by Grace Thomas
“You have to write goodbye,” he said. “So the ghosts know not to stick around.” I rolled my eyes, but wrote it anyway. He was drunk enough that the Virginia had bled out into his oral posture, vowels bent out of shape with the memory of his father’s tidewater raising.
I sound so backwoods, he'd say, laughing with his hand over his mouth as though trying to keep the sound of it trapped inside. When I thought about kissing him, I sometimes wondered whether he’d taste like dogwood and creek beds and sweetgrass baking in the sun, teeth dripping with his childhood home.
He bent his head low, squinting at the board to make sure that everything was in check, spots of soft darkness appearing on the paper where the rainwater dripped from his hair.
Outside the window, thunder cracked so loud I could feel it in my teeth, and he smiled at the sound of it.
“Perfect weather for this, huh?”
I shrugged my agreement. He struck a match, lit a candle then his cigarette, hands pale like a drowned boy’s. I flipped off the light.
Sometimes, when the nights are dark enough, I find myself thinking through all of the cruelest things I could say to him. I lie on my back and stare up at my shadowed bedroom ceiling, watching the fan carve its slow rotation. My heart beats faster as I picture his hand in mine, picture his face as I say I hate you, I hate you, I’ve always hated you. I don’t mean it, of course. I’d never tell it to him, anyway. But I think that’s why the thought of it grips me so damn hard. Like tossing your phone onto the metro tracks. It’s forbidden, and therefore it calls to me.
Tonight, I picture pulling the planchette over and over back to goodbye, hands moving in subtle deceit. He’d get excited at first, try to frame it as a reluctant spirit disturbed from its slumber by our homemade ouija board, our dollar store taper candles. But slowly the disillusionment would set in, and he’d look at me with those sharp-edged, knowing eyes.
“Cut it out, will you? This isn’t a joke?”“Then what is it?” I’d reply.
He would furrow his brow. I wouldn’t.
“Honestly? You can quit all of this ghost hunting bullshit,” I would say. “If you want to see your father again, just keep drinking like him.”
The only thing that makes me shiver more than picturing him crying is picturing how his face would feel pressed against my shoulder as I apologized and he forgave me.
But I would never say these things to him, of course. Never let him show me the moth-wing shudder of his breath as he sobs. It’s late; I’m alone. The rain beats against my bedroom window like a thousand fists, conjured souls that hadn’t been properly sealed away. I imagine it filling up the gutters and the drainage ditch, then seeping onto the sidewalk like a pot boiling over. It would lift up every broken bottle and glinting puddle of leaked oil and the dead rabbit rotting by my bus stop with its legs splayed out and its eyes glazed and unseeing. All of it coursing down the avenue like the river Styx swollen with memory, washing everything clean.
I close my eyes. Tidewater raising.
Grace Thomas is a senior at Montgomery Blair High School. She writes poems and short stories, which have been recognized in local publications and competitions. She is the head literary editor of Blair’s literary magazine, SilverQuill. She lives in Maryland, where she enjoys spending time with her friends and her cat.
Babafemi Fatoki is a senior at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. At DASOTA, Babafemi is a visual arts major. The medium of their piece is paint.