The Living Ghost

Submitted into Contest #98 in response to: Set your story on (or in) a winding river.... view prompt


Fiction Drama Sad

It was Talisa's turn to row the boat. Ryan put his oar aside and stretched his arms out. "This is tough work. Would have been better if we just went for the movie." he said, yawning.

   The boat stopped. His sister threw her oar down on the boat. "Like the past five times we've gone on a trip together?" Talisa angrily asked, "What is it with you and movies, anyways? Some way of torturing me, I guess."

  He had not counted on her remembering their past five fights today, but here they were. This made things a bit easier. Every month, his sister returned home for a weekend from her college, and the two of them went out. 

  The past five months, Ryan had taken the liberty of booking tickets to shows he had wanted to watch, without asking her. But not this time. This time, Talisa was given a choice, and she had chosen to go boat riding.

  "Not my fault that the past five times you came, a good movie was playing. You might not notice it, but the ones you saw were works of art!" Ryan said, and put the oar back in her hand. "Row, please."

  Puffing angrily, she accepted it and they started moving again. Ryan did not consider himself interesting enough for her. That was the truth. He tried to spend as less time talking to her to make sure that his own character did not imprint itself on his sister. And making her angry was the easiest way of ensuring that.

  They were halfway through the ride now. It was a Saturday morning on a rainy day, so not a lot of people had come to the river. If they had come on a summer evening instead, their little exchange would have invited about fifty pairs of eyes.

  The surrounding mountains were much greener today. The damp environment, with the grey sky and light drizzle would have made for a cosy boat ride if not for Ryan. It was a good thing they had sneaked in their grilled chicken sandwiches with them. They provided for a distraction from the argument.

  Ryan opened one up and took a bite. "Pass one, will you?" Talisa asked, and halted for a while. Ryan gave her one and she put it in her mouth, then starting rowing again. A second later, the bread had disappeared down her throat.

  "You could stop and eat. All the sauce fell down!" Ryan said, and took another bite of his own.

  "I like it like this." Talisa snapped, "And don't you dare talk about eating habits. I was there when you were guilt eating your way out of college. Saw all the food manners I had to right then."

  Ryan did not reply. That was a time which he didn't like to remember. After failing college, he had stopped studying. Now, he lived alone in his old family home, with a small farm. And even that was not something he could do. There was a farmer who worked for them, and was paid extremely generously. That farmer was also the person who bought food for Ryan from his home.

  In the entire day, the 21-year-old worked retail in a nearby supermarket to make ends meet. The money for the farmer was paid from the profit which came in from the crops. It was a 90/10 split, with the farmer getting the majority. College fees for Talisa was already arranged by their now dead parents, who had saved just enough for her to finish college and get a degree in Life Sciences. She wanted to become a Marine Biologist.

  "And you're gonna stay silent again." Talisa said. The boat was moving faster now, and he had not even noticed. "The least you could do is accept it and answer. Every time I bring it up, you say nothing until I change the topic."

  The trick was not going to work today, now that she had brought it up. Ryan still kept quiet. There was no reason for her to know more about that stuff.

  "Elena talks about her father," Talisa started, "and how he was the worst. He used to hit her when she was in elementary. He was not even drunk. He just liked the violence. He relished it, laughed while doing the deed. A month before she joined, he was put in an asylum. And somehow, the only person my friends hate more than that guy is you. Elena agrees too."

  Not something he needed to know. He was not sure why she had said that in the first place. He did not want to hate himself even more. But he was still happy for her. At least she was with people who knew what was right for her.

  "And nobody hates that more than me." Talisa continued, "What do you think, I like it when they talk smack about you? I feel little in front of them. It feels like they are mocking me. Bragging how they will always have something I won't."

  Ryan managed to look up at her face. While he himself was expressionless, she was crying. Both of their faces were wet from the slow rain, but two streaks of liquid were definitely coming from the corner of her eyes. She bit her lip. And then it was all silent for a second.

  The raindrops got a bit more frequent. There was still about fifteen minutes left for them to reach the finishing cabin at the end. And the rain was not good news. "Pass the bucket." Ryan told her.

  Talisa shook her head, "No. I'll do it. You row, I'm tired."

  "And repeatedly throwing heavy buckets of water will be less tiring than waving your hands left and right? No thank you, pass the bucket." Ryan said, his voice a bit more authoritarian. 

