During the summer when I was seventeen, I saw my first ghost.
I had left a friend’s party, drunk not to oblivion, but to a point where the world seemed softer at its edges; a world that could be bended, folded to my desires; it was a world that held no grudges against me and, rather, wanted to embrace me, to tend to me; a feeling that imbued me with the idea that everything was possible and that nothing bad could come out of that night, and the feeling that, ultimately, led me to the belief that I could drive home safe and sound, even in my altered state.
My car, an old Chevy, felt like a greenhouse; I opened the windows and let the air in. Once the engines were on, I breathed that same air: thick as syrup. It brought the scent of July in, the scent that marked an ending—I’d just graduated and would soon be a student at the UPenn, a mere thirty-minute drive from home; but it felt like moving to another galaxy. I was in the cusp of adulthood; I had been kissed; I had been fucked and fucked up. As my Chevy sailed through the asphalt, the streets empty of souls but my own, I longed for the city and a life of my own, a life dedicated to books; a life that was nothing but possibilities.
Nowadays, I wonder if the other car had been there for a long time; or whether it was there only from the moment I started to pay any attention. I wonder where was the inception, if it had come to me before, but I’d been too distracted to notice; I would always wonder in the years to come—if it was my mother’s fault, if unknowingly she handed it down to me, a gift from mother to daughter, a gift from the women in my family, from the women of every family. That gift of fear.
I saw its rear lights first, shining gold against the night. I squeezed my eyes, easing my foot on the accelerator, and considered honking the horn—but before I could do it, a shock of recognition washed over me, so strong it almost forced me into sobriety.
My late grandfather’s car: that was the car in front of me.
My grandfather’s Packard Hawk, that tan car that, when I was just a child, made me laugh with delight and say: “It’s the Batmobile!” It wasn’t the Batmobile, but my grandfather had been pleased by the comparison.
“It’s my Batmobile,” he used to say; and then he would take me for a ride—every time we were down to West Virginia, paying a visit.
My grandfather had had that car since the fifties, his pride and joy. While he no longer dared cover far distances when I was a kid, he would always indulge me with rides. We would drive through the outskirts of my grandparents’ sleepy town in the wee hours of the morning, the sun cutting through the weak fog that sometimes spread over the streets during the night and lingered as the morning came. An eerie image, my adult self would think; a town frozen in time, the chirping of birds the only sound I would register for miles. My grandfather would stop the car. He’d let me take the scenery in. And then his hand would be on my thin thighs; a soft touch, at first; and then the hand would move up, under my skirt, and I’d say nothing. I’d pretend to still be engrossed by the mountains we could see at the distance, ignoring that touch.
After each ride, my grandfather would buy me something sweet in the Main Street, a soda or an ice-cream sandwich—a gift for my good behavior—and then we’d drive home, where my grandmother was waiting for us, shaking her head in disapproval. She didn’t think my grandfather should be out there, driving with a kid. Not after his second stroke, and not when his eyesight had declined so poorly in the last few years. But my grandfather’s car was his last taste of freedom. His domain. I wonder if she knew: my grandmother. She never said a word about it, never so much asked me if anything at all happened during those rides, and I kept my mouth shut.
My grandfather died when I was seven. My memories of our rides are the strongest memories I have of him, more than anything else; that abuse I couldn’t name as a child. My grandfather’s wrinkled face, his benevolent smile, the fedora hat he insisted on wearing every time we were out, on the excuse of preserving his bald head from the cold of the mornings. My grandfather was a man of his time, a man who couldn’t let go, but had been forced to. Death is always the last stop, no matter how long you drive.
After my grandfather died, my grandmother sold the old Packard. Now the Packard was back, haunting me while I drove under influence. What a plot twist.
“Shit,” I said to myself, not sure of what to do. Other than tailgating the Packard, that is, because it refused to move any faster; it would guess my every turn, doing it before I did. With a burning feeling rising on my throat, I pressed the brake. My Chevy stopped with a screech, and the sudden jog made me nauseous. A few meters in front of my car, my grandfather’s Packard slowed down until it stopped altogether.
