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Hand on Thigh photo

It’s me and Helena. Helena and me.

—You look so uncomfortable, why do you look like that?
—He’s right there, standing in the corner. I don’t like him.
—No he’s right next to you, his hand is on your thigh, look at his knuckles. Is his hand warm?
—I’m wearing thick tights.
—I see.
—I’m reaching for the knife now.
—For the bread?
—For the bread.
—I see. Is this normal, do you want to ask him to move his hand?
—He isn’t listening to me.
—He’s right there next to you, he’s looking at your lips.
—He isn’t listening to me.
—What’re you doing with the knife. Why do you look so uncomfortable?
—I’m cutting the bread.
—No, you aren’t. The bread is all the way over there. I thought you’d reach over to grab some but you haven’t.
—He’s in my way.
—No, he’s in the corner. He’s all the way over there. Look, he’s leaning against the crown molding. He’s picking at the chipped paint. He’s all the way over there.
—He’s in my way. His hand is on my thigh. You said so, too.
—Is his hand on your thigh?
—Oh, his hand is on your thigh. Do you not feel it? Are his hands sweaty?
—I have on thick tights.
—Right. What will you do with the knife?
—I will ask him to leave.
—You will ask him to go away?
—To go away, yes.
—And the knife?
—He isn’t listening to me.
—I see.
—The knife.
—The knife, yes I see.
—Do I look uncomfortable?

We are in the dining room eating dinner. Our table is a long and ornate one. Dark wood. Many plates. Fine China and wine glasses. One large turkey ready to be carved. Freshly baked bread. Doilies under every dish. Candelabras. Something called hors d'oeuvres.

Very few people.

I got stuck with the second stupidest dead lady. The first is Mildred, my mother’s, who can knit but doesn’t know her times tables. She is very old and sits twenty-two hours out of the day. My mother cannot stand her. I have Helena. She died 100 years ago. She doesn’t know anything about this world. She doesn’t get the new technology, or hem lines, or microwavable cooking. She is 67 years old and always has her grey hair up in a bun that she holds together with a scrunchie, something new that she loves. She is the best person that I have ever met in my entire life.

The best thing about Helena is that she knows she doesn’t understand things about now so she wants to learn everything. Usually, when you are given your dead person, you are supposed to learn from them. One old person passes down their wisdom, about wars and family values and tradition. That’s the idea. But Helena is so bored of her own life, she just wants to know mine.

When she came on my 13th birthday I dragged her up to my room and made her listen to the new music with me. She bobbed her head along to it, which is when I knew she’d be okay. Helena is kind and so alive for being dead. She wants to keep me safe, always. My mother thinks she is a pest because she hardly cooks or cleans, but that’s because she follows me. I am nineteen now and she has never left my side. We learn from each other. My mother never learned from anyone.

The dead people aren’t meant to come to dinner but Helena insists. They look just like us, the dead, so guests don’t usually mind. I feel ill tonight at dinner. I’m glad Helena is here because she is someone I can look at. Her eyes are green. She is beautiful. Helena and I are speaking with silence right now. Our own form of telepathy we share with the dead. Helena thinks it’s really neat, I think so, too.

—Are you going to do it?
—What do you think I’m going to do?
—Stab him? Are you going to stab him?
—He is going up, Helena. His hand.
—And the knife?
—I have it.
—Will you?
—I am thinking about it.
—And now?
—I am still thinking about it.
—What is it?
—It’s Mildred. She’s watching.
—Why is she?
—Mother doesn’t want to see her. She commanded her to the dining room.
—To spy?
—No. Mildred couldn’t. But she will--
—And the knife?
—I have it.
—I don’t like him, Helena.
—I know. Do you want me to ask?
—No. They will make you leave.
—I see.
—Stay with me, Helena. His hand, it’s getting warmer.
—I thought?
—My tights, they are not thick enough.
—I see.

The seat next to me is filled by a man called Scott Wilshire. He is ten years older than me and chooses the seat beside me though they are all empty, save for me, Helena, Mildred, and Scott’s parents who are our guests. Scott likes to look at me when he can find me. He wears dark brown suits and wing-tipped shoes and smells like turpentine. His job is painting houses. His parents don’t love him anymore and so they want someone else to take care of him. My mother says that could be me. I would rather not be at this dinner.

