The child sketched before she spoke. Drawings of floating beings appeared on her paper with no explanation. “They look like ghosts,” the mother told the father.
“Or clouds, plain and simple.”
“They have tiny hands propelling themselves through the air. See?”
“We see what we want to see. Maybe it’s genetic,” he teased her, reminding her of the time, as a child, she glimpsed her deceased brother in the window of the family farmhouse. All her life, she would insist she saw what she saw. ”Her bedroom might be haunted─ this house was built 150 years ago, and we don’t know if anyone died here.” The mother had a fanciful imagination. Everybody said so.
“All my relatives loved animals,” the mother told the father when she brought a puppy home to their daughter one day.
“Except for that nasty grandfather of yours,” her husband reminded her. “They said he treated his animals on the farm as badly as he did his wife and kids. And he still made time for horse-stealing and a little arson.”
“We’ve all got at least one outlaw in our family trees. Like your grand-dad, killing that man in a bar fight.”
Husband and wife went silent then, listening to their daughter, who had finally found her words. “My doggy, good doggy”, she announced, claiming him. Without asking anyone’s permission, she took the dog bed into her room, tucking the puppy away from the bank of windows where anything could fly in. Soon his image appeared on her sketchpad, surrounded by the same blobs she had always drawn; the shapes now looked as if they were fussing over the pup.
She drew the ghosts while her parents fought uneasy dreams of cracking concrete foundations, the slabs shaped like coffins, floating in a flooded basement, angry beings knocking against the lids, demanding to be seen. She hid the drawings from her parents. It was fine with her if they assumed she had outgrown her belief in ghosts. She hadn’t. She had not replaced her phantoms with imaginary friends either, however, that might have relieved her parents. She had no friends.
One morning, the little girl brought a stack of drawings to the breakfast table. Her father muttered, “Not this again!” The first drawing showed one of the ghosts brushing the little girl’s hair. “This is Anastasia. She says one hundred strokes.” The mother sighed. “I tell you that!” The next sketch showed a funnel of black hash marks brushing past two small figures. “Are these sparks? Is this tornado on fire?” the father mocked. The girl scowled. The father said to the mother, “Did you know a group of ghosts is called a ‘fraid’?” She giggled, and the daughter stamped her feet. Pointing to the bedroom on the paper, she said “Big Cloud rocks the puppy. Chupchup helps. Dusama only watches.”
Both parents peered closely at the sketch, and jumped back when they heard the clang of water pipes bursting. Water oozed over the linoleum, and rose higher and higher. The three of them rushed up the stairs. “Look!” the girl said when they reached her bedroom, standing empty and dry but still holding itself as if it were full, somehow. The girl pointed at the framed painting on the floor. It had always hung on the wall behind her bed, since before the family moved in. The parents stared hard at the wall from which the painting had slipped to the floor. It had been neatly placed against the baseboard, too neatly for an ordinary child to have done it.
Cheryl Snell’s poetry collections include chapbooks from Finishing Line Press, Pudding House, and Moira Books. A full length volume, Prisoner’s Dilemma, in collaboration with the late expressionist artist Janet Snell, won the Lopside Press Chapbook Competition. Cheryl’s work has appeared in a Best of the Net anthology and been nominated seven times. Her collection of novels is called Bombay Trilogy, about the Indian diaspora. She lives with her husband in Maryland, twelve miles from DC.