I knew it was waiting for me. I tapped on the driving wheel, my eyes wide and hot, wondering what kind of trip I was having.
Through my Chevy’s highlights, I saw him: his silhouette occupying the driver’s seat, his back to me, his fedora hat poised on his head. Yes: my grandfather.
“OK. No more drinking,” I said. “Just let me get home.” Who was I pleading with? My grandfather’s ghost? Myself? My Chevy? I turned on the car, and the Packard started moving at the same time as I did. Get home. Get home, I was thinking. Home was the safe place, home was where everything made sense. The Packard guided me through my journey. When I reached my house, it rode further into the night instead of waiting.
I held my breath. The Packard’s rear lights became distant dots gold. They disappeared. As if it the ghost had given up on me.
For a while, I was unable to move. I kept waiting for the car to come back. I kept waiting for some confirmation that I didn’t just have the weirdest trip of my life, but it didn’t happen.
When I got inside, I brought commotion with me; I was drunker than predicted, more frightened than I imagined, and crashed over the kitchen table as I tried to hold to a chair; to hold it and to sit on it, to recover my breath, my hands shaking.
My mother came downstairs, her dark eyes shining with alarm. She wore an ugly fleece robe over a nightgown, her hair wild, the grey on her temples rising as if electricity ran through her body. Bride of Frankenstein, I thought, before apologizing for what I was about to do: bending over, I puked gloriously over the kitchen floor.
“Jesus Christ, Marina,” my mother said. “How much did you drink?”
“Just a little,” I said, trying to measure the quantity by showing a space between thumb and index finger. A realization seemed to hit my mother. She stared at the kitchen door, left wide and open, only the screen door separating us from the night.
“You . . . were driving? You drove home?” she asked; and started to argue with me in Portuguese, drowning me in words that made little sense as I fought back nausea.
“Mom. Mom.” I tried to say, while she repeated that I could have died, that I could have killed someone; while she insisted she hadn’t raise me to be this kind of person. What about the half tuition Penn was paying me? Did I want to lose that? “Mom, I saw a ghost,” I said, at last sitting down, as my mother gathered my strands of black hair in anger, making a ponytail out of them, in case I would puke again. She didn’t seem to register what I just said, so I raised my voice: “Mom, I saw a ghost.”
“You probably saw pink elephants, too. My God, Marina, how could you . . . ”
“No, mom. A ghost. I saw grandpa’s ghost. Driving the old Packard, Remember the Packard?”
She went silent.
“When I was driving . . . I saw the Packard . . . right in front of me.” As I explained, I pointed at the wall—pointed to what was ahead of me, to illustrate what happened, because I wasn’t sure my mother could comprehend. That forceful sobriety, the fear I had felt had abandoned me; in their place, a strange awe remained.
A ghost. I had seen a ghost.
I told her everything: about my grandfather driving the car, the way he was appeared to be guiding me—to what, I wondered? I kept that question to myself. I never told my mother about what happened inside the Packard; I never told anyone, dutiful granddaughter that I was.
My mother’s anger subsided. She traced her fingers over my scalp no longer with tension; rather, her touch was soft, a careful caress.
“Come to bed. Come. You need to rest,” she said.
“I have to clean the floor.”
“I’ll take care of that,” my mother said, and I consented, too tired and inebriated to go against her decision. I let her help me upstairs, put me to bed as if I was a child again. I slept almost immediately, distant beams of light leading me to dreams I wouldn’t quite remember.
She told me her ghost story in the morning. Before doing so, she made me some tea. As I sat by the kitchen counter, I felt a headache so strong my forehead could simply split. My mother handed me the warm cup. I held it for an instant, as a way of anchoring me to the present, and then put it over the counter.
“I saw it. Once,” my mother said.
