Maybe the coming of ghosts feels like a sob at the back of your throat.
—Jodi Picoult, Second Glance
The twins are half-sick with ghosts. Girl One lies in her bed, in the thrush of puberty, her throat closing up with the fog of the spirit to come. She shuts her eyes and longs for a governess to torment, someone to foist these unruly ghosts upon.
Girl Two sits in her rocking chair, gazing out the window. Her ghost has already arrived, vomited out onto her shirt, but she has always been advanced for her age, surpassing her sister despite her own secondary arrival into the world. The ghost rocks with her, seated, a pearlescent overlay on the girl’s body, an oilslick sheen that remains in the chair when Girl Two gets up and drifts toward the bathroom. The ghost stays rocking, almost invisible, as the mother, downstairs in the kitchen, stares at the two empty glass bottles, one a duck-egg blue, the other cranberry red, waiting in vain for their future occupants. She lowers her face into a tumbler of Bell’s Whiskey.
The coming of ghosts is always a difficult time in an adolescent’s life, especially a girl’s. Two girls, and twins at that? Anyone could have predicted the divorce, the inevitable drinking, power outages and ostracism. It’s been months now since anyone has gone to school. But sometimes these things happen—the community is, after all, prepared.
Girl One leaves her bed and sighs toward Girl Two’s usurped and frantic rocker. Her ghost bulges bullfrog-like in her throat. She leans her forehead on the window and coughs a tendril of ectoplasm to mist the glass. Writing squeaks by itself across the fogged oval: “Almost Here.”
The mother in the kitchen lays her head upon the table, knocks the useless bottles aside, catches the sob in her throat—it reminds her of her own ghosts years ago, birthed and coughed so easily into the specialty green and gold bottle she’d received at First Communion, then given to the Fire Department as with so many generations before her. Why must her own daughters prove so difficult? Ghosts that come and refuse to go, refuse to be bottled, despite the beauty of the glass containers that wait for them. Refuse to be returned to whatever fog-ridden, spectered isle they come from.
Girl Two returns from the bathroom and looks at her sister’s back. She moves softly behind her, but the rocking-ghost creaks and Girl One turns around, her throat still thick with a spirit that seems to have gotten tragically stuck. The girls lean into one another, their arms down, twined, pale, the ephemeral near-embrace that is all the ghost-infected can manage. They know what is to come.
The Fire Department’s lights are flashing outside now. Soon the phosphorous rain will be sprayed upon the house, clinging to ghost and human alike. The lime will be poured. Unbottled or stuck ghosts cannot be tolerated in this town; bad things have happened in the past. Outside and in, the mother, the twins, the ghosts, are silent; the mother moves to the front door, cracks it open, hesitates, her head down—she thinks of the word “threshold” and its many meanings. She steps out the door and looks up at the bedroom window. Hesitates again.
The neighbors, the Fire Department with their hoses, stand ready, waiting. Not for any last chance, but merely for the ghost warrant, the burn notice that will allow a clean razing, an expulsion, of the infected and their unwanted guests, their ghosts that have come, yet have stubbornly refused to go. They stand there in that infinite tableau, the ghost-stricken family, the town, the Fire Department, their faces full of a terrible pity. The mother closes the door.
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