31. The Ghost of Water

“I still dream I am drowning,” she says to me. “Some mornings I wake up and I can’t catch my breath, can’t make my lungs take in air, again.

“I can’t stand it. I still see water everywhere, how the bottoms of trees are still so dirty, even with all of this rain. And I see that other people don’t see it. I feel like I’m seeing a ghost. The empty shells of houses, the garbage still caught in fences. Everywhere I look is the ghost of water. How can they not see it?”

I had come to ask her about another ghost, a particular Alabaman who seems to haunt all over town with whom it was rumored she’d had a particularly strange run in, but this is what she wanted to talk about, for the little bit that she wanted to talk. She then bowed her head at her dressing table and squeezed her eyes shut. It felt so private that I almost turned away.

And then she sat up straight, wiped each eye with just the edge of her finger, and then followed that with the blotting of a tissue.

“Well,” she said, “No one came to see me being a big ole baby about this.” And so she stared in the mirror, fussing with her hair, trying on two or three different smiles, and finally, sliding into her sequined jacket.

And just like that, she was the singer, grateful and delighted to be performing for her audience, as if she had no care in the world, but how to best entertain you. I was struck by the thought of all the women in this city who have steeled themselves by swallowing their grief, as if showing you a sweet face, no matter the circumstances, was the bodily equivalent of “Bless your heart.”

It was an act designed to wither you, if you knew how to read it. But one you could perform in public and never be taken as rude by the clueless people you meant it towards.

She went over to the door frame with an old tube of lipstick and made a mark, right at chin level, like you would to measure the growth of a child.

“I know,” she said, “We’re all supposed to be over it by now. But I still need this.”

“What is that?” I said.

“That’s how high the water came up in my house. There’s not a place I go now I don’t leave the water’s mark.”

9 thoughts on “31. The Ghost of Water

  1. Is it really over? Really? Can’t we have just a few more days in October this year? For just a few more stories?

  2. This is the one that, when I read it in the book, I stopped and I cried and I said, “this is not a story, this is real.”

  3. Precisely what Miss Nina said. Also, Miss Julie.

    I know who I wish this was. Except I don’t wish for her suffering like this.

    B, you are something else. We bow to you.

  4. Thanks for another month of great stories. I hate to see them end.

    Though election returns offered a horror of their own.

  5. A couple of weeks ago I said I thought your stories were too short, but after reading this years batch I just have to take it back.

    I’m still not really a fan of the short story genre, but it works really well for what you’re doing with these stories.

  6. Thanks, W. I think a difference between these and other short stories is that these (especially when you read them in the book) straddle a line between “short story” and “chapter.” Yep, each bit is very short, but I hope it works with the others as a part of a whole story about our area.

  7. straddle a line between “short story” and “chapter.”

    Yeah, I like your stories that are more like that (like this one), even as they stand alone. It’s like you’re giving us a short moment in time versus a full storyline. Enough details to just understand what’s going on, but leaving all the rest up to the reader. It’s really a great way of writing.

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