Childhood Ghosts

by Ania Vesenny

I wake to my grandmother’s rolling wheezing. Still a cat, my paws furry, claws retracted, I jump on her chest. Foam lathers in her toothless mouth. I look for an angel or a beam of light. Instead, shadows shuffle on the ceiling as the lindens outside sway under the street lamps.

I climb up the stairs and push open the door to my mother’s room. She is alone in her bed. She sits up before I say a word, covers her mouth with her hands, but a gasp escapes. Through her eyes, full of horror, the knowledge of adults spills into me and I say, “Granny’s dead.”

My mother leans close to my face. The hair above her upper lip trembles. “How dare you!” she says. The door bangs when she leaves.

I wear black nylons to school, the skirt of my uniform hemmed by Granny just as I wanted—too short. At eleven we are still children, we are cute when our skirts fly with the wind.

My mother’s friend, the mother of a fat girl whose hair is always neat, meets me after school and takes me with her. After dinner she tells me to go and play. I sit on the windowsill and watch yellow maple leaves twirl. I hear the clicks of forks against china. The fat girl comes back and pulls on my ponytail. Her upper lip has a mustache of chocolate crumbs.

We sleep in the same bed, and the fat girl pulls the blanket away from me. “Do you know the story of a little girl who died in her sleep?” she asks. Her voice is serious, as though she is reciting her lesson. I know she’s going to hurt me.

“Do you believe in ghosts?” I ask.

Her eyes fly open wide, and she rests her head on the palm of her hand. “Have you ever seen one? Was it scary?” She wraps her blanket tight around her shoulders.

In her parents’ bedroom the bed begins to squeak. “They’re having sex,” the fat girl whispers and slides her index finger into her half-open fist. “They do it every Wednesday. Do you want to watch?”

“I saw my grandmother die,” I say.

“I bet you don’t even know what sex is.” She turns away from me.

The bands of light on the ceiling roll and widen as the cars drive by. When I am not looking my grandmother’s face presses into the window glass.

Ania Vesenny was born and raised in the former USSR. Currently she lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where she takes long walks on the beaches, and works on her novel. Her short story was recently nominated for the Journey Prize. She’s an assistant editor for Vestal Review. One day she will blog again.

What childhood ghosts haunt you and your writing? I don’t allow any ghosts to haunt me in real life, but writing is different. I had a pretty ordinary Soviet childhood. It is fun to pick out a glimpse of a memory and to play with it in my fiction, to make it unrecognisable, and to create something entirely new. I think children are perceptive and wise, and they want to belong, to be understood. They are also vulnerable, and have to depend on adults in their lives. I like to explore these themes in my writing.

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