Two months after my mother passed away my daughter woke me up to tell me she was sorry. I was half in a dream and said, "Honey it’s late go back to sleep," but she didn’t. She put her cold little hands on my face and said, “No” and tapped my cheeks until the dream dissolved and I was up.
"What," I said. "What is it, yes, what," and my daughter said:
“I died in the night. I’m sorry.”
"Honey," I said, like there was more to that sentence but there wasn’t. I put my hands on her and she was solid, why wouldn’t she be. Standing in a hedgehog shirt, smelling like milk, the way kids do. I gathered her up and arranged her under the sheets and said, "Honey, why do you think you died?" and she shrugged and asked if she could have a soda, and would she have to go to school tomorrow, now that she’s dead.
"You’re not dead," I said, quiet, and my eyes began to weep like they’d decided their own sadness had nothing to do with me.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” my daughter said, knocking her foot against my leg. I used to say this to her. Then, “Can we turn on the tv?”
The next day we stayed at home but the day after I said, "Now life doesn’t stop, okay?" and sent her back to school. Then school called and asked where my daughter was. I thought no and no but it turned out she’d hid in a bathroom stall because she was dead and didn’t want to go to class. "Her grandmother just passed away," I told her teacher, later, an explanation. I was tired and unwell, half an eyeliner on. One bottom lip lipsticked.
"So what’s happening?" I asked her in the car on the way back. "What’s this? You’re a ghost? What?"
“Yes,” she said. “I’m a ghost.” Then made a long ooooh-sound that made her laugh and so I laughed too, which made her laugh more. "What do I do?" I panic-whispered on the phone that evening, talking to my sister. My daughter walked into the room with a white towel on her head.
“It’s my ghost hair,” she said, then danced to the tune of a candy commercial.
"What can you do," my sister said, and told me she loved me, and yes you too and good night, shabat shalom, I’ll call again tomorrow. "Yes. B—What? Yes. Okay. Bye."
That night I wrapped us up in blankets and asked my daughter what her favourite colours were. She named every single one she could come up with, picking her nose. "Do you think you’ll be dead for much longer?" I asked.
“No,” she said. “Maybe a day. Or maybe two.”
"Okay," I said, and rested for a moment in the mess of her hair. My own breath smelled like milk, and she, wet from the shower, like every memory I’ve ever had.
Yael van der Wouden is a writer, editor, and a mixed-bag-diaspora child situated in Utrecht, the Netherlands. She co-founded Chaos Press, a Dutch feminist publishing house. In her off time she waters plants, walks into rooms to immediately forget why, and reviews books for Platypus Press' literary guide 'The Wilds.' Her work will soon appear in The Sun Magazine. Find more at yaelvanderwouden.com