by Gay Degani
I’m looking at the newel post at the bottom of the stairs when my mother up comes behind me and asks, ‘What’re you doing? You’ve been standing here all day.’
Once again, I haven’t heard her coming. ‘Wha—?’
Hands on her hips, she says, ‘You. Staring at this stupid post. Why? What in the world?’
‘Don’t you see it?’ I ask. My voice squeaks.
‘See what? Are you doing that thing with your eyes again? I warned you that people are going to think you’re a freak.’
‘All you have to do is squint.’ I turn back to the post and see it so clearly, why can’t she?
‘Wendy, Wendy. There is nothing there. Please, you have to stop. Your father—’
‘Your father, what?’ It’s him.
My mother and I turn, and I remember the last time I got caught staring at some random object, he gave me three smacks of his belt across my behind. He says it’s for my own good, but he likes that belt.
‘What do you see this time?’ His face is splotchy red.
I try to answer carefully, softly. ‘The same thing I always see in this spot. It’s wood. It can’t change.’
‘Don’t you sass me, little girl. What is it you think you see?’
‘A swan or actually a swan’s head, like I’ve told you before.’ I take my pointer finger and trace the clear lines of the bird’s beak and slender neck. Tap the eye. I don’t look up at him as he grabs my arm.
This happens over and over. Every pattern yields another pattern. A swirl in a curtain reveals a man’s lumpy shape, the hexagon tile in the bathroom is a field of six-petaled daisies. The fake Persian rug in the living room has chains of hand-holding elves around the edges where the fringe kicks up. My father sees nothing. I’m not sure what my mother sees, but that doesn’t matter because she always agrees with him.
I never stop wanting to see things, but close my eyes to the linoleum in the kitchen where I know there are hints of children dancing. I clench my lips when I suddenly spy the Virgin Mary in a smear of ketchup.
Still, I find myself making shadow animals against my bedroom wall whenever my mother leaves on the bedroom lamp. A dog is the easiest, a wolf too. Cats are harder. But if my father walks by my room and spies the light, he strides on in and snaps it out.
I learn to keep to myself. Stay in the shadows. Melt against the wall. Never look too closely at anything. The magic I feel in those moments is gone, and I am bereft.
But after leaving home, the image of me and what I see slowly, slowly sharpens. I learn to move in the sun, my shadow stretching out in front of me, my eyes open to elephants in the clouds, smiling faces in the stucco, and no ghosts to haunt me.
Gay Degani’s work has received Pushcart, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions nominations and won, placed, or received honorable mentions in contests. She has written a full-length collection, Rattle of Want (Pure Slush Books), a chapbook, Pomegranate, and a suspense novel, What Came Before (Truth Serum Press). She occasionally blogs for Words in Place where you can find links to her work online.