“What?”, I asked, my mind too foggy to get it.
“That car,” she clarified.
I squeezed my eyes. Daylight was more than I could bear, and my mouth tasted like a trash bag. To speak was a chore on itself.
“Grandpa’s . . . Packard?” I asked.
“No. I don’t think that’s how it works. I think will always look like something you once loved. Someone.” She made a pause. When I was a child, the subtleness of certain relationships would go unnoticed. With time, I would come to the understanding that, while my grandparents appeared to nurture some affection for me, they had never been happy at the fact that my dad had married a Brazilian woman, an immigrant who would speak English with the melodic tone of her native language; a beautiful sound that, to some people, had the ring of an insult. “I saw your father. That was a few months after he died. He was driving the first car we ever bought together—before you were born.” She sighed. My father had died of cancer when I was ten. My mother never cried in front of me, which is not to say she didn’t cry. I’d hear her, sometimes. Sobbing. Angry and hurt—as I was, but maybe for entirely different reasons. Memories played inside my head, back then: my parents in love, my father’s arm reaching for my mom, taking her in for a kiss. And then the memories of the screaming, the way his voice would rise like thunder when they were fighting, the sound of crashing, the sound of a slap landing on my mother’s face; and the sound of my mother’s whimper, my father asking her to forgive him. The silence that followed. “I saw your father driving it. He seemed younger . . . ” She choked on some words, and closed her eyes briefly. “I knew that thing was evil. The moment I saw it, the moment that I recognized your father . . . I knew it was taunting me. You were sleeping in the backseat of the car, and that thing was right there . . . waiting. I think it wanted me to go with it. I remember stopping the car, and your father—the other car . . . it just . . . waited.”
“It happened to me, too,” I said.
“I never felt so afraid. Because I knew . . . it wasn’t your father. I knew that if I dared to go and look at it . . . ” My mother shivered. “I thought I could drive to the police station, but even if I did . . . I don’t know. Would I say to the police my late husband’s ghost was driving a car we sold years before? While my young daughter was sleeping in the backseat? They’d say, oh, there she goes, that crazy Brazilian woman . . . ” My mother allowed herself to laugh. After dad died, we moved to Pennsylvania, to the suburbs near Philadelphia. My mom got a job teaching at a local high school and, now a single mother, she didn’t have the luxury of rejecting any opportunity. She didn’t want to go back to Brazil. Her only child an American she figured would never fit the country she had left behind. “I drove home. I took you out of the car and locked us inside. The other car went away.”
“Did you . . . did it ever . . . ?” I struggled to ask my question, but my mother guessed what I wanted to know.
“No. Just that one time. And it was enough.” She took my hands. My tea was untouched on the counter. “If it ever happens again, never go to the car. Do you understand?” Do you promise?, her eyes said, fear within them. And I said yes. Yes and yes. “Keep driving. Drive home. It will go away.”
For the rest of the year, I expected to see the Packard again. I wanted to see it. I obsessed over, an obsession that neared a violent crush. But I crushed on ghost stories, not on people. I wanted to believe my mother and I had met something unexplainable, something that hadn’t been caused by the exhaustion of grief and neither by alcohol. I willed it to come, half of me trembling with fear, half of me trembling with expectation. I would drive my Chevy to the corners of our town and wait, listening to the radio, pretending I wasn’t chasing the supernatural.
“C’mon, grandfather. Show yourself,” I would say., “C’mon, you old creep.” And what would I do if the Packard found me again? Scream at it? How would I make him pay?
But I never saw the car again.
Not until I was an adult.
I came home to spend my mother’s birthday; that was the version I presented to her, showing up at her doorsteps with a handle bag and not much else, letting her hold me in her warm arms. The truth, however, was that I was running away. Not from a ghost, this time, but from a man made of flesh and bone.
“You’re so thin,” my mother remarked, leading me inside the house, and I offered no explanation.
