When we have our daughter, I expect her to be real.
I expect her to weigh something, to hold her in my hand. The childbirth pains are so intense I think I must not understand, she’s somewhere else, she’s being washed or wrapped in blankets crisp as napkins, maybe my husband has her. But really, she’s here. Floating right above me.
She is small and half-clear. She has my eyes, I think, even though I think all mothers think this about their daughters.
When I reach up to hold her, my hands—go straight through.
They say touch is essential, that skin-to-skin not only calms your infant but releases hormones that relieve stress and stabilize the baby’s temperature, breathing rate, heart rate, and blood sugar. That it helps the mother heal faster. That there is a reduction in crying and relief from pain.
I feel her like spiderwebs all around my hands.
She cries most nights. I reach for her, writhing in the corner of our room, floating, half-there.
(I think of violin tuning, the little ways I can try to adjust her pain).
Sometimes we exchange static electricity. Sometimes she makes the cupboard rattle. I think that pushing them softly closed calms her. Arranging the dishware neatly helps her sleep. When the lights start to flicker, I remove the bulbs. Her body relaxes. I pull back the curtain and let the moonlight soak her up.
It is a kind of touch, that milklight.
I know she’s lonely when the lightbulbs flicker.
I know she’s happy when the windows rattle, when there isn’t any wind.
I know she’s hungry, and my breasts are full of milk, and they are so sore, and she doesn’t drink from them.
I know she’s a ghost and not a spirit because we don’t need a medium to make contact. Any conduit (me) will do.
My little ghost grows. Her hair is long. Her first word is run.
Her first word is help.
Her first word is cold.
It is cold in her room, every single day.
I learn to love that cold spot—knowing her by the way my hair stands on end, by the way my back stiffens, blood congeals. I learn to call this love.
A couple years later, we try again. We have a boy. He is a ghost. A loud one.
He isn’t an apparition as much as he is thudding footsteps, banging walls, things falling from shelves high up. I find a pitcher in shatters like any mother. I find a broken window and a baseball.
I build him a trapdoor in his bedroom, and that is where he puts his pounding. That is where he puts the antique tools he collects. That is where he brings stray cats, the ghosts of them, and where our cats go to die.
When our cats die, they don’t leave us. When my mother dies, neither does she.
This is a story about how people say, They’re in a better place now. And how those people are fucking wrong.
This is a story about how, even when I die, I won’t be free. Even when I die, this house will still be my house. My daughter will still be my daughter. We never age and never speak. I button our mist-covered nightgowns to the neck. My ghost boy is in the yard, invisibly chopping wood. My ghost husband is in the basement, rattling chains.
My daughter and I, we walk down the road together, the moonlight turning us clear.
A car drives through us.
I hold my little girl’s hand like a sealed letter.
And we never disappear.
© Melissa Goodrich
[This piece was selected by Heather Cripps. Read Melissa’s interview]