If I have to watch one more girl stand in front of this mirror and pick at her pretty face, I’m going to die. Again. I’m not even sure that’s possible.
A tall Junior, leans over the stained marble sink so the edges of her butt are visible under her short dress. Her face is centimeters from the mirror; her hands are brushing over her face, looking for zits visible under her thick foundation. There are none, I promise.
She can’t see me, perched on the shelf that runs the length of the ladies’ bathroom at Washington High. No one can see me, or my delicate feet in ballet slippers, or the blood that is dried on the side of my temple.
When Jessica is done examining her falsely angelic skin, she pulls down the back of her skirt, grabs her name brand bag, and leaves the bathroom. No one stands in front of the four square mirrors that are rusting on the edges. No water runs in any of the four sinks. All eight bathroom stalls are empty.
I am alone.
Not that I’m ever in the company of anyone, really. After I was killed here, in the third floor, ladies bathroom at Washington High, I can’t leave. I am free to roam the halls of the school, watch lessons, observe the social behavior of teenagers; however, any attempt to leave this God forsaken building have all failed.
And I have been trying, for thirty years.
It really wouldn’t be that bad, if something would happen. No matter what decade it is, no matter what happens in the world, teenagers will always be stupid teenagers.
A buzzer rings from the speaker in the bathroom, passing time. Now the fun really begins. All the students have seven minutes to move from third period to fourth period. For some, it’s a frantic sprint from one end of the building to another. For others, it’s a leisurely stroll that includes a trip to the bathroom; because, they either don’t care enough to arrive on time, or they are lucky and scheduled their classes in rooms that are close together.
The latter begin to fill up my bathroom.
Amanda McGregor, Zoey D, no one has ever said her full last name, and Chelsea Green are the first to surround the full body mirror across the room. A quiet girl whose name I’ve never heard be said goes straight to a stall. Two girls, both named Katie, enter and stand in front of the sinks.
“I hate this shirt,” Amanda states.
“But you look great in blue,” Zoey insists.
“Jared hasn’t looked at me once all day in this shirt.”
“Fuck him,” Chelsea tells Amanda. The two Katies are obviously listening across the bathroom, but the other girls don’t notice.
“What’s your next class?” One Katie asks another in attempt to hide their eavesdropping.
“Exam next week?”
I roll my eyes. If only AP Chemistry was still a major worry of mine. The quiet girl who went straight for a stall comes out. Washes her hands. Leaves.
The other girls wait as long as they can before leaving and rushing off to class. The buzzer rings again and fourth period begins.
“It never changes.” I say aloud, my voice raising significantly though no one can hear me.
When I watch the students, I can see myself in all of them. I was all of them. My best friend, Julie, and I came into the bathroom to stare at ourselves in the mirror, we worried about what we wore, we talked about boys, little did we know how insignificant it all was. I’ve gained the wisdom of years without aging a day.
Funny to think I have learned so much by sitting in a bathroom. I tried sitting in on classes for a while, but high school education tops out just when things get interesting. I can only learn so much, and I’ll never need to use it. For once, something I was right about as a teenager. Well, am I still a teenager? I should be forty, sometimes I feel forty.
I am sometimes disappointed that all the stereotypes about ghosts turned out to be wrong. I can’t whisper in someone’s ear to make them jump. I can’t pick up any physical objects. I go through everything. There is no haunting to be had.
I leap from the counter and land, without feeling, onto the pink tile ground. My reflection is faint and blurred but visible to me in the mirror. The red color of my hair is dull, but it is still there. My eyes look more gray than blue. The blood looks more brown than scarlet. Everything is toned down when you’re dead. Even the voices of everyone else are muted, it’s like they’re whispering, so I have to strain my ears to hear them speak.
My feet cross over one another till I’m dancing in the bathroom to a song that plays in my head. “Dear Prudence” by The Beatles has always been my favorite. I don’t get to hear much new music. Who listens to music out loud in the bathroom? No one, so I still have outdated music tastes. I do know about every bit of useless gossip in this school though, because everyone loves to talk in the bathroom.
The door opens unexpectedly and I stumble, as if whoever enters will be able to see me dancing in the bathroom and judge me. For all the wisdom I’ve gained, some worries don’t disappear the way I do. Maybe I’m not forty afterall.
