It started the day my little sister died. Her name was Willow. She was in the terrible twos. Early that morning, Willow never woke up. I was the first to notice. She was just lying limp and sallow in her daybed. It was eerie seeing the Wonder Stars cast a dull glow on her glossy blue eyes. The cause of death was supposed to be a complete mystery but not to father. He took extra care to keep the fingermarks around her throat hidden.
You can’t quite blame him, with his peanut-sized brain and coarse moustache. Imagine having to wake up every night for two years, because of a screaming little munchkin. After a while, you can’t help it. Just one shake to shush her up. I won’t hurt her or anything. Just to quiet her, you tell yourself as you advance toward your slobbering angel. Next thing you know, your baby isn’t crying anymore. Or breathing.
Father’s secret is safe with me. What would I gain from telling Mother? A corrupted family falling to pieces. And that’s worse than the predicament I was in then.
But it was like Willow never left. For some damned reason, she kept haunting me. Everywhere I go, she’d pop her curly mop through the wall and wail. She crawled on the ceiling, and cried for Bun, her beloved stuffed rabbit. I tossed her Bun, but she didn’t notice. That stupid button-eyed rabbit passed right through her ghostly body.
I used to freeze each time Willow floated through a wall to scream at me. I started to scream back. That’s when mother dragged me off to a psychiatrist.
‘She’s supposed to help,’ mother said before my first appointment. I highly doubted that. Was there really any medicine that could take away ghosts?
My psychiatrist was an old woman with swinging jowls and a petite frame. She looked like a dying Great Dane, minus the cherry eyes. She was convinced I was schizophrenic. The old woman tried prescribing me anti-psychotic medicine. I guess I lost it then and started to scream at her. I wasn’t psychotic. I wondered why no one could understand me. That day, she banned me from visiting again. Mother refused to speak to me on the drive home.
School wasn’t much better. Word got out, so classmates kept coming up to me and asking for more than simply a friendship. ‘What drugs are you on?’ they’d ask. ‘I wanna get high too. Give me a little!’
One time I had to visit the principal. I remember seeing him lean back in his seat, staring at me over his tortoiseshell frames. He told me to sit, so I did.
‘Tiffany, glad you’re here. I heard about your sister. I’m so sorry.’
‘Yeah. Uh, thanks.’
Willow was in the corner, sleeping. I guess dead toddlers needed naps too.
He pushed his glasses back, and suddenly turned a shade of red. ‘So Tiffany, don’t tell anyone… but I’m willing to pay a good price for the happy dust.’
‘What? What is happy dust?’
‘You know…’ The principal gestured with his hands in a circular motion.
‘No, I don’t…’
‘Snow. Sugar. White powder. Mojo. Mama coca… Don’t you know any of these? I can’t say the name out loud or I’ll be fired. Ms. Tiffany, I just want to do a line!’ He begged.
‘A line? I don’t know what that is… Sorry.’
The principal sighed and collapsed on his desk. ‘Let’s pretend this never happened. You’re dismissed. Please remember to close the door on your way out.’
‘Please, Tiffany, come out!’ Mother urged. People think that if they keep asking, they’ll eventually get what they want. I said no once, and I would say no again.
‘No,’ I responded.
‘Yes!’ she pleaded in desperation.
‘I’m not coming out! You might as well leave me to die like Willow.’
Willow paused her babbling to stare at me. I ducked under the covers again.
‘Tiffany, don’t you dare say that! Don’t you think I’m having a hard enough time? Can’t you cut me some slack? It’s hard, Tiffany, each day is a struggle.’
‘You’re not the one being haunted by a creepy little girl, though, are you?’ I muttered.
‘What? Did you say something?’ Mother asked.
‘Nothing except… I’m not coming out!’
‘Fine! Stay in there! But let me know when you want to grow up a bit. I’m not waiting for you at dinner again.’ I heard Mother’s defeated stomps exit the hallway and descend the stairs.
‘Bun! Bun! Bun!’ Willow chanted. I peeked a little to see that ghostly character swing from wall to wall. Why could only I see her? It’s not like I killed her. Father did.
I was trapped. I’d always be the ‘psycho’ girl, probably ending up in a straightjacket on the way to a mental institution. I’d be alone. No one would be able to see what I see. No one would know what I know.
My blood boiled. I threw the comforter off my body and searched around the room. My eyes locked with the rabbit’s judgmental buttons. Even his floppy ears seemed to question me. I scooped him up and dug around in my desk for my secret stash of matches.
‘Bun!’ my sister yelled, following me out the window.
In the back yard, mother wouldn’t see me. She wouldn’t smell the smoke if I was quick. It didn’t matter at this point, her seeing or not seeing. This torture had to end.
I rubbed the match against the side of the box. A few sparks ignited, but went out just as quickly. I swore meaningless curses. Finally, a matchstick stayed alight.
I threw the matchstick at the right ear. The flame ate up the skin quickly and started devouring the rest of the body. The flames were beautiful; reddish-orange, contrasting with the blue sky. Everything started to lose its shape and form. It was finally ending.
Willow’s voice was fading away with each lick of the flames.
I glanced into the kitchen window. Mother was oblivious as always, cooking up some Hamburger Helper. She’d never notice the true me, the secret arsonist. But maybe I could give her something to smile about every so often. She always wore an unattractive frown.
I returned to look at the glowing corpse. It was unrecognizable now, only a puddle of cloth and two button eyes. I put the fire out with a nearby bucket of water and grabbed those button eyes.
Those eyes had been staring into me for the past few weeks. They had judged me and mocked me. I could just slip them into my pocket. It would be easier.
My sister was killed because someone chose to do the ‘easy thing.’ I had to move on, and get out of my room. I stomped on them and buried the broken fragments in a shallow dirt hole.
‘Goodbye,’ I whispered for the final time.
That night, I’d join mother and father for some Hamburger Helper. We’d talk a little, and laugh about an unfunny joke. Maybe one day we’d heal completely. Maybe.
A cold breeze passes through and I swear I hear her giggling.