Christian looks into Jenny’s eyes, green like creeping vines. No one can hold his gaze like she can.
“What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” Jenny asks.
Christian met Jenny during a tropical storm, a party for those who hadn’t scurried inland. Screeching wind, thud of branches on the roof. The power had gone out, so all the rooms were lit by candles. “Girls are like wolves,” Jenny said. “We can sense weakness, we can smell fear.” When she laughed, Christian saw the cherry red of her tongue, dyed by something sweet, and a row of crooked white teeth. There was a sound like a gunshot as a tree cracked outside. In the flame-lit bathroom, her dark-honeyed limbs encircled him.
Jenny waits for Christian to fall asleep so she can wiggle from his embrace, go downstairs and watch television.
Jenny cooks elaborate meals while Christian works the night shift, coq a vin and lobster bisque, then throws away the leftovers.
Christian loves Jenny too much, so he’s having an affair with a woman at the office building where he is a night security guard. Her name is Maureen. She doesn’t look like a Maureen. Her hair is dyed black, slick and shiny. She wears heels and wine-colored lipstick every day. Christian is getting bored with his affair, as he always does, but it takes the edge off his love.
“There was a girl,” Christian wants to say, but doesn’t. He was only seventeen. Instead he tells Jenny of what happened afterwards. He was fucked up on something or other. He left the burner on the stove, he lay down in his mother’s bed and finished off her bottles of Xanax and Percocet.
The girl hovered above him as he lay in that bed, like an angel. She grazed his cheek, her touch melted into his eyes like snowflakes. His mother came home half an hour later. She’d forgotten something.
Jenny only owns one pair of heels, strappy and silver.
The last time she wore her heels was a year ago at her sister Mercy’s wedding. It was a winter wedding. A church with many windows, and everything glittered. At the reception, lit icicles dangled from the ceiling, and everyone danced through fake snow. But Christian wouldn’t dance with her.
Christian’s hated dancing, ever since the girl.
Mercy dreams of a dress made of ice. To get it off you’d have to wait for it to melt, your body pure beneath the water. Or you could shatter it, flakes like glass sticking out of you, trickles of blood. She dreams of a dress made of vines, constricting tighter and tighter. For her wedding, she had to settle. Layers of white and silver, tulle and satin. Mercy wanted to be a designer. Now she works as a preschool teacher, she fills her days with color and noise, her nights with husband and TV, so she can’t hear the silence running beneath her life.
Jenny works part-time at a gallery. Some days the hush suits her, some days not. She cuts her hair short and spiky.
Marriage is inevitable, she says to her friends. Shrinking in number as they get older. It’s like death. You can’t get around it. But a death filled with secret life, things growing in the darkness.
Maureen stays late at work, hoping to run into Christian. She blows him in her car, in the stairwell. Shivering, she kneels on the concrete. She goes home and sticks ice cubes in her vagina, touches herself while they melt inside her.
The house is dark. Mercy turns on the lamp and stares into the circle of light. She gets closer and closer. She sticks her mouth on the glowing hot bulb.
When Christian has sex with Jenny, he bites her shoulder, the flesh of her arm. He forces her eyes open with his thumbs.
At night, Jenny dreams of trees heavy with snow. The wind shakes them, veils of white falling loose. She watches women on the street, imagining what it would be like to touch them.
“When we were kids, Mercy and I used to play this game. We’d stand on the low roof, the one over our playroom. We’d hold hands, pretend we were going to jump. I’d try to get her to jump, act like I was going to. It wasn’t far, but she hit her arm on a branch. The holly cut her up. I was grounded for six months.”
Jenny lies awake, Christian clutching her in his sleep. She imagines unplugging the lamp, wrapping the cord around his neck.
Maureen used to be cool. In high school she had a silver stud in her tongue, she took acid, she snuck out at night to go to hardcore shows. When she thought of the future, it was a buzz of black static. Now she lives in a condo. She heats up soup from a can at night. She worries about dying, alone and poor. But she can feel her old self starting to come back. She needs to grab her before she retreats into the darkness.
Mercy sticks her hand in the garbage disposal. She stares at the switch, feels a rush of adrenaline.
Jenny and Christian, when they first met. He licked the sweat from behind her knees. Now, summer is far away. They would have to drive hundreds of miles to reach the sea. The river is frozen, but in spots you can see the water flowing underneath.
Jenny is pregnant. She floats on the surface of her life, watching and waiting.
Mercy sits on the roof of a bank branch downtown, legs dangling over the edge. Watching the cloud of her breath. Tears freeze on her face. Twelve floors down, the snow sparkles. Fingers of white reach toward her. Her phone rings. It’s Jenny. Something inside her shatters. Mercy goes back into the building, goes to the bathroom. Fixes her hair, applies lipstick. She calls her sister back.
Adriane Hanson grew up by the river in Richmond, VA. She received her MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2013, and since then has been working and traveling throughout the West. She currently lives in Leadville, CO, the highest city in America, and is at work on a novel. Find her on Twitter at @instantghosts.