Saturday Storytime: Swift, Brutal Retaliation

Meghan McCarron is one of those writers whose work history has been made up of those things that almost no one else does. It’s little wonder that when she sits down to write a ghost story, she takes on new territory. This family is definitely haunted, but not quite in the way you’d expect.

The sisters spent the reception hiding in plain sight, or trying to. They glued themselves to their grandmother, who had flown in for the occasion. Their grandmother was a sour old lady who smelled like cigarettes and gin fumes. But she was also tall and heavyset, so they could literally hide behind her as she talked to second cousins and great-aunts and even a step-something, the girls didn’t catch what. Sometimes the sisters held hands. Brigid was the one who did the hand-seeking-out, but Sinead was secretly glad for something to hold on to when strangers stooped down to say they were sorry. Where were they when Ian was sick? Sorry? Sinead would make them sorry.

There were still people in the house that night, straggler aunts and loud neighbors. One of Ian’s coaches was out back with their father, smoking cigars and laughing too loud. At some point, their mother noticed the girls scavenging in the kitchen and sent them up to bed. Sinead made Brigid go up first, since her bedtime was an hour after her sister’s, but once Brigid was gone Sinead felt unmoored. She was too proud to give up her older-sibling right to a later bedtime, but she also didn’t want to be in the room with the loud, sad adults. She found herself contemplating the whole-wheat dairy-free lasagna. Their mother had left it out to rot, and the faux cheese was buckling and sweating.

Sinead heard Brigid turn on the shower in her bathroom. Brigid had only started showering before bed a few months earlier, to imitate her older sister. This infuriated Sinead generally; tonight it felt like a slap in the face. Sinead snatched up the casserole dish and took the withering lasagna up to Brigid’s messy pink room. She carved it up with a butter knife and hid the uneven squares under Brigid’s pillow, beneath her covers, in her shoes, under her dresser—anywhere it would either squish or rot. This was a cruel thing to do after Sinead had spent all day comforting and being comforted by her sister. But the comforting also served to remind Sinead that it was just the two of them now, and that she could no longer enjoy the position of invisible middle child. She had embraced this identity with gusto—her favorite book was The One in the Middle Is the Green Kangaroo—but now she was the oldest. In the books she’d read, the oldest was bossy and bullying, or foolish and frivolous. In their family, the oldest was either sick, or played pranks.

As Sinead stashed the lasagna in the tradition of her dead brother, she began to feel as if she were being watched. She whirled around, sure that she would find Brigid in her pink bathrobe, her hair piled on her head in a towel, like women in old movies and their mother. But the shower was still roaring, and Sinead found herself staring at her reflection in the mirror.

Except it wasn’t her reflection. The face was Ian’s.

Then it wasn’t. Sinead took several gulping breaths. One of her aunts had sent her books about grieving, so she’d known that she might end up hallucinating. She must be hallucinating.

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Saturday Storytime: Swift, Brutal Retaliation

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