Anna peers at the family photographs hung up on the walls as Nancy’s dog Sadie sniffs her legs and hands. She stops at a photograph of Nancy’s daughter, Mira, a close up of her profile as she blows bubbles.
“When did Mira stop sleeping?” Anna asks.
“It’s been a year. I usually find her on the couch in the mornings. She says she just sleeps better down here, but I think it’s something else, because it bothers the dog, too.”
Sadie sighs through her wet brown nose and lies down on the floor at Nancy’s feet, chin resting on one paw. The front door opens and Mira comes in, cheeks flushed from running around outside.
“Nugget, do you mind coming in here and meeting someone?” Nancy calls.
Mira steps into the living room, wiping her nose on the back of her arm.
“Hey, I’m Anna.”
Mira offers a tight smile.
“Anna was wondering if she could see your room. Would that be okay?”
Mira nods and heads up the stairs, ponytail bouncing as she jogs the steps. Anna follows close behind, and Sadie harrumphs as she gets up to her paws and makes her way past to get to Mira first. The young girl is already sitting on her bed, running her fingers through a Barbie’s long plastic hair. Sadie hops up on the bed and curls her body around Mira’s hips.
Anna doesn’t even have to walk into the room to feel the presence of something otherworldly, resonating against her ears.
“You’re very organized,” Anna says, observing the color-coordinated bookshelf.
“I didn’t do that,” Mira states.
Anna glances at the girl before approaching the closet door, and flinches when her palm touches the knob. This is where it haunts, but she can’t see the ghost unless she knows its name, or it chooses to reveal itself to her.
“Mira, I have a friend who would like to sleep over with you tonight if that’s okay? She’s really nice, about your age but your Mom won’t be able to see her. Only you will. Do you want to meet her?”
Mira nods then jumps a little when the ghost of a young girl appears next to her, wearing a blue Easter dress and matching ribbons in her blonde ringlets. The dog moves her rear paws to accommodate the spirit, not even bothered by her presence.
“This is Lydia Marie,” Anna says. “She’s going to help us figure this out, okay?”
Long after Anna is gone and the lights are out for the evening, Mira and Lydia Marie lie on their sides facing each other in the dark, nose to nose.
“You’re not cold,” Mira says. “The one in my closet makes my room chilly when it comes out.”
“It’s because I’m happy,” Lydia Marie says with a smile. “We’re only cold if we feel sad or confused.”
“Is it scary being dead?” Mira asks.
“It used to be before I met Anna. I help her help people like you. And we help ghosts, too. We’re trying to help this one so it stops bothering you.”
“But why would you help a ghost? They just wanna scare people.”
“Ghosts don’t want to scare people. They’re here because they’re stuck, reliving a part of their lives that they can never have back. That’s why we help them. So they can move on and not have to hurt anymore.”
The temperature of the room drops as the drawers begin to slide open and clothes end up in piles on the floor. Lydia Marie sits up and squints, then sees the ghost of a small boy, shirtless and covered in dirt, squatting as he separates Mira’s clothes by color, obsessing over anything blue.
“Hello,” she says.
The boy turns to look at Lydia Marie then shakes his head violently from side to side. She slides off the bed then kneels next to him, placing a hand on the back of his neck with care. He lashes out at first, but she persists and runs her fingertips over the skin. His eyes close as he clutches one of Mira’s sundresses to his chest.
“What’s your name?” Lydia Marie asks.
The boy mumbles. Lydia Marie asks again and he mumbles once more, but she catches it this time.
The next morning, Anna stands once more at the closet door, placing her hand on the knob and whispers.
“Jack, come out.”
The door opens and two eyes peer at her from the darkness. Anna smiles and offers her arms to him as she sits down on the floor. He rushes at her, throwing his arms around her neck, burying his face in her shoulder, and wrapping his legs around her waist. Anna laughs, almost falling backward as she extends her legs out in the air to keep her balance.
“He’s just a little boy,” Mira says, holding Sadie’s collar as the dog leans forward trying to get to the shirtless spectre.
“Tickle?” Jack asks, moving Anna’s hand to his neck.
Anna can feel Jack’s life blend with her existence, the chill melting against her body as she holds him close and caresses the fine hairs on his nape. Her eyes well up as memories fly across her mind; Jack’s father locking him in the closet, his mother drunk and emotionally flatlined. She sees him looking out the window at the other kids in the neighborhood, noticing who wore red the most. And she feels his lungs give out beneath the pressure of a pillow, and the dirt cover his body somewhere in the woods behind the house. All because they didn’t understand his autism, didn’t understand his desire for a world organized by color, because he wanted them to help him build rainbows.
“Oh, Jack,” Anna whispers, rocking back and forth with him. “It’s okay, now. It’s over.”
The chill begins to dissipate in the room and Jack fades, his heart known and full as he crosses over to a place where Anna can’t yet go.
Written by: Natasha Akery
Photograph by: Erin Notarthomas