There is a ghost in my kitchen. She’s standing behind me.
While I peel the plantains, she leans forward and askes, “Why didn’t you love me? Why? Why? Why?” I ignore the question. Ghosts don’t like to leave once you’ve acknowledged they’re there. I made that mistake with the ghost in my living room already.
The living room ghost always sits on the couch. She’s knitting a scarf or a sock or something. I don’t know. I don’t knit, and I never did ask what she was working on back when I had the chance. Sometimes she’s wearing a fuzzy pink sweater. Sometimes she’s in a hospital gown. She used to shout at me when I left for work.
It’s December now. I’ve been home since April.
She doesn’t shout anymore.
Over the sound of oil spitting in the pan on the stove, she reminds me, “You should have come to see me more. You should have come. You should have come. You should have come.”
I said I was sorry.
She won’t leave.
I’ve been ignoring the kitchen ghost since last December, but she hasn’t left either.
Sometimes the kitchen ghost looks the way I remember her last—skin so thin I can see the veins beneath, hair dyed a vibrant brown that doesn’t balance the carefully applied blue eye shadow—and sometimes she looks nothing at all like I remember her. She looks young, full of curves, with her hair a natural color than I never got to see.
The only things that never change are her eyes, so I make sure not to even look at their reflection in the glass door of the microwave above my head.
I’m trying to make bolón de verde.
I’m following a recipe.
My ghost in the living room keeps repeating, “You should have come. You should have come. You should have come.” It makes a rhythm that I follow as I slice the plantains.
The last time I went with my mother to my grandmother’s house in LA, I saw another ghost. He was following my grandmother until he finally sat at the head of the dining room table to watch my mother and grandmother. I tried to talk to him. Tried to say those things I didn’t when he was still there and I thought I had time.
He wouldn’t speak to me. He wasn’t my ghost.
The recipe says I’m supposed to let the plantains cook first, so they get soft enough to mash. Last time I tried to make this, I didn’t let them cook long enough. I’ve only had the dish once, when I was very young. It’s the only thing I remember my abuela cooking, but I still remember how the little plantain balls tasted when she made them. Mine were too salty, and the plantains were hard.
There’s a trick to cooking them well, a specific shade the little bits turn that tells you they’re ready to be scooped out and mashed up. I didn’t know that. No one ever told me, and it isn’t written in the recipe.
This time, I’ve set an alarm.
Oil pops from the pan as I put the cut-up pieces in. A drop falls on my finger. It burns.
I curse and shake my hand. When I move to hold my finger under cold water, the ghost moves with me. I see her out of the corner of my eye, old and young, familiar and strange, looking from my hand to the stove.
I saw her kitchen once. The one my father grew up in, in that old house back in New Jersey. I know more about the house than I ever did about her. I know she protected it fiercely, even when she hated it, because the house was hers when so little else in this country was.
I know there is a correct emotion I’m supposed to feel when I hear the stories of how she ripped up foreclosure notices and stood in front of bulldozers to fight for her home. I’m supposed to feel proud.
Instead, I get angry. Instead, I think, “Why? Why? Why?”
I can tell now, who’s going to end up a ghost. My great-uncle will be my mother’s ghost. He’ll step in her footprints chanting, “If only I’d known, things might be different. Might be. Might be. Might be.” My father has too many ghosts to hear them all. Their unending drone stuffs his ears until the voices of the living are only whispers.
My older sisters will haunt me, their voices mingling until it becomes impossible to know who tells me, “You should have said something. You should have. You should have. You should have,” and “I’m not sorry. I’m not. I’m not. I’m not.” A man whose face I tell myself I forgot will join them to linger in the corner of the room and repeat, “Can you forgive? Can you? Can you? Can you?”
The alarm goes off on my phone.
I turn off the water and go back to the plantains.
They’re ready to flip now.
My ghost rests her cheek against my shoulder the way I remember her doing, back when I was very little. I shiver.
“Why didn’t you love me?” she asks again. “Why? Why? Why?”
I’m following her recipe.
Christina Trujillo is a semi-finalist in the 2013 Galaxy Press Writes of the Future competition and a recipient of the Glimmer Train 2013 Top 25 in Short Story Award for New Writers. Her work has been published in Dark Phrases, Glassworks Magazine, and Dynamite Entertainment.
Artwork: Laura Makabresku