The river has come into my house, again, misty rooms of water trickling from the ceiling. The swollen hand-painted wallpaper blisters in mold, courting shadow people as they dance across the water-damaged grand ballroom. Black and red mold grows a vibrant personality as shadow people boogie with me in the water. Together, we twirl, skip, and pirouette, disappearing into dark corners where water sloshes as I tango.
Don’t say, spirits. Don’t say, ghosts.
Crouching beside these broken windows, listen to whispers’ tainted waves, rumors about the girl walking down into the river. The whispers say she’s had a visitor. Shadows crouch with me, whispering into the windows, where is she?
Where has she gone? To her sister’s, the shadows answer. Why did she go? Everybody knows. When is she coming home? Maybe tomorrow with the man she met down the road?
Venture into woods. Crouch low to thread the river mist until her shadow love follows deep into songs of birds, camouflaged with sunlight dappling through leaves and branches. Maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll find a shadow love of your own. Meanwhile, don’t try to steal hers or mine.
Even in death, the shadow who loves me is living his best life. He died over a hundred and fifty years ago but has voted in every election ever since, rumored to be a straight-ticket Democrat, like other dead men casting ballots like shadows in America.
Find him in the mist where none of his family could discover his body. Maybe it’s cruel, the way I lead him through the valley. Even if he’s just an echo of what happened long ago, if we go far enough down the valley road, I’ll find the old plantation house, long abandoned, full of bats and roaches the size of starving cats escaping into the traveling carnival.
Lightning flashes, and the carnival shuts down the Ferris Wheel. Children leaping from slowing cages drop paper snow cones beneath painted horses. The gaudy merry-go-round grinds and halts as my shadow love whispers my lips taste of rainbows melting on asphalt.
Bridled horses, decorated in fake roses and spooked by thunder, are led by trainers to trailers near the carnival tents with battered canopy billowing.
Buckling wildly in livid wind while he whimpers, my shadow man puts on makeup to make himself into a clown as carnies keep the tents from sailing away into dark sky, yet the clown is older than my father and refuses to leave the tent where he hides with roaches the size of starving cats. Carnies laugh at him. He’s trying to disguise his tears in the rain and his shadow face in clown white.
Rain and tears wash greasepaint away as the clown becomes shadow, again, reminding me that even as a girl, I wanted to listen to music no one else seemed to hear. Why is music so beautiful when no one else hears it? Why do people run from shadows and laugh at clowns crying? All I want to do is find the music drifting low on South Carolina nights.
Always just out of reach, handing me the soggy powder puff, my shadow love whispers, “How do you make a clown face? How do you get clown makeup to stay on in the rain?”
I warm the clown white in my palms before dabbing it onto his shadow cheekbones, his shadow lips, and his shadow forehead until his shadow eyes pop under the clashing tent chains jangling as he whispers my name.