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My family lived on a farm filled with dead sheep and cornfields. Summer fell away from us like a woman unzipping her dress and letting it drop. Summer was a woman, but she’s gone now. Now, John from my Chemistry class asks me to homecoming, and the lights are pretty. My dress is green. My shoes are black. Wild Horses plays for the third time. The lights all go on. I am driven home. The radio station is 94.7, it’s classic rock and the night too unzips. The world is dark. John texts me goodnight; I don’t respond.
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It is Monday, and I’m in the school counseling office. Ms. Monica takes a sip of her coffee, opens a notepad, clicks a pen, sips the coffee again. My hands are in my lap. We are ready to begin. How are you? How are your friends? I’m supposed to answer these questions in one gulp of air. I’m good at this. I could build this woman a house of my smiling. She sips her coffee; she is waiting. My mouth shrinks. I open.
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The door to our house is white and rusty like a picture from a movie. You can hear it slam shut all the way from the basement and the attic; I’m not allowed in the attic because Dad saw a bat in there, and I haven’t had a rabies shot. Each day, my sister, Susan drives us in the old, red car to school and back again. Sometimes on Fridays Madeline and I go to a movie, or downtown, or somewhere. But mostly, I stay in the house. Mom says, The house is haunted. I remember: for a month in my Sophomore year, my alarm clock rang at 5:30 am every morning even after I unplugged it. Mom says, Our house has bad energy.
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When Susan and I still shared a room, I looked out the window one night and saw a woman. Ms. Monica says I have ways of constructing things in my mind to fit a narrative. That sometimes, it’s important to look at things exactly the way they are. Like they’re naked. After this talk, Madeline drove me downtown.
Madeline is beautiful. She plays top forties with the windows rolled down, us laughing. The sidewalk outside turns blurry and grey. We sing along to Taylor Swift with hair whipping around our heads like knives.
John drives me home. Parks outside my house, his hand on my knee, and we are talking. The car is a blue Prius. The radio is too low, a background noise. My body is heavy and right next to him. The door is locked. The car is blue. I look up to an empty street, parallel to my house with its single porch light, shining.
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This morning we will find the sheep, dead. We know this, we know. We know how Dad will walk downstairs, then out the back door, then sigh. Those goddamn wolves, can’t they just leave us alone for one year? But he won’t mean it, and he’ll know it wasn’t wolves. Then Mom will get up and say, C’mon, dear, it’s not really a surprise.
The sheep die every year. By now, the cows are unimpressed and lazy. Mom will pass it off onto the ghosts. Dad will say, You and your ghosts. Like it’s a joke. It is. He’s laughing. When he stops laughing he will sigh. The lights flicker.
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Ms. Monica wants to know how the college search is going, It is my job to ask, Kathleen. With an emphasis on “job”, like she’s letting me in on a secret. The morning sky is foggy. The couch is orange. What an ugly couch, like someone painted it. Like someone found it behind a dumpster and brought it home.
The backs of my hands are soft. I tell her it is good. How’s the farm? The sheep are dead. She nods her head, writes a note, sips her coffee. I’m sorry to hear that. It’s okay. It happens every year.
Madeline and I are dancing. We are in her basement, on a Sunday afternoon, and are supposed to be studying. But a good song is playing and we are standing up. Madeline goes by her full name to everyone but thinks it’s cute when I call her Maddie. Her hair is long and swaying. My mother knows where I am, knows I will be back for dinner tonight. There is a ping pong table that we used to play at when we were younger. The disco ball in the corner.
When we were eight it turned on, bright and flashing even though it wasn't plugged into the wall. We screamed and ran upstairs to her sister, Anna, who was babysitting us, who sent us away because her boyfriend was over; and her Mom wasn’t there. I remember the boyfriend’s face. I could pick it out of any crowd: crooked nose, dark hair, brown eyes, the way he raised his eyebrows and asked if we were certain.
Madeline is the girl who everyone is secretly in love with. She told me not to go out with John, He just wants to have sex with you; you know that, right?
Madeline’s mother calls downstairs to us, dinner is ready. We are eight years old. Susan and I are at her house because Grandpa just died, and it is Christmas, and Mom and Dad have to plan the funeral. Grandpa was Jewish. Grandpa grew up in Vienna during the time of yellow stars. He left when they started smashing windows. Men rushed out into the street. Burned books.
Dad got the call while we were at our cousin’s house. Mom argued with her sister. It was Christmas Eve. What will the girls do? I’ll call a babysitter. After that, we got on a plane home, and my mom called Madeline’s mom. Now we are here, eating mac-n-cheese at her kitchen table. Madeline’s mom asks about the farm. It’s good, I say.
