The best way to kill a ghost is to name it. Mine was Swallow. Like the bird, or the sound of my life in my neck when I saw her for the first time. She was thin and thick, always flowing somewhere between the two. Sometimes her hair dropped to her waist like a fairytale princess. Other times she loomed over me, taller than any tree in the patches of forests sewn across my town, and I remembered to be scared of her. I remembered that she didn’t belong here, and neither did I.
My parents said they found me in the river—or by the river, or balanced on the rickety wooden bridge on the trail beside it, or in a group home like any other forgotten child. Their stories jumped like fish trying to sneak upstream. Because of them, mine did too. That’s how I got Swallow.
Some would say she was my shadow. I would say she started that way and became something else. Of course, she was always there, long before I learned to walk on the backyard pond my neighbors kept stocked with koi and silvery gravel, before I started craving rain hours before the clouds opened up.
First we were friends, or whatever you called two people who could not live without the other. I fed her my secrets so she would grow big and strong, and for a while, she did. When I went to school, she made my footsteps wider than my locker. With her by my side, my voice boomed like the wind shaking birds from the scraggly tops of pines. I could have had many friends, but I chose Swallow. I never minded if I seemed strange or lonely. There were so many lonely girls.
I once met a girl who could pluck planes from their cloudy nests. She did it because she liked to taste their screams, hear each and every high-pitched variation. It was a curiosity. A game. I always expected the machines to be larger when she deposited them in my palms like a cat presenting its prey. I asked her if she came from the river too. She laughed and laughed, spread her arms and said, Of course not, I’m the sky the river came from. I wanted to laugh but I didn’t understand, not then or when she transferred to a special school and planes stopped rumbling overhead. Maybe her parents’ stories had just leapt differently.
Still, Swallow was jealous. I could tell because she shrank, day by day, until we were always the same size, her fingers stretching exactly to my tips, her feet tracing lightly over mine. For days we lived as if we were the same. One person, one heart. One hunger. Only then did I start to think she needed to die. Only then did I realize I was already killing her.
She couldn’t live without me, but I decided I could live without her. At night, I kept a butter knife under my pillow and dreamed of sawing her from my ankles until I could see myself again. I skipped over puddles so she couldn’t drink from them, ate nothing but peanut butter and marshmallow sandwiches, struck up conversations with every classmate who met my eyes so she couldn’t claim my loneliness.
Swallow grew so small I noticed her as I did a distant star or a dull freckle. One weekend the neighbors’ pond simply dried up, and the fish had to flop on the ground, their scales throwing light against my bedroom window until I rescued them. The next day the rain came. Clouds descended on my town, darkening every street and building, flooding my mouth until I swallowed it sweetly down. I would never taste the rain again. I would never sit by the river until I leaned impossibly close to the surface, my body pulled by my own longing, my face eaten by Swallow’s empty form. Now she was gone, the same way she’d arrived, the same way everything scary eventually turns to nothing more than a sound in the wind.
Dana Blatte is an undergraduate at Hamilton College studying Creative Writing and Anthropology. Her poetry and flash fiction has been published in The Adroit Journal, The Shore, Lunch Ticket, and more. She loves fairy tales, long walks, and honey almond butter. Find her on Twitter @infflorescence.