My father brought home a Cornish Cross Chicken the Friday before Christmas. He didn’t ask my mother if she wanted to raise a chicken. He was not a man who asked his wife anything. Sometimes, I wondered if he spoke to her at all. The murmuring behind their door after dark was that of the television. The people on screen did the talking for them.
My father didn’t build a coop or buy whatever it was that chickens needed to survive. Food and a water bowl and a way to keep her from freezing to death. He saw her and wanted her. He put her in the backyard and shut the door behind him. I could see him forget about her, out there in the cold, two steps from the glass door. He did not once turn around. That was the last time he looked at his new pet for eight weeks.
My father spent most of his days shut inside his office. It was my least favorite room in the house. The walls were white and undecorated. All his furniture had sharp edges. I pictured him pressing his fingertips into the corners and never bleeding. I hadn’t ever seen a scratch on him. When I was a child, he told me he was invincible. Now, I wonder if he meant unfeeling.
I asked him once why the ocean wasn’t haunted after seeing a headline of a plane crashing into the Atlantic. Photographs of the debris floating amongst the waves. How many bodies lay below there?
“Might be. Nobody cares enough to go looking for ghosts down there,” he said without looking up. “I wouldn’t.”
“What if was mom?” I asked.
He pressed his lips into a sharp line.
“What if it was me?”
“You’d have to learn to swim.” He shrugged.
Even dead, he would not help me find peace. Even dead, he would not love me. Not like I wanted him to, nor how I needed. He hadn’t touched me in as long as I could remember. A decade and a half, at the least. My whole life, maybe. Not a brushing of knees at the dinner table. No passing each other in the hallway. An orchestrated isolation.
I began to feed the chicken. Corn and chopped apples and handfuls of feed I bought online. I filled a spaghetti-stained Tupperware with water and refilled it each morning. I piled blankets in an old doghouse still sitting in our backyard despite our lack of canine. I hoped it would be enough to keep her warm through the winter. It never snowed here, but it did freeze.
I named her Ghost. Another thing my father did not care enough to remember, to find after she was out of his sight. I watched her approach the walls of our backyard, tilt her head, and then turn another way. She knew her borders and accepted them. I wished she knew about the sky. I wished I did not. I cursed myself for wishing. They only became wounds.
I asked my mother, once, if my father really was invincible like he always said.
“I fell in love with him because he was strong,” she said. “I didn’t think that was all he’d ever be.”
“If invincibility means only fists, I’ll take the wounds,” I said.
My mother, at the sink, sighed. Went back to putting our plates away as quietly as possible. She’d gotten quite good at it by then, becoming a ghost too.
I talked to Ghost every morning in whispers. I told her about getting out of this place. Living in a house where I didn’t have to have the creaking floorboards memorized. Where I didn’t stash food beneath my bed in place of memories. I told her of warmer weather. She paced her borders and never collided with them. I envied her, sometimes. I was always crashing into mine.
One morning, I was rinsing Ghost’s water bowl at the kitchen sink as I always did. It had been eight weeks since he brought her home. I looked up and there he was, eyes narrowed. He did not ask me anything, only stood there, waiting. Waiting. He leaned a hip against the archway. He would outlast me and we both knew it.
I sighed and finished filling the water bowl. He watched me as I walked it out back. Watched me as I sat beside Ghost. As I muttered my apologies.
“I forgot,” he said, when I came back into the kitchen. His eyes lingered on the backyard.
“Forgot?” I asked.
“Forgot to tell you not to name her,” he said.
The next day, he remembered. He killed my Ghost. He ate her for dinner.
After dark, while my mother washed the pots and pans without clanking them together even once, I wept into my hands.
“Do you still prefer the wounds?” she asked. “Do you still think we are the happier of us?”
“Maybe we would be, if we didn’t live here.”
“But we do,” she said.
“But we do,” I said.
Addison Rizer is an administrator in Arizona with a B.A. in English from Arizona State University. She has had pieces published in Taco Bell Quarterly, Typehouse Magazine, Hoosier Review, Little Somethings Press, Hashtag Queer Vol. 3, and Canyon Voices. She loves writing, reading, and movies critics hate. Find more of her work on her website at www.addisonrizer.com.