I hop back on the shelf in time to see two girls, one is Jenna Carlton, come into the bathroom. I’ve never seen the brunette before. She’s probably a Sophomore. Jenna is a Sophomore, at least.
“Don’t worry about our science teacher,” Jenna says to the brunette. “No one likes him.”
“Thank you,” the girl says. “I just can’t handle public speaking. Going to the bathroom is normally my way to escape those situations.” She explains.
“I hate public speaking too.”
“Does he have students do that a lot?”
“Not too often,” Jenna answers. “So, tell me about yourself. We have a few minutes to kill.” She laughs a little. The girl hesitates for a second, she leans against the far wall.
I can’t shake the fact that there is something familiar about this girl. I push myself past my normal limits and step closer to her. She has green eyes and freckles. She’s short, shorter than me at least. I like her jeans. Her dark hair is tucked behind her ears.
“My parents and I just moved here from Baltimore. I have two dogs. I like horror movies. I listen to mostly pop music.” The girl continues to list off a set of icebreaker style facts. I’ve heard all these interests before.
Jenna asks her about a movie that came out last year, so I’ve never seen it. I begin to lose interest as they continue to discuss current music and celebrities. I step back from them, to the wall again. I get lost in my thoughts of boredom. What should I have done differently on my last English paper? Not that the grade matters, I never used it to apply to the University of Minnesota like I planned. I could probably go scream in the boys locker room, in the middle of their changing for gym class and nothing would happen. That reminds me, there is a Senior boy who’s really cute. I wonder if he’s in gym class right now?
My attention perks up when I hear a familiar name.
“-yeah she went to school here.” the new girl says. I think she said Julie.
“Wow, do you have any of the same teachers that she did? Some really old guys who are close to retiring?” Jenna laughs.
“No,” The girl shakes her head. “Honestly she didn’t want me going to school here.”
“Protective mom stuff.”
Julie is this girl’s mom?
“Her best friend died here.” The girls says, lowering her voice just above a whisper. Jenna’s eyes widen. I have a Hitchcock moment. Ironic. All the world funnels to a single point around this girl. I can think of nothing else except for Julie and me, standing in this bathroom thirty years before. Now her daughter stands here.
We were Juniors. It was the spring semester, and our excitement about becoming Seniors was growing by the day. School mattered little when summer was in sight. Julie was flipping her dark hair over her shoulder. It had to look perfect for the boy she had just started going out with, Scott. I still had no boyfriend, and I was beyond jealous. I wanted a summer love like Sandy and John Travolta from Grease. It had just come out, so Julie and I watched it constantly.
“Scott didn’t kiss me when we said ‘hello’ this morning.” Julie said, “Why? Do you think it’s this shirt?” I scoffed.
“You look amazing in that shirt.” I told her, “Stupid boy.”
“What’s your next class?”
“Music Appreciation. Kill me.” I laughed, “when am I ever going to use this information?” I was not a music person. When you aren’t a music person, the school forces you into a music appreciation class instead of choir or band.
“At least you aren’t giving up your Thursday nights for a choir concert,” Julie rolled her eyes. She shook her hands dry of water and walked over to the paper dispenser on the wall. I hesitated, took one last look in the mirror before turning to follow her.
I guess I should have looked where I was going. I should have paid more attention.
When I took my first step, the smooth sole of my ballet flats skidded right over the puddle of water beneath the sinks. A gasp, or a scream I’m not really sure, came from my mouth just before my body was flung forward. My other foot tried desperately to make up for the right’s mistakes, but it was useless. I continued to fall, fast.
My right temple zoomed towards the edge of the marble sink. All I could see was the hard white edge that just kept coming closer. My breath stopped. My heartbeat skipped. I tensed. My temple crashed against the sink.
Crimson blood instantly mixed with the puddle of water I laid in. It took a moment for my spirit to leave my body. I know, because when I came to Julie was gone. My body wasn’t.
She had left, ran, and no one found me until the next passing period. It was already too late. I don’t blame her, I would have been scared and unsure if it had been Julie to die in front of me. But I never saw her again.
The rumors that floated between girls in the bathroom was that she stopped going to school, and then she transferred to Jefferson in the next town over. I always wanted to see her. I wanted to see if there was any regret in her eyes, or if she was still carrying that fear.
