mouth shutDante comes stomping and shivering in from night class. His hair is wet, pavement-black in the light from the overhead fixture. His eyes are heavily shadowed.

“I think I’m losing it,” he says.

The announcement is exhaustingly familiar, and Pinky doesn’t answer.

The kitchen is too small for revelations, and he’s her brother, not a convalescent patient or a child. He’s smiling in that way he has—all teeth and gums and no particle of joy. The smile is a millimeter off from screaming.

But Dante is easily spooked. An alarmist by nature, he says this kind of thing all the time.

Pinky folds her hands on the table and stares down, feeling the words in her mouth. They pile up, getting jammed against her teeth.

She wants to say, How dramatic you are. She wants to tell him that bad genetics and bent neurotransmitters will only take a person so far. That last lurch into madness, you do it yourself. Their father, she is convinced, dove in headfirst. She has to believe it was this way, because without the reassurance of a clear-cut act of will, there is only madness and her brain, and nothing in between.

Dante steps farther into the kitchen, peeling off his jacket, looking wildly around at the dishes and the pans. “There are times when I think I hear voices. That’s how it starts, right, with sounds and voices? Or what about those things you see sometimes—just barely—just from the corner of your eye? Sometimes I can’t tell if those things are real or not, and lately I’ve been laughing inappropriately.”

Pinky wants to ask whose job it is to decide when something is inappropriate. The world is a unusual place, and sometimes things are just funny.

When the rain first started, Pinky would go on patient circuits of the house—close the cupboards, close the doors. They just creaked open again, leaving a one-inch gap, and that was funny. Unexpected. It was simply the elemental strangeness of the world.

Pinky’s real name is not Pinky, but Flora Rosa. Her father named her after a deep, vibrant flower and then took it back, making her pink. Less-than. Slightly watered down. Red is the color of passion, of love and rage and things that get hot and then explode. Everything in their neat little house has started to look gray.

This new grayness, Pinky is convinced, is owed entirely to the rain ghost—the girl haunting the cupboards, making them creak open. The girl who would burst forth, all storm clouds and lightening, if only she weren’t so fearful.

But the rain ghost is a cautious thing, with huge, staring eyes. She watches from surprising places. The quieter Pinky sits, the braver the ghost becomes, peering shyly from under the sink, peeking out through the gap of the closet door.

The ghost has no mouth. Or rather, her mouth is covered, sealed over with a piece of dingy packing tape, and her eyes flash bright and wary in the shadow of the closet.

Her silence is worrying, as is her grimy face, and sometimes Pinky has a troubling urge to give her a clean dress and brush her hair.

Pinky knows the ghost is a rain ghost, because when she’s gone, the sky stays heavy with water that won’t come down. To see her means a storm, but that’s no hardship. The hills are dry enough to catch fire and the city needs rain.

Tonight, the two of them have spent the whole evening in the kitchen, waiting for Dante in companionable silence. The clouds are low and black, and it’s been pouring for hours.

“This is bad, Pink,” Dante says, throwing down his jacket, pacing and pacing. His voice spikes up, and in this moment, she understands that he is too acutely paranoid to be going crazy.

Behind him, the ghost girl stares from the cupboard, watching Pinky with wide, knowing eyes.

If Dante would just stop talking, maybe Pinky could lure her, coax her out to sit at the table.

Even as Pinky watches, the girl is gathering depth and mass, growing more and more substantial by the minute, and perhaps these things are always there, hovering timid and constant, but rarely coming out to be seen.

The ghost blinks twice, a kind of communication in code, affirmation of the secret they have together. The gesture is a friendly one, but Pinky feels guilty and regretful. She doesn’t like keeping things from Dante.

“What if I’m already too far gone?” he says, speaking rapidly, moving his hands. “What if I just don’t know it? If I get sick, who would take care of you? Who would stay with you?”

Pinky and the ghost exchange glances and this time, the flicker in the ghost’s wide eyes is not fear, but amusement at Dante’s histrionics. After all, they would still have each other.

“There’s no one we can call,” he says, “no one to help us. It will be just like it was with Dad.”

Pinky pushes back her chair and pads across to the open cupboard. When she crouches down, the ghost leans toward her, looking up with shy delight, impish and merry.

Dante stops pacing and turns to look at Pinky. His flapping hands drop to his sides.

Pinky reaches out and the ghost moves closer. Her eyes are bright like rushing water or pennies, and Pinky will peel back the tape to hear the clap of thunder when she laughs.

Photo by FranUlloa

*This week, our common prompt comes from Simon (prophet1). An account of the original mythology can be found here: Wondjina

15 thoughts on “Mirthless

  1. ‘It was simply the elemental strangeness of the world.’

    I like this line, and the voice. Wise and amused, gentle. I fee like smiling. I have a sense of the world, and the spirits who wish to help us.

    ‘Pinky knows the ghost is a rain ghost, because when she’s gone, the sky stays heavy with water that won’t come down. To see her means a storm, but that’s no hardship. The hills are dry enough to catch fire and the city needs rain.’

    I could sit for hours close to your energy. When we’re not living soulfully our life weighs us down. We’re afraid to be brave. Change is like a cleansing storm, otherwise we become ash blown about by social apathy.

    I think if people knew to sit still beside a well of wisdom, they’d sit quietly beside you. You’ve captured the essence of the woodjina perfectly. Thanks.

  2. Pinky wants to ask whose job it is to decide when something is inappropriate. The world is a unusual place, and sometimes things are just funny. Exactly. EXACTLY. Who’s to decide if we’re dressed oddly, like strange things or laugh inappropriately? Exactly whose job is that?

    I love this story.

  3. Thanks! It’s been raining like crazy here (unusual), so it was easy to hold ghosts responsible 😉

  4. I’m glad you liked it! Someone told me once that laughing inappropriately was an early sign of schizophrenia, and all I could think was, Well, how does one define inappropriate? It’s a very subjective term!

  5. Hi, Simon–thanks for the prompt! I had a lot of fun with it and I’m glad you felt like I did some justice to it. I’d never heard of the wondjina before, and they’re really interesting!

  6. How appropriate for all the rain we’ve seen lately. (Prepare ye, it’s supposed to rain this weekend as well.) This is another example of a story where the “real” feels “other” and the “other” feels “real”. Dante’s like an anchor for Pinky, and maybe for the readers as well.

  7. The creep factor of things with no mouths wound up being much higher than I’d imagined! A couple times, I had to knock it down a bit, because I don’t think she’s a mean, bad ghost!

  8. There’s definitely inherent creepiness to the lack of mouth. Probably because that’s how we all survive – communication.

  9. Oh lord, the rain. Is totally responsible for this story, 100%. I kept looking out the window and looking out the window . . .

    I am so transparently affected by the weather!

  10. I’m actually surprised it didn’t factor in more. Things with no mouths are creepy!

  11. The bit about her name and being watered down, flowing into the house being gray…I don’t have the vocabulary to explain it but I loved it anyways.

    Also I love the idea of the obnoxiously crazy brother being taken away and leaving the sweet and mild crazy sister alone with her ghost.

    The link about the myth itself leaves a lot to be desired and talks more about the painting of these things than what they really were…aside from rain bringers…its probably better that way though. Leaves more to the reader I guess.

    I’ve noticed that as I read your stuff I find myself wanting to paint them.

  12. You know, looking back at this, I’m not even totally convinced he’s crazy. He might just be a self-centered hypochondriac. I think this was part of a contest—a winning reader got to choose what we would write about, and I remember going to myth and thinking, “wow, this story could really be about anything.”

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