’t hard to predict what they’ll do.

On that particular day in Portland, my mom was helping me move my boxes up into my new room. It was back when we still used cheap cardboard, and it was raining; most of the box tops were softening like cereal in milk. I remember laughing over how wet we were getting, and how we left shoe-shaped puddles all over the linoleum entryway. By the sound of our scrambling feet you would have thought a family of hypoglycemic golden retrievers was moving in.

It happened on our third trip up the stairs. I was slapping my shoes down, making a mess, and had taken my baseball glove out of the box because I didn’t want it to get water-spotted. Then I felt it—something glide by me on the staircase, just brushing past my shoulder. There was nothing angry or hurried about the touch. I never told anyone, because of what happened next, but it felt motherly, like I was being carefully moved out of the way. At the time I think I thought it was my mom, making a play-grab for my arm, because I turned around with this big grin on my face, just in time to see the ghost of the woman change from wind to mist. She seemed to be wearing a sheet, and her hair was so pale that I could see her face through the back of her head. I’d seen ghosts before. Growing up with my dad, it was as routine as Thursday night meatloaf. But I’d never seen one shove my mother into thin air.

I tried to reach her, but all I ended up with was a torn scrap of the cardboard box. She fell back, the ghost wavering triumphantly. I could see Mom’s expression through the floating sheet. Strangely enough, I can remember that I could see her back molars as she fell, the upper back molars, and that she had two cavities in them. That’s what I think of when I think of that incident: the gross, queasy feeling I got from seeing my mother’s cavities. She landed on the stairs butt first and made a little “oh” sound, then rolled backward until she hit the wall. I don’t remember anything after that. I don’t even remember if we stayed in the house. Of course my father must have dispatched the ghost—probably that same day—but I don’t remember anything else of Portland. All I know is, after that my dad started using Tybalt, who was just a kitten then, and Mom still walks with a limp on the day before a thunderstorm.

Tybalt is eyeing the ceiling, sniffing the walls. His tail twitches occasionally. We follow him as he checks the entirety of the lower level. I get impatient with him in the bathroom, because he looks like he’s forgotten that he has a job to do and instead wants to roll on the cool tile. I snap my fingers. He squints at me resentfully, but he gets up and continues his inspection.

On the stairs he hesitates. I’m not worried. What I’m looking for is for him to hiss at thin air, or to sit quietly and stare at nothing. Hesitation doesn’t mean a thing. Cats can see ghosts, but they don’t have precognition. We follow him up the stairs and out of habit I take my mom’s hand. I’ve got my leather bag over my shoulder. The athame is a comforting presence inside, my own little St. Christopher’s medallion.

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