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GHOST by Alexandra M. Matthews

I rode the roller coasters again today.

 

I called out sick from work, ate a small breakfast. I pulled my hair back in a tight braid so it wouldn’t whip me in the face on sharp turns.

 

The park was empty. As long as I didn’t faint or vomit, there was no limit on how many times I could ride the same roller coaster. I nodded to the attendants and they sent me around once more.

 

My grandfather used to say that roller coasters jumble the insides, cause nose bleeds. Enough scrambling and a person would come off the ride different.

 

I sat in the front row on every ride. From high up, the other attractions looked like the colorful, oversized toys of a child.

 

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I’ve always thought of myself as an interpreter of blood signs, because women understand how blood behaves outside the body. If it appears in our underwear, we analyze. We need a tampon. We’re spotting. We may have cervical cancer. We are not pregnant, we may be pregnant, we are no longer pregnant. It can evoke elation, relief, devastation, ambivalence, or no emotion at all. It depends on the bleeder.

 

I was eighteen weeks pregnant on the day I found the blood.

 

It could never survive, the doctors said. I sobbed.

 

After the hospital, I put my stained underwear in the washing machine by itself on delicate cycle. 

 

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As I was leaving the amusement park, a teenage girl in one of the ticket booths called out to me. For thrill seekers like me, she said, it would be much cheaper to find people online to join me and get the group rate.

 

I thanked her for the suggestion without explaining that I preferred to ride the roller coasters by myself. I needed to be alone during that first, terrifying drop. I needed to feel weightless.

 

The first time I went in my grandfather’s basement was after he died. I was eight. I made it most of the way down the stairs before I got spooked. I’d seen his empty tool wall, where he had painted the outlines of his entire collection in white: saws, hammers, wrenches, pliers, screwdrivers, levels, utility knives. I was afraid the tools had become ghosts. At any moment, they could soar through the dark basement to attack.

 

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When he retired, my grandfather converted the space into a workshop, where he repaired vintage Italian bicycles to sell at antique shows. No one was allowed down there, not even my grandmother. There were small parts that we might knock off the table and lose, paint we might spill that was difficult to replace.

 

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In his final weeks, my grandfather refused all visitors. My parents lied. They told me it was unsafe for me to be around him. It was as if he had disappeared. No one could bring themselves to say that what drove my grandfather to isolation was shame.

 

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I realize now he wasn’t protecting the bicycles. He could drop a tire valve cover on the floor, his hands too stiff to get a firm grip, without being seen. His arms could shake from the tremors, struggling to position the seat on its post, and no one would offer to do it for him. Alone, he was the only witness to his body’s betrayal.

 

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