My sister spoke of a fish ghost that occupies a nearby river. She raised her voice as if her sentences had a weight. But in reality, she’s timid.
“It has bones and fins,” she said, “but it is poor at cutting through the water.”
“Amanda,” I said as she swayed, a wind tearing through my hoodie that she always wore.
“Something like an urban monster.” Her eyes widened.
“Legend, you mean.”
It’s possible she’s correct. There’s always been rumblings from neighbors and lifers that there’s a creature existing in our milieu. Cameras mysteriously break when one gets close to it and they say that we get more snow because of it. All sorts of things like that. I’m a skeptical one, but I take facts over hushed whispers nine times out of ten.
“So is it a fish or a ghost?”
“It’s both,” she said.
“How can it be?”
“I don’t know. Because it can be.”
Amanda loves a good fantasy, though, so I let her tell me this as we let the night pass on our grandfather’s porch, counting little stars and corn stalks with cold fingers. Even though she’s dressed warm, she’s still stricken with chills, and I go to give her my flannel as well. For once I’m not drinking, but she’s having her share and mine too. The dead soldiers clink like perfect wind chimes. There’s nothing else to do but drink and talk of a better life. It’s more fun than you think.
“Maybe it’s time to go to bed,” I told her. Because I knew where this was going. She was going to tell me the history. She was going to tell me how it was born and how it became so ugly. How it was a metaphor for us, or something we were supposed to be—how WE have bones and fins too and are poor at cutting through the water. It was going to take up hours I didn’t have.
“No,” she said quietly. “No,” she said again after a time.
She was beginning to enter a haze. She’s been through some trauma and when she gets fixated, I know it’s better to leave her alone for a while. I knew she was warm and she had one beer left, so I wished her goodnight. It was important she had some time to sort this out.
After I shut the door, I heard her say, “A mystery. A mystery.”
She never came to bed that night. A police officer found her hours later, in the river, only wearing my flannel, with a net she stole from the neighbor’s yard. She had been saying different names out loud, but there weren’t of anyone we knew. No charges were pressed, so I went and picked her up just as the sun was rising.
“You don’t even fish, Amanda,” I said.
“You’re missing the point.”
“You said it was a ghost. Not even a real fish.”
“You’re missing the POINT,” she said as she punched my passenger side mirror. It hung by a thin cable and clunked against the door every time I sped up. So I crawled as the sticky morning air refused to let up.
“Then what is the point?”
She swallowed a few times. She fiddled with the broken radio and drank from a coffee that I accidentally left behind from the day before. She gurgled it and spat it out the window. I just kept driving because I wasn’t sure what else to do with my hands or body, and I knew she was preparing to let loose with some kind of storm. I kept straight on the highway until she unbuckled and told me to pull over.
I did so and parked at this abandoned farm that’s been empty ever since we were born. Ghosts, too, or just smarter people than us. Amanda punched the dirt and rocks until her hands bled. I couldn’t stop her, she didn’t want to be stopped. People who have been hurt and want to hurt don’t want to be told no. They want to continue until they are out of words and out of energy. Our point as those who are not hurt need to just shut the fuck up. It’s important to know us. Even if it’s about a fish ghost or not. Even if it’s about something that’s not even there. And if it was, who was I to tell her no? She was better than me. Stronger than me. Not my place to tell her anything different.
She held up a clump of dirt and left it sift through a trembling hand. “You know it’s there, right? You have to know.”
“Yes,” I said.
“We’re going to go back tonight.”
“Bring your shotgun,” she said.
“Sure, I said.”
She picked up a rock and began to throw it at me, but stopped herself.
“The shotgun,” she said again, harder.
“I’ll bring it.”
She nodded and smiled. “We have work to do,” she said.
I picked her up off the ground and told her everything was alright. I put her back in the car. She needed to get some rest.
“You’re the best brother in the world,” she said as we began to drive off.
I nodded. Even with her eyes closed, I knew she saw it. Or maybe she was imagining something in the water below me, as she stared at it, hungry, wanting to defeat it, wanting to defeat whatever story she didn’t want to hear anymore. I’ve been there. I had bad ones, too.
But hers is one that needs to be stopped. Hers is the one that remains. Even if it’s not important to real to anyone else. It’s hers that needs to be heard.
I gripped the wheel. I felt something was chasing me.