There is a ghost living in your stomach. She sits in your belly like rice milk, or maybe a melting star. Either way, the sensation behind your eyes is white and blinding. She makes your teeth hurt. She makes your skin run hot. She makes your hands tremble and shake.
She takes your body and makes it her home. It hurts terribly. You love her for it.
You carry her with you everywhere you go. She speaks to you as you wash the diner tables. You are a busboy and a waiter and a cook. You are only paid a waiter’s wage.
We’re not staying here, are we?
Then where will we go next?
Where do you want to go?
California, maybe. Arizona if that fails.
There’s no ocean in Arizona.
There’s no ocean here either.
I know. That’s why we have to leave.
“How long have you been washing that table?” your boss interrupts. “Nevermind, it’s clean enough. Go do the windows and then head back to help Joanie with food prep.”
You wash the windows. You go help Joanie with food prep. You throw up in the bathroom. You take some pick up orders. You go back to the bathroom to swallow some pain pills. You go back up front. You take more pick up orders. You wash more tables. You clean up the mess from Joanie’s food prep.
I think you might be allergic to onions.
I’m not. Onions make everyone cry.
Onions didn’t used to make me cry.
Maybe they were the wrong kind of onion then.
You mop the floor. Your stomach twinges, but you don’t throw up again. You take out the trash. You clock out.
Did you remember to make another pot of coffee for the night shift?
No. Dammit, they’re gonna be mad.
Undoubtedly. They’ll probably leave all their dishes in the sink tonight for you to wash tomorrow.
We should just quit.
It doesn’t work like that.
Why not? The lease is almost up. I can find us a car. I can find us an ocean.
A new ocean, or an old ocean?
Our very own ocean.
You arrive home. You unlock the door. You leave your shoes in the entryway. You toss your apron on the couch. You wash your face. You brush your teeth. You spit blood into the sink. You wobble as you walk to your bedroom, your footsteps unsteady. You fall into bed.
It’s too hot for blankets.
I like the weight of them.
I don’t want us to wake up covered in sweat.
It’s only me who will wake up covered in sweat.
Your brain hums with discontent that is not your own. You dream that an angel gives you a basket full of shells, but when you put one to your ear, all you hear is sobbing. The beach is endless. There is no ocean.
You are scrubbing tables again. The children at the booth next to you are so loud, their mouths so wide and gaping. Their words crash over you like a wave of white noise.
Where are their parents? Surely someone should be here to tell them to quiet down, to chew with their mouths closed? Your mother was always quite adamant about that when you were a child.
Really? I thought all mothers were like that.
It’s strange thinking of you having a mother.
Why? Did you think I came into this world alone?
No, of course nobody is born alone. I just never thought of you being the kind of thing that gets born, I guess.
I was, once. I was born. I was something small. I was something that needed to be swaddled and held and loved on.
Your chest aches. You scrub harder at a black mark on the table.
And now? What are you now?
I’m not sure. Something dead, I suppose.
If born things need to be swaddled and held and loved on, then what do dead things need?
There is no answer, only an uneasy shifting in your gut. You wrap an arm gently around your belly, and continue to scrub at the table one handed.
Your older sister invites you to come with her to church next Sunday. She says you don’t need Jesus, you just need the routine. She says God isn’t someone you find in the middle of a church sermon anyways. You tell her that sounds very nearly Protestant of her. She tells you that is a very Catholic thing of you to say. The ghost that lives in your stomach says neither of you understand Christianty as much as you think you do. You tell both of them that it doesn’t matter; you haven’t been a Christian since grade school.
“Come anyway,” your sister says with a shrug, so you do.
It’s fine. You dip your fingers in holy water as you enter the building, flicking off the excess as you move towards your seat. An old woman glares at you. You pay her no mind.
The holy water doesn’t burn.
Did you think it would?
I don’t know what I thought was going to happen. I think the nothing is more surprising than anything else.
You hum in agreement, and pull out your prayer book.
You kneel when your sister kneels. You stand when your sister stands. You sing when your sister sings. Your body hurts. It’s fine. The Eucharist has no taste.
You tear up on the train ride home, and can’t explain why. You do not come back to church next weekend. Your ghost keeps her comments to herself, except—
Do you remember when you said we’d leave?
Water drips from your cheeks down to the bottom of your chin. It tastes like the sea.
Sunshine Caseñas is a university student from Kentucky studying in Boston. Their work will appear in Beyond Queer Words in July 2022.