Mark and I had broke up a month before, but he didn’t seem to grasp at this fact. He sent increasingly angry texts. He made sure to be at the same parties he knew I would, waiting for the chance to get me alone.
“He has a thing for Latinas,” Adriana, a colleague of mine, confided to me before Mark and I started going out. At that time, he’d looked like an interesting specimen, a quiet intellectual that would sometimes be invited to publishing events I took part in. He was a self-described poet. In truth, he made his money as a freelance editor, not unlike myself, the both of us trying to carve a name in the publishing world of New York. His eyes, framed behind black-rimmed glasses, drew me to him. Blue: like cornflower. Mark’s hands were soft, hands that I believed to have the power to create art, taking pen to paper and making something beautiful with words. Hands, I now knew, that could hurt—and only compose mediocre poetry.
One night, a slow, blue night, a night made for both lovers and loners, a week after our break-up, I decided to buy ice-cream at the nearby deli, in need of decadence. I found Mark waiting outside my apartment building. I had nothing but a ragged bag with me, nothing I could use as a weapon. Mark’s white head was shaved, as usual, and his pale skin gleamed as if he was a vampire. He might have been.
“Hey, hey . . . ” He came out of a dark corner, dressed in black—he thought of it as a signature. I could smell the alcohol as he walked to me, his voice slurring. He grabbed my arm. “Marina, let’s talk.” He tried to make it sweet at first, as he always had. Mark counted on his love-talk to win me back, the way he whispered my name, as if he was saying the name of some exotic fruit, some exotic place, despite the simplicity of it: MA-RI-NA; the banality of one’s name, and the power the lover’s tongue has to transform it into something magical.
“No,” I said, trying to pry myself away, but he held me tighter, his lips trembling.
“Listen . . . ” he hissed, and I knew that tone all too well, and I knew the sweetness was gone and an unspeakable thing was about to replace it. Without thinking too much, I swung my bag at him. I hit him: once, and then another time, and he stepped back, hands covering his face. When I stopped, gasping for air, I saw he was bleeding. My cellphone, inside my bag, probably did the hard work. I’d broken his glasses, and his eyebrow bore an ugly cut; a crimson rivulet ran down one side of his face, a sight that filled me with perverse satisfaction. It took him a moment to understand what had just happened. A few months ago, maybe a few weeks before that, I’d have gone to him, trying to tend to his wound, apologizing. As things stood, I held my ground. I found myself baring my teeth, like an animal would.
“You . . . bitch,” Mark said, his voice faint. “I’m gonna fucking kill you, Marina, I swear . . . ” he said, but he didn’t dare to take another step in my direction. “I’m calling the police.” He decided for what he believed would do me more harm. He stumbled away, putting his broken glasses on, least he would be blind. I ran back to my apartment and waited. I waited for the police, sitting on my couch, hugging my legs and sobbing; any triumph I’d felt had now evaporated, reducing me to those tears.
The police never came, as I suspected they wouldn’t; Mark would have too much to explain to them, things he’d rather to remain unknown, our dark secrets festering between the both of us.
After an hour spent in a nearly paralyzing fear, I grabbed my phone. I told mother I was going home for her birthday. I told her nothing about Mark.
An evening tinged by purple, the stars hanging low in the sky; that very same sky, beautiful as a painting, stood as my witness as I took my mom’s SUV under the excuse of buying some groceries. I had no use for cars in New York; I conquered the city by foot or train or Uber. Being behind the wheel again felt strange, a throwback to my teenage years. Once, I knew those streets like the palm of my hands, but every time I was back in town they came to me as whispers from a distant past. My childhood had faded. Buildings I’d once inhabited, the school my mother still taught at—the school I’d attended to—were silent, lights out; haunted places in my ghost town. Everything in New York shone and made noises. Here, everything was quiet, everything obeyed to another rhythm.
