by Ian O’Brien
WHEN MRS RIDGEWAY asks her, she is drawing, head down, face close to the paper. She should be doing maths, but today is a Blue Day and on Blue Days she is allowed to draw at the back of the class with Mrs Ridgeway, she is less disruptive this way.
‘What would you like to be, if you could be anything in the world?’ Mrs Ridgeway whispers. She thinks about it but doesn’t take her face from the page. She doesn’t say what she wants to say. A ghost, is what she wants to say. A ghost that can float, above this desk, this classroom, reach down and touch without being seen, make the hairs stand on the back of your neck, make the room cold despite the sunshine, lift this paper and float it into the air, magic, a ghost that can lift itself up and out, through walls, through glass, and out there to whatever waits beyond the school fence, the road, the houses, lift above the rooftops and up to uninterrupted blue.
Mrs Ridgeway tries to peek, but she covers the page with her hair, hides it under the dark tangles. She is drawing a bird in a cage, as she often does. Cage after cage, they hang in trees, in clouds, in rivers even. And rain. Always rain, stabs of it, spiking across the page, across clouds, across sun. A lion once, with an arrow in its chest. Lion is what the specialist wrote when Mrs Ridgeway showed the drawings to her the last time. But it wasn’t a lion, it was a dog, the big dog he brought to live with them when her Mum finally let him move in, that they had to keep on a chain in the yard. And a serpent once, curled around a blade. More arrows, the specialist wrote, but it was his tattoo.
A ghost could float through the cigarette smoke. Up to the ceiling in the late-night light of the television. He wouldn’t see her, wouldn’t call her to him, sit her on his thigh. She could hover through the blue-grey smoke to the kitchen as he dozed, silently open the knife drawer. Lift, gentle, silent, one after the other and sway them through the air and into the room, dance them up by the ceiling as he lay back his head, breathing through his teeth that way he did, that sound she drew once as a saw, and they would hover there. She would wait for his eyes to open, his mouth to widen before she would let it rain. And she wouldn’t have to flee the scene, as her mother finds him and screams and she would dance and dance in the blue flashing room.
‘A dancer,’ she says, and lifts her head. Mrs Ridgeway smiles and looks at the drawing. A cage is open. Later, at the meeting, the specialist will agree—that’s progress, she’ll say.
Ian O’Brien is a writer from Manchester, currently living in Wales. His work has appeared in Fictive Dream, Neon and Prole amongst others. In 2021 his novelette-in-flash ‘What The Fox Brings In Its Jaw’ was published by Retreat West. You can find him on Twitter @OB1Ian.