When Mom and Dad get home they will find the sheep all dead. They will call the vet, then the police. They will choose a funeral home for Grandpa, and dig a grave for the sheep. They will call Madeline’s mom and ask how we are doing. We will be doing good. The girls are having fun; no, it’s not a problem to watch them. I’m so sorry for your loss.
That night we slept on the floor of Madeline’s bedroom. She had a purple carpet to match her purple walls. We stay up late, talking about boys until that got boring, and we started playing cards. Susan lay next to me, and me below Madeline, on her twin bed. Did you know him well? She asks, Your Grandpa? I didn’t. So she told us about her grandfather, who works for a candy factory, who is coming to visit this February.
The year Grandpa died, my father celebrated every Jewish holiday. When, a summer later, Yom Kippur came around, he went to the synagogue and prayed for the first time since we’d moved to Ann Arbor.
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John drives me home in a blue car underneath a fading blue sky. I look out the tinted window to my house. My face reflects. I open my mouth. His hand is on my knee and then it is not. I watch him move it to the wheel, then back to my knee again, then further. I am thinking about my grandfather. My face reflected on the window. My grandfather gave me this face. I close my eyes, which are not my eyes, but my grandfather’s eyes. There is a hand on my leg, warm fingers like something soft and rotten. I open my eyes to a dark sky. There are no stars; we can only see the moon. I think, The moon is only bright because it is reflecting the sun. Then I am quiet.
Every light bulb is a sun; the orange couch is a planet. Ms. Monica sits across from me, a yellow legal pad on her lap. She is very pretty and very young. She asks how my day has been. Good. She asks if I have been thinking about the schools she suggested if I had made any decisions about applications. I say, No. I pretend to check my phone, I’m sorry, my mom is here, I have to go.
Madeline says, I don’t know what you expected, Kathleen. I told you he didn’t really like you. I believed her; I did. I do this to myself, I do. I can’t figure out if I love someone or not, so I love them anyway and it never works.
The year Grandpa died was the year of ghosts. Doors slamming in every hallway, the air in the barn going cool and dry at night. Every stair creaking. Every day some new, strange happening. Dad says he remembers a dream he had where he woke and saw his father standing over him, bright like an angel. Each night, I pulled my hair into a tight French braid, in case Grandpa came to me too.
I am eight, in Madeline’s bedroom. She is shaking a Magic 8 ball with two hands. Asks if she is pretty, shakes, Yes. We want to know our futures, look at the bright answer swirling around behind a plate of glass.
The moon is full. I am in a car, and the car is burning, and nobody can tell but me. It must be a dream because my bones are melting, and science tells us that bones can’t melt. It must be a dream because the hand on my leg is made of snakes. There are snakes piling up at my feet, falling in through the skylight. The boy next to me doesn’t notice. He is half-asleep and I do not want to wake him.
I am eight. Indiana Jones is afraid of snakes. Mom wants us to watch all the Indiana Jones movies with her. We are on Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is her favorite. She tells Susan to cover her eyes because Susan is afraid of snakes. I am not. I watch the whole thing, all the way through, even the ending where everyone’s faces melt off -- except the face of our hero, Indiana Jones.
Susan is so afraid of snakes that Mom sends the both of us to a therapist to talk about our fears. I’m there so Susan won’t be alone. The woman asks what Susan is afraid of, Snakes, tornados, fires, Susan lists. Then she asks me. I don’t know, I say, nothing, really. Even though I’ve been having the same dream for weeks now. Each time I open the door of the same house, to the same street, and I am my grandfather. I’m in Vienna. She frowns, writes something on her notepad.
I am in a car, with a nice boy, and he wants something from me. Really wants it. He reaches over my body and asks without even opening his mouth. His hands are snakes; his fingers have teeth. I’m afraid to point this out. The car is warm. My mouth is tied shut, and I’m in a dream from years ago. I am opening a door to old, ruined streets. The hair on my neck stands up, perpendicular. The doors are locked. We are kissing. Then, finally, my hands unstick from themselves and I reach across him and push the switch to unlock the door.
Madeline is taller than me and has freckles. Madeline has long hair. A boy in our class told me he had a crush on her and asked if she likes him back. This morning, we are in the warmest room. It’s got carpets and a furnace. A DVD player and no TV. You can meet my grandpa if you want, Madeline says, grabbing my hand. I’m not expecting it so my arm is limp and my palms are sweaty, but she says nothing. Thanks, I tell her. Meaning it. I look down at our fingers, her pink nails shining, reflecting the light, throwing it back up at the ceiling.
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