I find my ghost sitting cross legged on the concrete floor of the laundry room, the place in our house that’s most certainly haunted by things that move between the walls, settle in the crawl space. I imagine they edge forward on elbows and knees like an army man in the muck, emerging from the hole that doubles as its door, wearing nothing but a half broken skull dancing in dust mites and mouse droppings.
It’s a split level, the laundry room is half above and half below ground with south-facing twin windows covered with stained, beige paper blinds – the kind that roll and snap up. Dad says they deter anyone who might want to snoop around in the bushes, peep in our laundry room, break in at night. I think he’d put bars on the window except for what the neighbors might think. Sometimes Mom rolls a blind up just a little when she hand-washes stockings in the giant basin big enough to hold a baby or a dog, though we have neither.
My ghost, though, isn’t scary but serene. She wears grey skin, unevenly shorn, hand-cut hair, the echoes of overdone eyeliner around closed, milky eyes. She has rolled the blind back down and meditates on gold toe dress socks hanging from the drying rack. They no longer go in the machine since Dad says the heat puts holes in them. The ghost and the socks sway slightly in the floor vent’s cold air.
Mom comes in the room. “What are you doing in here?” She leans behind the freezer chest and pulls out a rusty ironing board.
I look at my ghost. She’s humming now. “I thought there might be some Flintstones push-up pops left over in the freezer.”
Mom steps over a tangle of cords, old telephone cradles, surge protectors of various ages and lengths, and picks up the iron. “Don’t eat this close to dinner,” she says. Her look says volumes.
“Just one,” my ghost says without opening her eyes. “Eat just one,” and she goes back to humming.
The ironing board screeches like the door of a haunted house. “I asked your dad to oil it,” Mom says under her breath.
She pulls a load of underwear out of the dryer, sorting it into two piles: her nude polyester and cotton lace and his Hanes briefs: blindingly white with blue elastic and stitching, the ones he wears walking around the house at night with nothing else on, especially summer days when it’s hot on the second floor, we open the windows and turn off the air conditioning, sticky and uncomfortable.
“Eat just one,” my ghost says, again. In the freezer, I find a fruit punch push-up pop with Wilma Flintstone’s sassy smile on the label. Mom lines Dad’s underwear in a neat row on the board cover’s blue-checked cotton. The iron has a black spot on the bottom and smells like singe. It’s steaming now. I peel off the top of the push pop and begin to lick. Mom runs the nose of the iron between the seams of Dad’s underwear, careful not to melt the elastic, moving it in dips and waves like a skilled masseuse over dry skin, made slightly supple with steam and hard with starch, until flat, flat, flat.
Mom stacks Dad’s underwear like kitchen plates. Her own bunched pile of polyester gets stuffed under her armpit. “I said not to eat that before dinner,” she says with her back to me, already out of the laundry room. “Put away the ironing board for me, would you?”
I sit down on the floor, despite the droppings and dust clumps twisted in the pile of cords, despite the silhouette of something dead – I’m sure I see it – emerging from the crawl space. The room smells like clean cotton, hot starch, and sour rust from the ironing board’s underside.
My ghost opens her eyes. “Your lips are beautiful,” she says. The push-up pop is raspberry and grape and strawberry and mango and the color of tropical flowers I’ve only seen in books. I let the cold mingle with my tongue, sit with these dead things in the dark, and I feel beautiful.
Kristina T. Saccone writes short fiction and nonfiction with a preference for the speculative genre. This story is part of a series she is writing about the girl and her ghost. Kristina’s other work appears or is forthcoming in Fractured Lit, Cease, Cows, Gone Lawn, Flash Flood, Luna Station Quarterly, LEON Literary Review, Emerge Literary Journal, and others. She’s also querying a hybrid anthology about caring for our aging parents. Find her on Twitter at @kristinasaccone and @flashroundup.
“We Iron Dad’s Underwear” was a finalist in our 2022 Blurred Genre Flash Contest, judged by Lynn Steger Strong.