YES, NO, GOODBYE
The dead don’t like to wake.
The darkness was torn away and I had flesh again, had eight arms prickled with goosebumps and eight legs fidgeting and four heads filled with nervous chaos. I was annoyed, of course. Who likes to be summoned? But these girls were earnest, and unpretentious, and piercingly open, and they had said the words, and they were sitting in a circle in the house where I had died.
A fifth girl sat outside the light she held pointed toward the board, notebook on her lap, ready to transcribe. She was not in the circle, so her mind was blank to me, but I knew she was the one who lived in this room, my room. These were her blacklight posters blaring from the walls, her secret stashes of makeup and mall lingerie, her SSRIs displayed bedside with a kind of pride. Piled forgotten in the closet were last year’s boy band CDs, and strewn on the floor were this year’s nu-metal CDs, already scratched.
The questions were about boys. The first few always are. They wanted to know if they were desired, and of course they were. They should have asked whether the boys were worth a damn, and of course they weren’t, no one thirteen is. I don’t control the planchette. They do, and it points every time to yes.
One of them, I knew, would achieve her heart’s wayward desires. This Jordan will put his hand down Gina’s jeans in a movie she doesn’t want to watch, some horror comedy populated with a middle-aged man’s caricatures of teenage girls, and eventually she will stop pushing his hand away because she’s been led to confuse surrender and seduction. Eventually, she will forget how alone she felt while laughter filled the theater. Remember, she’s still young. She’ll survive worse.
Leni asked about Kevin from homeroom, but she should have asked about what was growing in her mother, the doctor that dismissed the symptoms. I would have told her about night falling in the hospital as she waited with her father and her brother, about the powdered smell of flowers and the slow drive to the too-green lawn. I could have told her that it wasn’t her duty to manage her father’s grief. But don’t worry, she’s the kind who emerges from these things stronger.
How could I warn them and how would they learn to listen?
I felt the planchette grow warm in my eight hands as they decided their own fates. Will I become a veterinarian? Yes. Will I get an A on the history test? Yes. Will I live in California someday? Yes. Will we be friends until we die? Yes, yes, yes.
The fifth girl watched, wrote, sounded out the puzzled letters, and asked nothing. Soon the ritual strayed into distraction and they decided to watch a movie. They talked about it for fifteen minutes, compromised on no one’s first pick, and fell asleep. My presence in them softened and detached one by one until I was myself again, wavering but intact, floating just above the purple-lit, nylon-cocooned bodies.
The dead don’t like to wake. We’ve had enough life. We feel pity for the stuck ones, the stubborn ones, lingering baffled and useless in a world they can’t taste. I know nothing here is for me, but as I wait to darken again into oblivion I move through the house where I had died.
I pass through the walls into the master bedroom. My parents were long gone, but now I recognize the weight of a mother and father’s worry as they turn in their own quiet bed, each thinking about the things they had or might have done wrong. In the closet is a gift for a birthday three months out, already wrapped. I drift downward into the living room. The spinet piano is still there but the photos have changed: a first Holy Communion and a Confirmation, two white dresses, a gap-toothed smile and a faked one.
Outside, the moon is almost full. The neighborhood has changed and I don’t want to see it: the resurfaced streets, the new types of cars, the parking lot in the church where I might now be smoking joints with my friends, had I grown up. The sleep is a cousin of bliss, but it dulls in comparison to the bright and desperate now.
The dead don’t like to wake. Because when the jealousy hits it burns through the narcosis, because I want more life, of course I want more life. Anyone who has ever tasted life does, no matter how bitter it may have seemed at the time.
I drift down to the basement, and I try to recall the self that was so upset, so impulsive, so fiercely determined to punish anyone I could hurt, but all I can remember is the physical pain, the flash of regret. I lie where I lay before and wait for sleep to take me.
Someone’s still awake.
She holds the planchette.
It’s the girl with the flashlight, the smart one. Not because she doesn’t believe in ghosts, but because she knows she won’t listen to them. Because she’s thirteen. Because she has secrets and shames no one else has ever had and she knows how this all works already.
In her mind is a question, a terribly familiar question, that I want to scream no to. But she doesn’t ask me, and I can’t tell. She watches herself move the planchette to yes and she can’t hear me tell her no, no, no.
LeeAnn Perry is a scientist, musician, and emerging writer based in San Francisco, CA.