The first word I’ve spoken all day, up the stairs and into the bedroom where my father sleeps. The sky is gray and the house is cold. Half of the day has passed. Silence answers me and I know he is not home again. I close the door and walk, barefoot, through the house, feeling tired though I’ve slept most of the morning.
In the bathroom I find an apparition with dark eyes. She is tired and wan, lips the color of ash. Perhaps this is depression in my features, late in the day while the world is the color of an alley wall. I can feel something within me moving steadily, rhythmically, but on the outside it’s easy to believe that I am empty, that nothing moves or breathes or works inside. I run my hands over of my face, feel my skin smooth and soft against my palms, and I pretend, eyes closed, that I am not myself, but something lovely. I turn on the water and cup my hands under the stream. It fills my palms, ice cold, spilling over, and I bring it forward. It gently touches my lips and then spreads over my entire face, biting and bitter, shocking me awake. I re-cup my hands, splash my face, again, and again—until the water is scalding hot. I hear my mother’s voice telling me not to let the water run, a sentence said a thousand times through the door and in my head. I turn off the faucet. The apparition finds me again.
Strands of wet hair are plastered to her forehead and hanging in her dark eyes. Her ashen lips have a hint of color—my face burns as water drips down in tiny rivulets. I wipe my eyes with my fists, exhale. The bathroom is loud in my ears—the lights are humming, vents whirring. I don’t want to look at myself anymore. I bury my face in a towel and rub harshly, imagining a mask, stuck fast to my skin, being pulled part, breaking away as the tiny, fibered hands of the towel grab at it. I glance at the mirror and see pink glowing beneath the brown of my skin, see a softness has emerged from behind the mask of prolonged sleep. For a moment another ghost emerges, a smiling child with dark eyes that have a light to them. A child who knows she is beautiful. I feel the thing inside me quicken, and I turn away. When I look again, the child is gone.
I rub lotion over my raw skin and the burning stops, cooled by aloe and olive and almond. I watch myself, watch her, as my hands glide over my lips, my nose, my cheeks, my chin, in endless motion, hypnotized by my wide eyes, black and glassy with thought and fatigue. Reaching into my drawer, I pull out a stick of makeup, press it to my lips until they shine rosy and red. I smile—straight white teeth stark against the red, brown, black. The apparition is hidden again, but I see her behind my eyes, and she sees me, reminds me she is there and no amount of water and oil and color will change that.
A knock on the bathroom door startles me and I turn to it, staring as if I can see through the wood to the person on the other side. I wait.
My father knocks again. I open the door and he grins at me—straight white teeth and dark, empty eyes. But his cheeks rise into apples, the same as mine and my grandmother’s, and his skin crinkles. I feel like crying, but I put on another mask—one that lets him think I’m okay. He hugs me, and I bury my head in his chest. I can hear the thing inside him too, and mine matches it, beat for beat.
Kathryn H. Ross is an LA-based freelance and creative writer. She has recently been published or is forthcoming in Flash Fiction Magazine, Hidden Chapter, Brilliant Flash Fiction, and Unbroken Journal. When she is not writing, she enjoys consuming books and binge-watching cartoons.