We lived in a haunted house.
On days when I wanted him to myself
I resented swimming through the grasping seaweed of their hair.
But when he raged,
his words pummeling me until I had no breath
and my panic distilled into a buzzing bead of light,
they would crowd into bed with me
and we would count the knots in the angled wooden beams
that made up the bedroom ceiling.
The ghost of the woman before me nodded consolingly,
her eyes soft and kind,
pointing at a group of knots that looked like a small animal.
The ghost of the next one held herself slightly apart,
murmuring that she would do things differently,
make him happier than I could, whispering that
I must be the reason he acted this way.
The others were silent, nebulous but close,
their wide eyes watching him, always him, the center of our universe.
He tried to make me hate them,
used one as a cautionary tale and the other as a threat.
Once I was free, I swore I would never go back
but part of the curse of having loved him
is that I must haunt the new one.
Now that she’s no ghost, can she do what I could not,
like he promised she would be able to?
Can she sweeten the beast enough to quiet his voice,
perform her duties with a smile,
pour herself into the sucking vacuum of his needs and fill it?
No longer my enemy,
I realize I love her, as I do the others,
the only ones who understand how it feels to love him.
So we crowd around her to show her the trick with the knots again,
knowing that she can’t remember that she was once a ghost.
See, there—that one looks like a face
and it’s in just the right place to study
while he forces you to do the thing
you begged him not to make you do again.
One of the hazy ghosts has solidified into the new next one.
She holds herself just slightly apart,
wincing at the cruelty in his voice
but certain it will be different when it’s her turn.
Melanie and her son live with their cats in a peaceful home in South Carolina, where there are no eggshells on the floor. She’s working on a psychology degree and plans on becoming a therapist specializing in trauma and abuse recovery.