I try not to think about my death that often. Funny, since I’m dead, but thirty years of dwelling on dying would have given me worry lines by my eyes and my forehead. It isn’t a particularly cheery topic. Now, with Julie’s daughter standing before me, I can think of nothing else but that moment before my blood stained the sink.
They had to replace most of the tile in the bathroom. The bathroom was closed in general for weeks after my death. No one wanted to go inside, like it was cursed or haunted. That isn’t completely wrong either, I’m here after all. And I couldn’t bring myself to leave for the first few days after I died. An invisible chain locked me to the stained tile. Even my eyes couldn’t look away. That was my blood. Mine. That was my body that the coroner had zipped into a black bag while curious students craned their necks to see out the tiny windows they carve into classroom doors.
“Wait,” Jenna holds up a hand, “I’ve heard of this story before. No one likes to talk about it, but I’ve heard it.”
“Yeah, it’s true. My mom doesn’t like to talk about it much either, but there’s a picture of the two of them in our house. It’s one of those super old, kind of cool polaroids. Mom had it framed a long time ago.” the girl keeps talking, telling Jenna the small details about my death that she has overheard or learned over the years.
She looks so much like Julie; she has the same dark hair. She moves her hands in the same way when she misspeaks. Two fingers and a thumb bent, two fingers mostly straight, shaken back and forth. Except, this girl’s nails aren’t painted the way Julie’s nails always were.
I step towards her again, somehow nervous that she would be able to tell I was there. As if some connection stronger than death had existed between Julie and I that would carry on to her daughter. I haven’t seen Julie since the day I died, thirty years without my best friend. She probably has a new best friend, she probably doesn’t think of me that often.
“You can probably find more details than I know in the paper archives.” The girl admits, “Vanessa….something. I’m horrible with names.” I’m so surprised to hear my own name that I don’t even care she can’t remember the second half. No one has said my name. I haven’t heard my own name in thirty years. I haven’t said it myself.
“Vanessa?” Jenna asks, “Your mom named you after her?”
“I know. Kind of strange to be named after my mom’s dead high school friend, but it’s sweet too.”
Now I’m beyond surprise. I’m shocked. If I could cry, I would. Instead, soundless tremors rake through my body. Vanessa, the new Vanessa, shrugs. Jenna says something about needing to get back to class, and the two of them leave unceremoniously.
The bell rings a few minutes later, and I haven’t moved from the middle of the bathroom.
A few girls in a hurry rush through me. They have no idea. Jessica Wildman comes back in and checks herself in the mirror again. A senior comes in on the phone. She doesn’t look in the mirror, doesn’t use the bathroom, just talks.
Everyone leaves the bathroom with time to spare before the bell this period. I think I’ll be alone again, but the door opens.
Vanessa walks in, by herself.
I watch her as she paces the bathroom with her phone in her hand, she hasn’t looked up. After a few more taps of her thumb, on a piece of technology I’ll never understand or use. It starts ringing, she’s making a phone call.
“Hi mom,” Vanessa says. She jumps a little when her voice echoes through the empty ladies’ room. I jump closer to her, closer than I’ve ever stood to a living human after my death.
“Vanessa!” Julie says on the other end. I can’t breath. That’s how she used to say my name. The mother and daughter continue talking. It’s hard enough to hear Vanessa’s voice through the fog of death, let alone Julie’s voice that is coming through the phone.
I’m happy just to listen to the intonation, the sound. It’s enough. Vanessa says goodbye to her mother and hangs up the phone. She looks at herself in front of the mirror.
She runs a hand through her dark hair and flips it over her shoulder. I’ve fallen back against my shelf again. Cautiously, I take two steps forward so that I’m standing at the sink next to her. It feels like standing next to Julie again, like normal. I look in the mirror.
Straight, red hair, still in the same style, length, and place it laid on the morning of May 3rd 1978. Blue eyes that look gray staring at me. A purple shirt, now stained maroon, that is too tight in my shoulders. Blood stain, on my temple, that I can’t wipe off or clean away. I try to primp myself in the mirror the way the new Vanessa does, the way every girl does who comes in here.
When Vanessa opens the bathroom door to the hall, to go back to class, I walk out with her.