  Talisa handed over the bucket to him and he got ready to throw the water into the river. The rain grew faster and louder, until it started filling the boat at a rapid pace.

  Ryan put one of his legs on the edge of the boat and dragged the bucket along the bottom. And as the bucket filled up, he threw the water down the river. However, he noticed the boat was slower now. Even slower than normal. Talisa must be tired.

  "Take rest, but row faster after that. The water will fill up slower." Ryan said. Talisa did not respond. She was staring straight. 

  "Why?" Talisa asked. Ryan stopped for a second, but then decided to continue after seeing the boat filling up faster. "Why now? For seven months, I have come back for two days each and you have ignored me like the plague. I don't exist for you. That's why they hate you."

  She continued, "Even after hurting her every day, Elena's father still gave her lunch money in the morning." The boat stopped. "At least he acknowledged her. His daughter was real. You don't even try with me."

  The water was filling up faster than Ryan could throw it out now. He turned towards her and shouted over the top of the loud rain, "Move. We can talk afterwards. If you don't do that, we're both gonna be at the bottom of this place."

  "That's preferable over being treated like a ghost." Talisa said, "Becoming one."

  No. It wasn't. Even if she could, Ryan could not. He could not accept her dying. It was not a happy thing. He threw another bucket of water and sat down on his knees, "I cannot see you become me. And I cannot have you taking inspiration from me. You're gonna be better in every way, that is what mom and dad would have wanted. Okay? Now row, or that ain't happening."

  Talisa snuffled. It took a second for Ryan to realize he was crying too. The boat started moving. Slower at first, but gradually picking up speed. The water was soon thrown out enough for him to rest a bit.

Twenty minutes later, they were sitting down in the finishing cabin and having coffee.

  Their clothes were being dried by the staff, and they were wearing cotton shirts and jeans bought from the ride's souvenir shop. The company had decided to cancel their payment for putting them in danger like that. 'It was our fault for letting you go despite knowing the weather', were the exact words.

  They had just sat down and Talisa's face was dry and clean now. "It does not work like that, you know." Talisa said, "What you're doing is still wrong."

  "Talking to me is just going to give you the wrong ideas. If you want to listen to me, than try not coming from next month. You can have much better times with your friends." Ryan smiled and replied, "They seem like nice people."

  Talisa chuckled. "I could be a painter and my best friend could be Bob Ross, but Bob Ross isn't you. I don't care how nice someone is. For six years you have taken care of me, and I've seen you do it. There is no one nicer than that for me."

  "There are better influences." Ryan replied. "Just because I was nice does not mean I am nice. It also does not mean I am right. Nice does not mean right. You should not be learning from me."

  Talisa continued to smile, "Obviously. Nice does not mean right. Says the person who told me how nice my friends were a minute ago. I don't want right. I want people I like. I want my brother to tell me that I exist. Act like it, even if that's now what he thinks."

  Ryan did not reply.

  "If you can't teach me good things, then make me a thug. Make me the biggest failure of this planet and I would still be happy. If you can't do good, atleast do bad. Otherwise I am just another nobody." Talisa kept going, "If not the smartest, then the dumbest. Just not the average kid. Just don't make me invisible."

  Ryan signalled and the waiter took the half full coffee glasses away. "Time to go." Ryan said, and got up.

  They left the cafe, took their dry clothes and went to the bus stop. 

  "Today 3pm, right?" Ryan asked about the bus she was taking back to college. Talisa nodded.

  She did not look happy, but satisfied. She probably hated Ryan now. That was fine. They did not have enough time for Ryan to make it up to her anyways. But still...

  "Do you want to get a pizza?" Ryan asked. It was her favorite dish 

  Talisa smiled, "The shop which is two blocks away from the supermarket?"

  "Yeah. That one." Ryan answered.

  Before Talisa could confirm, there was a loud horn and the bus arrived. It would take them home. Talisa would pack her bags and leave.

  "I'm sorry." Ryan said, picking up the bag, "It's on the other side of town. We could catch the next bus and then come back home, but you will be late for your college bus and then, your classes. Let's go."

  The doors to the bus opened.

  "I could always take a day off." Talisa replied. "We haven't eaten pizza together in seven months."

  The door was still open, waiting for them to step in. 

  Ryan looked at the driver and smiled. "Sorry for wasting your time. Looks like we're taking the next one."

June 17, 2021 10:19

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