There is a ghost in this shower curtain. No one but me can see it. Sometimes I squint my eyes across the jungle-print fabric — the pelicans, hunch-backed gorillas, monkeys and trees. I hate it, all those eyes on me, but I swear I can see the ghost move through it if I’m really careful. Diving in and out of the vinyl leaves.
I tried to tell my parents. My father shakes his head over the mail he’s reading, shuffling bills and chuckling. My mother glares at him, petting the top of my hand in comforting strokes. She says, “You could be a bit more compassionate.”
They talk about me as if I’m not there. “It’s getting ridiculous,” he says. “I swear, if it’s not a ghost, it’s the mailman. She’s always scared of something…”
At this point I leave them to argue. I know I’m scared a lot, too much, more even than my little brother who is only four. But it’s clear that this ghost is mine alone. I have to walk past the bathroom to get to my bedroom and can’t help but shiver.
Tonight I wake up from a dream about mermaids—their billowing bright hair, sharp-snapping teeth, crashing waves—because I need to pee. The hallway is narrow with soft and quiet shadows. Everything around me is dark except for light escaping through cracks in the bathroom door frame. I try to open it but it’s locked. I knock but no one answers. So I’m down on knees to peek under the door. I can see small, bare feet standing still on the tile.
“Ugh, Michael,” I call out. “Get out. I need to go!”
The feet shift a little towards the door but all is quiet. All air leaves my lungs.
“Hello?” No answer. Shaking, I stand back up and try the door again. It opens soundlessly into the bathroom. Dark.
Her father walks through the house collecting dirty clothes to wash. The living room, the playroom, the den. He looks at his watch. Almost lunchtime. He goes upstairs to check on the kids and passes their bathroom, the one his daughter thinks is haunted. He doesn’t know how to reassure her, only knows how fragile she is and has been her whole life. Even as an infant, the girl would cry and cry, seeing danger in everything around her. Her mother thought about taking her to a doctor, the special kind, but he wouldn’t hear of it. She’ll grow out of it, he kept assuring them. Kids act strange and grow out of it. Let her try to be normal.
Her father glances in the bathroom and notices the shower curtain is missing. Continuing down the hall, he goes to her daughter’s door, ajar. The girl is sitting on the floor, wrapped inside the curtain. He watches his daughter rocking, watches her tenderly rub the vinyl between her fingers. The curtain is wrapped tight around her body like a shell.
Quietly, he shuts the door between them and stands frozen on the other side. Minutes pass. He moves a hand towards the knob again, but then looks at the basket of clothes still hoisted on his hip and thinks better of it. Back down the stairs, back into the laundry room, he knows how important it is to wash before these stains set.
Bryanna Licciardi has received her MFA in poetry from Emerson College and her Doctorate in Education from Middle Tennessee State University. Her debut chapbook SKIN SPLITTING is out from Finishing Line Press (2017). She is a multi-Pushcart Prize nominee, and co-curates a local poetry reading series, founded by the Murfreesboro Poet Laureate. Her work appears in journals such as Poetry Quarterly, BlazeVOX, Peacock Journal, Adirondack Review, and Cleaver Magazine. Check out www.bryannalicciardi.com for more.