Jane looks out the window. “It would be nice to have a father, ” she says.
It starts to rain. Great drops of water fall on the flowers. The flowers are yellow, red, and green. They’re big and bright. They bow as each drop lands, then flick it off. Then they tremble in place.
Jane goes to Martin’s room. She knocks. She waits. She knocks. She waits. Then Martin touches her on the shoulder from behind. Jane jumps. “Gack!”
“I was out,” Martin says. “Doing stuff.”
He opens his door. He lets Jane in. “What is it?” he asks.
“I’d like a father,” she says.
Martin makes a face. “They track mud all over the place,” he says. “And they eat a lot.”
Jane pokes him.
Martin rolls his eyes. “Fine. On your head be it.” He thinks. Then he assembles ingredients. There’s a ceramic tooth and a needle and some hair and a couple of feathers and a hook and a little plush heart. He puts them in a blender and whirls them on high for a few minutes. He pours the results into a cup. Outside, the rain stops. The world starts to dry. “Drink,” Martin says.
Jane pulls herself up into a chair. “What is it?” she says, holding her hands out for the cup.
“It’s the property of having a father.”
“Oh!” Jane drinks it down. “So I have one now?”
“Or will I have to look under things? Like, under the bed and under the dresser and out at the bus stop and under the rug and in the walls?”
Jane hops down from the chair.
Martin shrugs again. “He’s probably in the living room.”
Jane frowns. Then she grins. “Okay!”
Jane runs off to the living room. There’s a shape like a man there. It’s not very distinct.
“Hi, Dad!” she says. She hugs him. Her arms pass through him. It’s like heavy air.
“Jane,” he says. He sounds distracted.
“You’re a ghost! That’s very spooky of you.”
“You can’t have a father yet,” he says. “First you have to do things.”
He points at the wall. There’s a list posted. Jane walks over to it and reads it. Then she beams. “Martin thinks of everything!”
Jane takes her father’s hand. It doesn’t have surface tension, but she can pretend. She leads him out to the hopscotch court. She begins to hop.
“I had a father before,” she says, and hops.
“He was a manticore. He stood taller than a house. He had three different stingers. Three!”
Jane’s father looks over his shoulder at his coattails. “Are you sure?”
“Not really,” Jane admits. She hops some more. “He might have been some kind of giant gibbering thing. With twelve spindly arms. Like Mom had! Or even longer. He could use them to scuttle around with. He might spin a giant web out of human tendons. That would be sickening, but also kind of conceptually interesting.”
Jane finishes with the hopscotch. She goes and sits on a bench. Sitting is the next important task.
“I don’t have twelve spindly arms,” Jane’s father observes.
“Well, yah,” Jane says. “You’re the new one.”
“You’re not fibbing, are you?”
“It’s not a fib,” Jane says. “It’s just that it’s always so hard to say. He could have been all over hooks and feathers. Like a gryphon, except sharp and pointy. And he could have screamed.”
Jane screams like a bird. Her father startles.
“Like that! As he swooped down to hug me with hooks. Then my skin would just tear off.”
The ghost tilts his head to one side. “Do you have any idea at all what he was actually like?”
Jane sighs. “I remember teeth,” she says. “I was told there were teeth. So I remember them.”
“Who told you that?”
Jane grins. “Monsters. But I figure they would know.” She gets up and begins to spin. Spinning is the third thing on her list!
“He was probably just a guy,” the ghost comments. “You know. A person. No teeth, no spindly legs, no hooks, no stingers.”
Jane gets a little dizzy. She sits down again. She thinks for a long time. “Yeah,” she says. “He probably was.”
Jane bites her lip. “Thanks.”
After a while, Jane looks over, but the ghost is gone.