When the little ghost first starting coming to me, he whispered nice things that made me feel good.
“You have pretty hands.”
“I love how you do your nails.”
“How did you get your skin to be so smooth?”
He stayed with me all day and all night. As the days went by, though, I must have done something to make the ghost angry. Instead of mawkish pleasantries, the messages grew negative.
“I’ve seen other girls with prettier hands.”
“What happened to your nails?”
“I’m sorry your skin looks so dry nowadays.”
I started to get upset. I’d grown fond of the little ghost. Since he’d always been so positive, it was comforting. But once he started to get mean, I wondered what I’d done wrong. I didn’t want my ghost to feel like I’d disappointed him.
One night, as I was getting ready for bed, I saw the ghost in the mirror. He looked up at me as I brushed my teeth and said, with sadness in his voice, “your cuticles are so ragged and ugly.”
I looked down at my hands. He was right. I hadn’t been taking care of them at all since I started that art class. Bits of skin and hangnails sprouted from each cuticle. They were red and angry.
“Can you get rid of them for me?” The ghost sounded so hopeful. I couldn’t bear to make him feel like I wasn’t the good person he initially believed me to be. What if he left?
I grabbed the corner of a thick hangnail on the side of my left middle finger. I started to pull backward. It hurt terribly. The ghost, his eyes brimming with hope, told me I was doing such a great job. Even through the pain of what I was doing, I was overwhelmed by relief. I was finally doing something right.
I kept working on the hangnail. After a little while, I’d pulled a thin strip from the side of my finger, up my hand, and across my arm to the inside of my elbow. It stung terribly, but as tears of joy flooded from the ghost’s eyes, I started to wonder if things were getting back to normal.
“Your hand is looking a tiny bit better,” the ghost informed me. “Maybe someday you can be pretty again.”
I spent the next hour tearing the skin and nails from my fingers. Even though they bled and I thought they looked terrible, the ghost smiled and assured me I had the hands of a beautiful angel. Through my tears, I smiled.
As the days went by, I did what I could to make the ghost happy. Sometimes, he’d get in a bad mood. Just the other night, he told me the skin on my lips was ugly and chapped. I pulled the chapped skin away. Some of it went pretty far up my cheeks before it tore. But it was okay. The ghost talked on and on about how kissable I’d become.
My parents arrived at my apartment this morning. They hadn’t said they were coming, but it was a nice surprise. It’d been a while. But when they saw my face and my hands, they were horrified. My mom sobbed, “what happened to your beautiful face?” My dad, almost at the same time, exclaimed, “oh my God your hands are ruined!”
Tears started to leak from my eyes. Off in the corner, my ghost sighed, “they’re the ones who make us so sad, aren’t they?” I agreed.
Ten minutes later, as I worked to saw their bodies into small parts, I asked the ghost if he’d be happier now that they weren’t around. No answer. I turned around to see if he was listening. The little ghost was gone.