My dad is a ghost, but he’s not dead.
On my twenty-third birthday, he appears.
I consult with an exorcist. She does not understand. She tells me it is not possible to be both spirit and body, and suggests I’m making it up. “For attention,” she says. “Common behavior in women with daddy issues.”
I consult with a therapist. His specialty is Daddy Issues. He holds a notepad and a pen. “How does this ghost make you feel?” he asks.
“Scared?” I say.
“Of abandonment,” the therapist says. He writes abandonment over and over again, across the page.
“Actually, abandonment is the goal,” I say.
The therapist tells me to come twice a week.
Dad’s translucent body trails behind me.
* * *
At the salon, Dad calls me a harlot.
“It’s just highlights,” I say.
He hovers over my chair with a disapproving face.
Later, he spills wine on my date in an unfortunate location.
I go home.
Dad watches The Addams Family on TV. Drinks beer on my couch. It seeps through his ghost body onto the cushion.
Dad and I used to watch The Addams Family every Friday. Before he disappeared. And left our family for a new one.
* * *
“How did that make you feel?” the therapist says.
“Embarrassed,” I say, “by the cliché.”
The therapist waits for more.
Dad sticks his head through a diagnostic textbook, pretending not to hear.
* * *
At my tiny kitchen table, we eat Salisbury steak dinners.
Dad inhales his uncut beef, like a dog. “Shrinks blame fathers for everything,” he says.
I push my fork through powdery potatoes.
“Why are you here?” I say.
Dad levitates a spoonful of corn into his mouth.
Kernels float across his skinless chest, blinking over his heart, like stars. A yellow Ursa Major descends into Dad’s bowels before shooting onto the floor.
“Excuse me for wanting to spend time with you,” he says. “You complain I wasn’t around. Now I’m here, and you want me gone.” Dad shakes his head.
His words collect in my stomach beside the undigested meat.
He takes a sip of milk. “You know, I did my best.”
Milk drips through him like tears.
* * *
“I cannot watch The Addams Family without crying,” I say to the therapist.
“This is not surprising,” the therapist says. “It reminds you of your childhood—when you watched it with your father.”
“No,” I say. “That’s not it.”
The therapist writes this down. “Gomez and Morticia Addams were a father and mother in love,” he says. “Gomez never tired of Morticia. In fact, his love grew stronger every day. Gomez loved his children, Pugsley and Wednesday, very much. He was active in their lives. It makes you sad to see what you did not have.”
“No,” I say. “That’s not correct, either.”
“You feel like Lurch, the Addams family butler,” the therapist says. “He was like Frankenstein’s monster, unable to fit in. Trapped in a house with a family he did not really belong to. He kept his words bottled up inside of him until they escaped as unintelligible groans. I can see how this plays out in your life, through your emotional constipation.”
“I have never had an issue with my digestive faculties,” I say. “And I would not consider myself a monster.”
I hear Dad laughing in the corner behind me.
“We’re at the end of our session,” the therapist says. He writes DENIAL in red block letters on a post-it note. “Next week, we’ll talk about Uncle Fester.”
“What about Thing?” I say.
The therapist taps his watch.
* * *
Dad stuffs himself with ice cream. I watch mint chip roll through his body, then onto the rug. He snaps along to the beat of the opening credits. Lurch plays the piano and Wednesday frowns, her tiny braids falling down her shoulders, like snakes.
And there it is, the disembodied hand, the Addams family handservant—Thing. The lump returns to my throat, but I swallow it. I do not want to give in. It’s just special effects, I tell myself. Thing pours Morticia a cup of tea from the center of the breakfast table. It’s not real. But my sadness does not care. I am flooded with the same intrusive thoughts every time I see it.
Dad looks at me from the side of his eye. “What’s the matter with you?”
“Nothing.” I wipe my face, casually, with my sleeve. “I just hate that Thing,” I say. And I do. How terrible it would be to be a Thing. A hand without a body. No anchor to ground it. No heart to warm it. No stomach to feed and nourish it. Just a random, dismembered appendage. No one to love it.
Aileen O’Dowd lives in Toronto. Her writing has appeared in Peach Mag, Maudlin House, Rejection Letters, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere.
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