At the store, I bought a sort-of decent wine for my mom, and then a cheap red for me. Because I wanted to punish myself; I wanted the sour taste to fill me with disgust, the inside matching the outside, as I hadn’t take a bath in two days and was hiding under my Penn hoodie.
I put other groceries inside a bag—sugar, mostly—and hopped on the SUV again, where I opened my cheap wine bottle and took a swig. And then I almost let the bottle fall, my eyes widening in horror.
My grandfather’s car was waiting. Right in front of me.
“Fuck, no,” I whispered.
Why now?, I thought. I was ready for you, years ago, but you never came.
Holding the bottle between my legs, I started the SUV and pulled out as fast as I could. As I drove past the Packard, I felt tempted to give it a look, to look at my grandfather’s face, but fear slithered inside me and I never did. I knew the face wouldn’t be my grandfather’s. Or maybe it would. Maybe it would be his brown grin, his serene eyes, which would make it worse. I knew I would never recover from the sight, because I would be staring at evil in its purest form.
Go. Go, I told myself.
At the next turn, the Packard reappeared before me, driving as slowly as always, world and time at its command.
I blasted the horn. I screamed at it. People would stare, confused, and the Packard couldn’t be bothered by any of that.
I’m going insane, I thought.
I parked at my mother’s entrance and leapt out of the SUV, leaving behind the bags, the opened bottle of wine, running to the door while my heart pounded. The Packard came to a halt a few meters down the street, but the ghostly engines continued to work; I heard them in my bones as I fumbled with my keys, trembling. I went inside the house, shut the door and locked myself in the nearest bathroom, catching my breath; my crying came all at once, an explosion I couldn’t stop.
“Marina?” I could hear my mom’s voice.
“Marina? What’s wrong?”
No. Don’t answer.
“Nothing,” I said.
My mother knocked, gently. “Let me in,” she said.
I gathered myself before doing as she asked. I opened the door, and my mother stared at me patiently, her hair—now dyed a lighter brown—made into a bun; the fine lines around her eyes made me think about how my own eyes would look someday. We both carried the same sadness in our face, we mirrored each other like twins. I had her olive skin, her deep-brown eyes; my hair was as dark as hers had been, and the blood that made her had made me.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
I shook my head.
“Just tell me,” She came inside the bathroom and closed the door behind her—as if we weren’t already alone. Some students, coworkers and friends had been at this very house earlier on; my mom ex-students, those who would no longer call her Mrs. Curtis, but simply Ana, brought her a cake. She was cherished, I realized. She had found a community. Those students were strangers to me, as I was to them, even though we’d trotted through the same school halls. I took to the periphery of the party. I was afraid and wanted to disappear. I still wanted that.
Now, under my mother’s gaze, I meant to tell her about the Packard, tell her that my ghost was back, but I blurted something else:
“He hurt me.”
“This guy I was seeing. Mark.” And then I told her about the day we had a fight over a friend I was texting and he twisted my hand so hard my wrist ended up sprained. I thought he had broken it, at first. I saw alarm and fear in his eyes, as he apologized, saying he never wanted to hurt me. He took me to the hospital, to have my wrist checked, and I found myself in a situation I never imagined I would be: lying about being abused, telling the same story so many other girlfriends and wives had told before.
“I had an accident.”
I became every woman who had ever witnessed the eyes of the people we fell in love with burning not with passion, but with hate and fury. The hands we had loved blackening our skin Those same hands breaking us.
And the shame. The shame and the fear and the confusion that kept us quiet, afraid a nurse would read our face and our wounds, afraid people would know.
Mark was grateful for my lie. And then he wasn’t.
