by Kelly Lynn Thomas
Mia walks west. She walks without stopping for rest, for sleep, for food, for water, because she is a ghost and feels no physical pain. The word echoes in her mind: ghost, ghost, ghost.
She hopes that the miles will wear her down to air, that time will erase her memory.
Pennsylvania’s hills fade to Ohio’s flat plains over… days? Weeks? That biological urgency she felt when she was alive, humming in sync to the Earth’s cycles, is gone. She follows I-70, hating the reminder of the human need for consumption that indirectly killed her farm, but unsure of the way without the highway’s solid black line twisting west. The rush of cars has long since transformed into white noise.
Halfway through Ohio she passes a minivan full of children on the shoulder and hears a resonant laugh. She remembers laughing with her family a long time ago, but it feels like those moments happened to someone else, not her. Not Mia, depressed teenaged environmental crusader.
The van has Iowa plates. Her father was from Iowa–still is, she supposes. They visited her grandparents there once, when she was five, when both were coughing themselves to death from emphysema.
Maybe she should go visit her grandparents’ graves. Ask if they know how to end this half-existence. The thought rides with her to Indianapolis, where she veers northwest. The weather changes but she barely notices. Rain, thunderstorms, scorching heat–they all feel like loneliness. A tornado could spin down right on top of her, but it wouldn’t carry her away, even if it were the most powerful tornado in history. She doesn’t think anything can carry her away.
When she reaches Iowa, she feels as immaterially solid as she did in Pennsylvania. She realizes she doesn’t remember which town her grandparents lived in. Her dad grew up on a huge farm in the northeast corner of the state, but her grandparents sold the property to a developer and moved… somewhere. That’s when her father had moved to Western Pennsylvania with Mia’s pregnant mother.
Was it Iowa City? Des Moines? Which one was the capital?
“Grandma?” Mia asks out loud. This is the first time she’s spoken since she died. Her voice sounds like a breeze, but a breeze with her specific pitch and timbre.
She hears nothing aside from bird calls and the whistle of wind hitting speeding cars. If her grandmother’s ghost voice is in there somewhere, she can’t tell. She can’t remember what her grandmother sounded like, only her wet, phlegmy inhalations and labored exhalations.
Not knowing what else to do, Mia continues northwest, or what she hopes is northwest, but does it matter if it isn’t? She walks through corn fields, the long stalks swaying, corn silk fluttering in the breeze that might be a voice. She reaches out a hand, tries to grab a green cob, to snap it off the stalk and dig her teeth into the raw kernels, but her hand catches nothing.
The fruitless gesture makes her profoundly solastalgic: She longs for her irrevocably altered home, a place she can never get back. She sees the chemicals the natural gas company used to break up the bedrock pooling in iridescent rainbows in her creek, killing the living soil. The dead birds and rabbits she would find on meandering walks across the land.
Mia wishes her ghostliness would let her move back in time, back before the gas companies came, and her father sold their farm out for a penny. It’ll pay off the bank and save the farm, he said. Mia knew better, even then. And she knows she would have come to this end with or without the gas company’s intervention, but she wonders if the manner of her death–her choice to drink the chemicals the gas company claimed were safe to pump into the earth–at least made a point.
Did it even matter? She doesn’t know, doesn’t want to know, not anymore.
Mia keeps walking.
About the Author
Kelly Lynn Thomas reads, writes, and sometimes sews in Pittsburgh, PA. She lives with her partner, two dogs, and a constant migraine. Her fiction has appeared in Permafrost, Sou’wester, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and was nominated for a 2017 Pushcart. Kelly received her MFA in Creative Writing from Chatham University, is a coordinator for the VIDA Count, and can always be found with a large mug of tea. Read more at http://kellylynnthomas.com.