Scott’s dead person is a man called Jeremy Fitz. Fitz is not a last name because they give those up, but he insists he be called that in full. Jeremy is like Scott in almost every way. He is 34 and died in a boating accident. He was not very kind to his wife. He is only five years older than Scott so they pretend they are long lost brothers. I don’t know what anyone could learn from Jeremy Fitz. How to make a person squirm. His suits don’t fit right, he looks like grease. His body is looming in the corner, leaning against the crown moulding. He’s picking at the chipped paint. I don’t like him. Scott turns to me.

—Do you like it here, Jane?
—Excuse me?
—Do you like it, this little eggshell cottage? This?

Scott is going up. Up and up and up. I wince and look around. Family portraits on the walls. Burgundy colored wallpaper peeling. Dishes clanking. Helena breathes. I remember lying on my bed with Helena and sometimes Mildred too, because she gets so lonely. I would read them excerpts from my magazines and sometimes Magic Treehouse. So often I fell asleep in Helena’s arms.

—I like my home. I like Helena and even Mildred.
—I see.
—Stop it. You don’t see.

Mr. and Mrs. Wilshire shoot their heads up at me. They hold a fork and a knife in each hand. Mr. Wilshire has spinach hanging off the corner of his mouth. They are such cold people, I assume their dead people are waiting in the car, forbidden to leave. It’s true, some people treat the dead like slaves instead of teachers or friends. To die again would be their greatest, most impossible wish, if only to escape those like the Wilshires.

—Yes, Mrs. Wilshire?
—Scott is simply being polite.
—Yes, Mrs. Wilshire.

Scott hovers. His small beady eyes are not even blinking. He has grey eyes. His palm is wet. I hold the knife in one hand, it has been there for many minutes. The sweat is making it slippery. He reaches his hand under my skirt.

—Helena. Something is happening.
—Say something, dear.
—Helena. You know I can’t.
—The knife?
—I don’t know how to.
—You know how to cut meat.
—I do.
—I am scared.
—And his hands?
—They are so sweaty. And he is getting closer to me. The moulding—

I see Jeremy smiling at me. Then he moves behind my shoulders, staring at the back of my neck. I wonder what him and Scott are saying to each other. They work in tandem, like malicious brothers in arms.

—The paint is chipping.
—I know, Helena. Tell me what you would do.
—I don’t think I would know.
—You have the knife.
—They will think it was you.
—Don’t dwell, dear.
—They will think it was you.
—Look me in the eyes.

Helena’s eyes are green. She is beautiful.

—And the knife?
—I have it. Do I look uncomfortable?

I close my eyes for a moment, and then I stab Scott in the center of his hand. Blood begins to pool, a gusher bursting. This is the moment. I look at Helena.


Scott falls back in the chair. It hits the ground, chipping the wooden frame. His eyes are wide and bursting from his forehead. For an instant he looks completely terrified, which makes me smile softly. Then, he is crying out, like a newborn. He gets up off the floor and holds his crimson hand that drips onto his shoes. He now smells of copper and dirty paint and I think it suits him. Mr. and Mrs. Wilshire are beside themselves.

—Oh, Scott!
—Jane, have you lost your mind?

Mrs. Wilshire rushes towards the napkins. She cradles Scott’s hand in her own. Jeremy Fitz is standing next to me, his arms are crossed like a menacing guard dog. I remain seated in my chair, trembling. Helena holds my gaze.

—Stay with me, Helena.
—Of course, dear.

My mother comes in frantically from the den. She was meant to leave me here, alone, so that I could present myself as an individual. She wants Scott to love me. I want to yell at her for that. When she comes in and notices Scott’s palm, blood leaking at the puncture wound, she is exasperated.

—I am sorry, I am so sorry.
—It was Jane.
—No, I’m certain it wasn’t.

Her daughter would never.

—It was Jane.

Scott looks up from his wound.

—No mother, she’s right. Jane had no reason to do this. No reason at all. She must’ve been persuaded. Why, Jane is too sweet.

Scott wants both hands on my thighs. He can forgive a cut. He won’t let me slip away. I feel Jeremy breathing on my neck. My mother stares at me, her eyes are lightless.

—Jane. Look at me.

I look at my mother.


I nod. I grab Helena’s hand. I lead her to the door. My mother catches us.

—Helena stays.
—Look at what she’s done. That dead witch.
—It wasn’t her. It was his hands, please, what will you do?
—That is for Scott to decide.

Helena puts her hand on my shoulder. Her bun is coming loose.

—It is okay.
—It isn’t
—It is.
—They will kill you. Helena. They will.
—Jane, I am already dead.
—No, they will kill you. They’ll take you away.
—Jane, dear. Go.

I look at Helena and hold my breath. Her eyes are green. She is beautiful.

—Do I look uncomfortable, Helena?