He rewrote the narrative inside his head, a fiction in which the fight never happened, and my lie became his truth: I’d had an accident; he had no part in it. That very same night, my wrist bandaged and swollen, we had sex. Rather, he had sex with me, as if the sex would deliver him. I held my breath, faked my orgasm, afraid of what would happen if I didn’t please him. I thought I could salvage something from our love, a tiny bird with broken wings I could keep safe in the cusp of my hands. But once it started, it wouldn’t stop. His anger bloomed more frequently, as if he knew I’d never report on him, as if he knew he was safe. The day he put his hands around my neck, the day I saw darkness inside his cornflower-blue eyes, and knew he could crush my throat, was the day I screamed. The day I went mad and made myself heard by every neighbor I had, kicking Mark out of my apartment. He’d always hated a scene—he went away, screaming back at me, saying I was crazy. My neighbors eyed me with suspicion, but I didn’t give a damn about being the crazy woman at that very moment, kicking that white man out of my life. I wanted to be the craziest bitch ever. I wanted Mark to fear me in the same way he’d taught me to fear him.
My mother hugged me. She said nothing, for that long minute. She only hugged me, making me cry again. I was an adult, a grown woman of 26, crying on my mother’s lap.
“He won’t hurt you anymore,” she said. “We’ll get a restraining order if we have to.” As those words left her mouth, I wanted to believe in them. I’d always believed my mother’s promises; my mother’s words were God’s words, so I accepted them. At the same time, that insidious voice inside my head told me my mother couldn’t protect me from the world.
“You’ll be OK,” she said.
The one thing I didn’t tell her: the night Mark and I went to the hospital, as we got an Uber back to my apartment, I stared through the car’s window, at the busy streets of New York, and wished for the Packard to appear again. I would open the door and run to it, I would ignore Mark’s pleads and get inside the Packard, and drive into the unknown. That day, the Packard and whatever drove it seemed to me the lesser evil. I could fight a ghost, I thought. I didn’t know how to fight a man who could bend my bones so easily.
With the passing of the days, my fantasy of running away changed: Mark sleeping by my side, my eyes opened and facing the darkness of my cramped apartment—the only thing I could rent with my meager publishing salary—I’d entertain myself with another possibility: Mark going inside that car in my place. I imagined offering Mark as a sacrifice, letting him take that last ride with my grandfather’s ghost, into the night that would stretch on forever.
A few hours before, as I ate cake leftovers, my phone vibrated. Unknown number. I eyed my mother, hesitating, but she nodded. Go on, she seemed to say.
“Hi” I said, in a timid voice I didn’t recognize as my own. Had I expected my grandfather’s voice? I barely remembered it; would it sound like a croak, a dead man’s throat trying to work after years of lack of use? A rasp, something rising from the grave and from nightmares?
“Marina.” Mark said. MA-RI-NA. “Babe, come on. Come back. We need to talk.”
Mark got a new number. Just so he could reach me.
“It’s over” I said, as calmly as I could, even though I was shaking at the point.
“I’ll go to you, OK? It’s fine, we can fix this.” He didn’t say it like a psychopath. His voice wasn’t threatening. It wasn’t like in the movies, where the man says he’ll find you, he’ll make you pay. Nevertheless, it was exactly how I heard those words. He knew where my mother lived; he knew too much about me. We’d lovingly discussed possibilities, once: of Mark meeting my mother, the place I’d grown up. I would meet his family in Jersey, his two brothers, his Ma and his Pa. Plans made to burn, to exist only in the form of ashes. I shouldn’t have opened myself to him—every secret I ever told him, every dream or desire was now tainted by his hands; his hands on my wrist, his hands on my throat, trying to shut me up.
Without a word, I turned my phone off.
“If he show up, we’ll call the police,” my mother said.
Many times, while at Penn and, later, in New York, I Googled a particular combination of words: ghosts, cars, loved ones. I never found what I was looking for, an experience exactly like mine, but I found a lot about women and cars. Women who accepted rides from strangers and were never seen again. Women who accepted rides from men they knew and were never seen again. Rides you could book in a serial killer’s car, the real deal; the people who ran the business would even lock you in the car’s trunk so you could live the full experience of the female victims. Pictures of cars slowly disintegrating in scarp yards. Google’s self-driving car, which had me thinking about toy cars little children would drive under their parents supervision. Cars related to famous crimes, cars people had been gunned down in. But never my ghosts.
