Kate had been huffing around the house since our dad died, and now she was convinced our dead dad was inhabiting a fly she found stuck buzzing between her bedroom blinds the morning of the funeral. Also, she had…
This story began twelve years before it was written. My childhood best friend Rachel and I, in one of our teenage flurries of silliness, came up with the idea for an absurdist play where a girl’s dad dies and his ghost haunts a knot in her hair that she vows she will never brush out. Rachel joked, “We could call it, ‘Bittersweet Entanglement.’” There was no way for us to know then that the following year, the night before our senior year of high school began, my own dad would die suddenly, tragically.
I returned to the idea more than a decade later, during the long pandemic summer, when I found myself writing prose for the first time since I’d begun a PhD in poetry two years before. I was churning out stories to beat back the dread of struggling to survive from one global or personal crisis to the next, putting shards of my fears and hopes behind the masks of other people’s faces and voices, and making them play out situations in their world that I couldn’t in my own. I’d also reconnected with Rachel during the pandemic, so I decided to use the rare bout of productivity to bring “Bittersweet Entanglement” to life, overwrought title and all, for her amusement. The first draft landed at about 11,000 words—the longest sustained piece of fiction I’d ever written—and unintentionally, but fittingly, I finished writing it days before the eleventh anniversary of my father’s death.
Originally, it included a character named Rachel (who didn’t resemble my friend except in name) and much of the story revolved around the narrator’s failed attempts to be “normal” and to ignore pressing reminders of her grief, with Rachel’s superficial teen concerns and dramas serving as a stark contrast. I workshopped an early draft of this story with a group of friends I’d formed a virtual workshop with, and one of my cohorts convinced me that the heart of the story was rooted in the relationship between the sisters, and their opposite reactions to processing their father’s death should be rewritten as the central tension. The final draft now begins and ends with images of Kate as the narrator sees her after the tragedy, and as she was before.
We meet our narrator in the aftermath, the slab of time when loss is a constant companion, coloring every interaction, the context of every day’s movements. I believe that in many ways this grief-era is what people spend their lives processing, trying to escape or reclaim—not the instant of the loss itself, but the long afterward that defines how you react in crisis, who you discover yourself to be; the ghosts that move in to claim parts of you, and how you choose to move forward, with or without them.
ERIN SLAUGHTER is editor/co-founder of The Hunger, and the author of two poetry collections: The Sorrow Festival (CLASH Books, 2022) and I Will Tell This Story to the Sun Until You Remember That You Are the Sun (New Rivers Press, 2019). Her writing has appeared in Black Warrior Review, PANK, Prairie Schooner, Split Lip Magazine, and elsewhere. Originally from North Texas, she is pursuing a PhD at Florida State University, where she serves as Nonfiction Editor for the Southeast Review and co-hosts the Jerome Stern Reading Series. You can find her online at erin-slaughter.com.