Thin Love

By: Eden Butler

There are ghosts in the lake house.

Keira feels them breathing on her skin. They are filaments of memory, echoes behind the words of the woman she buried yesterday; disappointment and dread, fear, pain, tear-soaked pillows, impossible expectations required of the teenage girl she used to be. In the crevices and alcoves of this old place, Keira sees her younger self—awkward, curious, broken—filling days of neglect with imaginary friends.

The lake looms in front of her and the cool patio stone under her feet chills her skin, has her moving her fingers up her arms in a futile attempt at warming herself. The slide of slow currents, the slip of each wave against the dark sand, brings peace, relief, neither of which Keira had ever known in this place. Fireflies skid along the surface and the heavy limbs of cypress trees brush against the water. In the distance, toward the cityscape she can’t see, she knows there are beacons of activity that she might touch if she were brave enough to venture beyond these haunting walls. With each flick of her eyes, Keira calls more ghosts from the past, pulls them into her mind—unseen creatures lined on a hook.

Closing her eyes, Keira sees the priest’s face, the quick nod of his head that confirmed the woman in the coffin had been her mother. She’d have never believed it otherwise. The protruding collarbone and pallid skin on the woman’s small frame had been a shadow of the domineering mother Keira had left behind.

Sixteen years ago, in the city hospital with Keira’s bruised limbs throbbing like a burn, her mother had insisted she kill the baby growing in her belly.

Eighteen, the woman had said, was too young to be a mother.

She hadn’t been wrong, but Keira had been tired of her mother’s commands, her quick temper, those sharp slaps, and the insistences that had been drummed into her ears since childhood and so, at least that one time, a small rebellion changed her life.

It brought her son into this world.

The ghosts, the heartache of the past, had kept her from New Orleans. She’d been determined to never resurrect them, but her mother’s death called her back, forced her to return and when their plane touched tires on the tarmac, Keira felt the ghosts remerge—the pain of what she’d been forced into, the disappointment of what she set free, and the unbending betrayal of the boy she loved.

The past is a slippery vine of regret. It’s a reminder of what Keira had given up. And now that she is back home, her mother buried behind the walls of the old family crypt, Keira feels that vine tightening around her neck like a noose.

The click of the television in the room just beyond the open patio doors and the slick squeak of Ransom’s sneakers on the leather sofa pulls Keira from her thoughts and the mesmerizing current of the lake.

“Mom,” Ransom calls to her. “The draft starts in ten minutes. You watching?”

A chill has set in the home, carried through the broken seals of the windows with the spring rain and Keira pulls her cardigan tight around her as she follows the noise of the television into the den. “Of course.” Ransom’s drink leaves a wet ring on the mahogany coffee table and as habit, as conditioning, she places a coaster onto the wood surface. “Here.”

Her son smiles, brings into focus a dimple that carries in more echoes of the past. “She’s gone, you know. Why do you care about coasters?” She knows he’s right, knows that her mother’s presence is the largest ghost, the one she thought she exorcised years before. But this place is too familiar, too reminiscent of her. When she doesn’t answer him, ignores his comment with eyes on the screen in front of them, Ransom replaces his drink onto the coaster, letting the comment lie. “These jackasses are yammering about the Steamers’ rankings. We win the Super Bowl and still get no respect.” He nods at the television and Keira can only smile that he says “we” and not “they” as though he grew up in New Orleans and not Nashville.

Ransom’s gaze runs over the commentators’ too-tanned faces, their receding hairlines, small hints of the handsome men they were when they took the field. Her son soaks in each detail of the teams being discussed, the bodies running, scoring in the file footage, and for the millionth time Keira is reminded that he looks nothing like her.

There are no traces of her in his features, no hints of her French ancestors. His eyes are dark pools that scream of a knowledge and a struggle far beyond his nearly sixteen years. They are not blue like hers, but inky black, narrow, bottomless. His cheeks are high, sloped, far more distinguished than her own. His skin is heavily tanned, near caramel, face peppered with faint freckles.

He is his father in duplicate. Just as imposing, just as beautiful.

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