“You could have warned me,” I told Adriana, once.
“I knew he was a fetishist. I didn’t know he was a fucking psycho.”
But some people did. A few days after I got rid of Mark—or believed I had—I received a text from a woman I barely knew, a woman I had seen here and there, a writer I had never engaged with in conversation.
You did the right thing, the text said. And then, five minutes later, she sent me a smiling emoji.
My mother’s arms held me as I slept, as we shared her bed. I dreamt of riding with my grandfather, my real grandfather, and not the ghost. My grandfather and I, parked in front of some vast, golden grass that spread through miles ahead of us. Let’s play a game, he said. A game? Close your eyes. And I did. I put my hands in front of my eyes, expecting some magic to happen; when I opened them, I figure, there would be something impossible sitting by my lap: a white rabbit; a coin made of gold; another ice-cream sandwich; the carved head of a dead man that once had loved me. But nothing happened. I woke up in the dead of the night, jolted from the dream as if a hand had grabbed me and pulled me back to the world.
Something felt wrong. A ringing inside my ears, the sound the Packard made, a sound for me only.
My mother slept on. She trusted we were protected as long as we had each other, but I couldn’t abandon myself to such a blind faith. Not anymore, not when ghosts roamed the world and pointed me the way home; not when they knew where I hid.
I got out of the bed trying not to disturb her, going downstairs and checking every door and every lock.
For the rest of the night, at the kitchen’s counter, I watched over the sleeping house, expecting anything to happen, expecting to see the Packard’s lights shining outside, coming from the curtains; that thing that wanted to hurt us through the ghosts of men. Men who had already hurt us while breathing, while blood pumped through their veins. The police couldn’t do anything about that.
I drank the wine I’d bought my mother. It tasted good, and I decided I deserved it, I decided I wanted no more punishment. Lighting the basement with my phone’s lantern, among webs spiders had left, among the dust of years and years, I searched for a relic of my past: the hockey stick I’d used while in school, seduced by the idea that I might have a gift for sports. I hadn’t. I bleed on the ice, I failed to find balance, but my mother kept my gear, proud of something I could never fathom. Holding my stick, I felt soothed. I brought it back to the kitchen.
When the early morning neared outside, I heard a car approaching. The sound made my entire body go numb.
For some reason, I expected to see the Packard as I opened the door, a car rumbling as if it was laughing. And a car did rumble, but the Packard had changed its trick; had improved on it, and it was now a cab.
Mark came out of that cab. He went on saying something to the driver, half-smiling. His hand rose in a wave; to the drive, not to me, as he wasn’t aware of my standing at the door. Not yet. That hand waving. His soft hands twisting me, trying to mold me like clay. A grandfather’s hand, wrinkled and papery, taking to the wheel of a car made of things long buried. And my own hands, my palms sweating a cold sweat, holding my stick as my legs moved in Mark’s direction.
“Marina,” Mark said. A hint of surprise. And then a hint of panic. “Marina, what are you doing?”
The sun was almost up. The sky was rosy and blood-tinted and beautiful. Mark’s eyes, the ghost’s eyes—they no longer bore anger; they no longer bore the promise of pain, but a naked fear I waited too long to see. His scar was fresh on his eyebrow, a memory of what I could do, and I intended on doing worse. I raised the stick and brought it down. I saw blood, I heard the breaking of teeth. I saw the cab driver driving away in panic. Run. Run, I told those headlights; run and don’t ever come back. I heard Mark’s screaming, Mark begging me. He had a voice. Many times I had tried to hide my own voice, holding my cry; I’d been no stranger to the silence required of me, of us, but Mark never set foot on this foreign land, the land of pain. He’d learn.
I would never get inside the car again, but one of us was going to drive into the long night.