I was fifteen when I made my first ghost. No one told me it was so easy and that you have to be careful. I didn’t know what I was doing—honestly, I didn’t even intend to do it, it just sort of happened—and the thing came out all wrong. It followed me around, sad and listless, made from the grief I didn’t know what to do with. It was full of regrets and would-have-beens and lived in the corners like a shadow. Most of the time, I could ignore it, but sometimes I would catch sight of it out of the corner of my eye and be reminded—and annoyed.
Later, as time dulled my memories, I made a new ghost; this one was all bright, glittering edges, and prismatic rainbows, as unlike my mother as the first one.
“Daughter,” it would say—for how could I call it ‘she’?—“remember that time we went to the store and I bought you that doll you loved so much?” But, of course, that’s not how it had happened at all. I hadn’t loved the doll. I’d hated it, the way I’d hated all her “I’m sorrys.”
“Daughter, do you remember when I took you for that pony ride and we had a picnic afterward? Do you remember when I took you to the beach and we picked up seashells? Do you remember…” Her glittering, rainbow-colored view of the past was full of sharp edges and cut like broken glass.
Grief drifted in the corners, silent as always, a heaviness that made my irritation with Rainbows all the keener. The pair of them—stupid and immature.
By the time my grandmother’s ghost came along, I was out of patience with the other two and had locked them away. Grief I put in a box and stuffed it under the bed. Rainbows I trapped in the pocket of a dress I’d bought out of sentimentality but never wore. Grandma wasn’t happy—this ghost I had made a little more clear-eyed, a littler realer, than the rest—and she would shake her head and sigh at me. She kept her counsel, but I could see the disappointment in her eyes. That part made me wonder, because my grandmother had never had disappointment in her eyes when she was alive. Eventually, I decided I’d made this ghost wrong, too, and stuffed her in a pocketbook I left behind when we moved to a new house.
It took a few years, but Grandma found me somehow. And she brought Grief and Rainbows with her. By then, I’d added several more ghosts to my collection, because I was so terrible at not making them. A third mother, another grandmother, and a dear friend who was still alive but with whom I’d fallen out of touch and missed. With the arrival of these three, we were now quite crowded. I could hardly move about the house without bumping into one of the ghosts.
If they’d provided any solace, any wisdom, it would have been one thing, but all my ghosts were wrong in one way or another—the originals, but not. In Grief, I could see all the best parts and in Rainbows, the worst. Dear Friend was full of loneliness, and it made her clingy. She was always underfoot. Second Mother and Second Grandmother ignored me in favor of arguing with each other all the time. They made it hard to sleep because they were particularly loud at night.
“Why can’t I make a right ghost?” I asked First Grandmother one day. She was the only one I could stand to talk to even with all her dissatisfaction. “Why can’t I gather up the right combination of ingredients to make one properly? Where do I keep going wrong?”
But she was no help—she was made wrong, too. She just shook her head and sighed— disappointed once again.
Finally, I’d had enough. I collected up all the places I’d put my memories—stray rocks and loose buttons, snippets of songs and lines of poetry, and that corner I kept banging my shin on. I put them in a bowl on my grandmother’s desk and kneaded them into my mother’s bread recipe, baked the loaf until it was done, and then sat and ate it slowly as I gazed out a window on a summer morning. When I was finished, I turned from the window and a new Mother stood before me. She smiled, and I knew I had made a proper ghost at last.
With quiet efficiency, she got a box, piled in Grief and Rainbows and all the rest. She folded up the flaps, and, without looking back, took them away with her when she left.