Storyglossia Issue 30, October 2008.

Ghost Girl

by L. Annette Binder


She dreamt of Germany and America and hospitals in France. The doctors there would work her face like clay. They'd raise up a nose where there were only holes. They'd bring back her eyelids and her tears and all the things she'd lost because she'd been too slow. Slow to duck down between the vegetable stalls and slow to cover her head. She'd always been faster than the others, even the boys in school. She outran her brother even when he rode that old bicycle he had, the one that was too small and his legs stuck out like a cricket's. But that morning there was no outrunning the bottles and what they had inside. The acid worked its way through her fingers and her hair. It ate the dimples she had and the bones below her eyes and her earlobes, those perfect round earlobes the old man had kissed. Every week he'd come to see her. Soriya like the sun, he said, look at my golden girl.

He didn't visit her anymore. The old man didn't come and her brother neither. She couldn't blame them. She couldn't blame anyone for staying away. It was hard to look at all those ruined faces. She envied the blind girls sometimes, the ones who couldn't see their own reflections. It wasn't right to think that way, she knew this. And even the blind girls knew what they'd lost. They could trace the ripples with their fingers. They were ghosts, all of them. They slept on their cots and sat beside the window. The stalls were full just outside their gate, and the vendors were shouting and pointing to their fruit. The boys rode their bikes and watched the girls walk by. So many pretty girls, why hadn't she noticed them all before? They moved like schools of fish.

Every week the therapy ladies came and tried to teach them things. How to read from children's books and how to uncurl fingers that were twisted from the burns. They washed the girls' hair and scented it with oils. It's good to feel somebody's touch, they said. It's better than any medicine. Soriya ignored them when they came. She sat with her photographs and how she used to be, and she dreamt of hospitals with long white corridors where doctors would touch her skin. Her dreams had no scalpels, no sutures or knives or needles. Only doctors with long fingers. Soft as silk how they touched her. Soft as a spider's web.

A new teacher had started coming with the others. Her hair was short and salted with gray, and her nose was much too wide. She hadn't been pretty not even when she was young, Soriya saw this right away. No old men had followed her home and offered her gold chains and party dresses. She brought along a ball and skipping ropes. Everybody needs to join in, she said. It's no good sitting alone. She gathered up the stragglers. She tugged Soriya by the arm, until she joined the others in a circle and caught the ball and threw it back. They laughed when they dropped it. They clapped and let their scarves slip down around their necks. The teacher sat beside her later that afternoon. She had a bottle of nail polish, but Soriya pulled her hands away because polish wouldn't make them pretty. Only doctors could do that.

The teacher led them into the courtyard the next time she came. She had them raise their arms and twist their backs around. Stand up straight as you can, she said. Don't curve your back like a shrimp. Soriya stretched with the others. She didn't resist for once because it was good to feel the sun. The air smelled of diesel fuel and blossoms. One of the youngest girls brought out the radio, and she began to dance. Others joined her, bending their wrists the way real dancers did. When they moved they were beautiful again. Their faces and hands were blurred.

Soriya stepped back from the group. She walked circles around them. The courtyard was big, and there were two sugar palms at its center, tall and slender and bending toward the sky. He'd taken her to a restaurant once and given her sweet palm wine. She'd swayed like the trees from the taste of it. He laughed at that and stroked her face. He bought her fine silk dresses. She wore them, and he unbuttoned them and pushed her onto the bed. His hands were almost gentle.

She went faster around the dancing girls and the palms. The trees were older than her parents probably. They were older than her grandparents and their parents, too. They'd be here when she was nothing but ashes and smoke curling toward the sun. She went faster, and all she felt was her heart pounding and her feet on the packed ground. She ran faster than the old man and all the others who'd touched her on the street. Faster than the boys at school. They hated losing to a girl. They set their hands on their knees and wheezed. She was so fast nobody could reach her and nobody could touch her, not even the wife and those bottles she threw. She'd waited by the stalls for Soriya to come. A man had helped her. She saw his sandals while she lay on the ground. She saw his dusty toes.

She wasn't tired from the running that night. She lay awake long after they'd turned out the lights. Somewhere beyond the courtyard a couple was making those sounds. The woman was moaning, and the man said her name again and again. Soriya covered her ears. When she finally slept she didn't dream of doctors. No doctors and no hospitals and no gentle hands cradling her face. She dreamt of the sun instead. How it called her to itself. It burnt away all the things she'd cherished. It took them and left nothing in their place, as if to tell her she hadn't needed them and they were never hers anyway.

Copyright©2008 L. Annette Binder

L. Annette Binder was born in Germany and came to the U.S. as a child. She has an A.B. in Classics from Harvard, a J.D. from Harvard Law School, and an M.A. in Comparative Literature from Berkeley. Her fiction placed second in the 2008 Carve Raymond Carver Short Story Contest and has recently appeared or is forthcoming in The Southern Review, Carve, Rosebud, The Fiddlehead, the Oklahoma Review, and Clapboard House. She has just finished her first novel and is working on her second. Visit her at