Ghost Boy

by Greta Wilensky

I know a boy, a ghost boy, with brown hair and blue eyes and clean teeth. He doesn't know me. We take health class together, me and him. He smiles at me sometimes, kind of nervous, like he doesn't know what I want. He smiles and edges his way down the aisle to his desk and sometimes he wears polo shirts and sometimes he wears t-shirts, but they always look clean, they always look good, like he takes good care of them. One time, he was late to class and we had a group project, and I was the only one who didn't have a partner, who hadn't been picked. We had to do a poster on the respiratory system. R-E-S-P-I-R-A-T-O-R-Y. I spelled it out a dozen times on the palm of my left hand because I was so nervous, so scared he'd see me mess up and laugh or think I was retarded, or something. I kneeled over our poster board and spelled it out real slow, and it came out all shaky because my hand was trembling, R-E-S-P-I-R-A-T-O-R-Y, and he watched me pause in between each letter, but when I was done he looked at my chickenscratch writing in blue marker and said, hey, it looks good.

The boy doesn't really talk to me at all, but I see him a lot, in the hallways and cafeteria. His clean shirts and neat hair, never too short and never too long. There are always girls and they follow him like a flock of sparrows, and he laughs with them and carries their books. He goes to school dances and gets out his nice suit and dances with them, his hands always gentle against their backs, his mind always somewhere else. I know he's like me and that there's no way to say anything. He keeps his voice all locked up, worse than I do, this quiet boy, this ghost. I wanted to kiss him since the first day of school, when he spilled soda all over his desk and had to go to the boys’ bathroom to get paper towels to clean it up.

I know he's like me but what can I do? He has nice clothes and I have holes in the sleeves of my gray hoodies, ripped blue jeans. I come home late and mama is asleep on the couch, still in her work uniform. I stand with the refrigerator open, the way she tells me not to, the yellow light bulb painting me in a glow as I stare at the empty shelves, and picture him doing the same across town. Opening the fridge in the dark and watching all the light pour out. Maybe he has food to eat and maybe his mama is asleep in bed, maybe she doesn't work three jobs. I know more about him than he would ever think. His daddy is dead, for a long time now, but he doesn't talk about it, only tells jokes to his pretty girlfriends and smiles at me whenever he catches me staring at him in health class, when I have to pretend to look around the room, all casual. His daddy was a good man, unlike mine, who's rotting in jail, but ghost boy would never talk about stuff like that to me. Why would he?

He's a nice boy with no voice and pretty blue eyes. I'm stupid; the teacher says I'm gonna have to retake health class next year. If mama knew about me, she'd send me back to the island before I could take another breath. She's not bad for this. There's just no way to make her understand. I watch a lot of TV, too much, any chance I can get, any month the cable bill gets paid. I watch the shows and a lot of the characters die, die without deserving to. I know that's who I'll probably be one day. I'll be out too late and somehow somebody's gun is gonna find me, maybe some policeman will find me and I'll be gone, and he still won't admit that he's just like me, he won't say a word about his daddy and he'll never know he was the first boy I loved. And it hurts, real bad. I know I don't deserve to die.

BIO: Greta Wilensky a seventeen year old writer from Lowell, MA. She was the 2015 runner-up in prose for the first annual Winter Tangerine Review Prizes and a 2015 YoungArts winner in short story. Her work has been published in the Best Teen Writing Anthology of 2015 and Souvenir Lit Journal, and is forthcoming in Alexandria Quarterly, the James Franco Review, and the Blueshift Journal. Her work has been displayed at MoMA PS1 in New York City and in the Department of Education building in Washington, D.C.