Ghost Story

By on Aug 19, 2013 in Fiction

Ghostly girl in a high school hallway

That same year when I was a junior in Mrs. Watson’s eleventh grade American literature class, Mr. Lenore, the sixth period senior government teacher at Carlton P. Pierce Senior High School, got shy Karly Tan pregnant, and the news was all over our school in two weeks, even though she was to graduate from that school with honors in five months. Even though Karly wouldn’t lift her eyes to say boo, talked through a curtain of long, black hair, folks said girls like that get what they deserve, messing around with old men — twenty-five years older than she and married. Didn’t she know when he only took her to the motel on Tuesday evenings? What did she expect, poetry and flowers? Heard tell Karly left that school before graduation, heard tell she had an abortion at seventeen in a clinic in Greensboro, North Carolina, with her best friend, who didn’t know the way, driving her in a yellow Pinto and her mother kicking her out ’cause her father said. Mr. Lenore never admitted anything, just got called into the principal and asked about it, slapped on the back — no, the wrist, that’s it. New girl, next year’s fool, but this one closer to graduation. Bitter, we girls guessed Karly had a right. 

Karly Tan’s mother begged her father and he relented, and her mother asked if Karly could come to our school and stay with an aunt who didn’t speak much English, and even though second semester had started, someone broke all the rules and was going to let her. The day she came to tour the school, kids stopped in the hall to stare. Boys looked at her straight, no shyness; white girls looked at her and turned away; the poor black girls kept their eyes open and their mouths quiet, knowing, because of this, she both did and didn’t belong with them. Poor black girls; I was one of them.

I was peeping out of Mr. Grasslin’s history class but didn’t get to see her. At lunch she sat beside herself, looking like a ghost in flames. One white girl walking by with friends, eating a peanut butter sandwich, said in a loud whisper, “Look, she’s kinda pretty. Wonder why she did it?” 

Alex Lutin, the only white eleventh grade blue-gray-eyed basketball player, who rode the bench a lot, asked Karly Tan out loud, in the middle of the central hallway, to the spring dance and got mad when she said no. He looked at her and said, “You telling me no?” His you may as well have been bitch the way he said it, may as well have said but you gotta because you done already let that teacher, but Karly just nodded that she was saying no and moved on through the crowd down the hall. You got the feeling that she knew to say no to everything now, like hatred for everything burned in her, just burned like lichen in gasoline. Heard tell, in class, she wouldn’t even pass a piece of paper from one student to the next. They had to take her out of all her male teachers’ classes because she wouldn’t speak to them — even to answer questions that she knew, wouldn’t raise her head to their voice. 

Two months before graduation that year and most people at our school left Karly Tan alone, except Alex Lutin. He couldn’t seem to stop himself from talking about her or trying to be near her. She never wavered in her refusal to accept anything from him. 

Alex Lutin cornered Karly Tan in the senior lounge corridor in the basement and felt her up while two of his friends watched and watched out for any teacher or administrator. Karly Tan didn’t say a word, just looked into his eyes; heard tell from Jim Morales, who was there, that she seemed dead, bored, and gone, just gone. So Alex got scared, said, leaning his lips into her neck to avoid her eyes, “Baby, baby, come on, baby,” and stopped. Jim Morales and Mike Frosty got scared too and couldn’t stop saying that they didn’t do nothing, that she let Alex, but that he didn’t do nothing either. Word got around. Karly didn’t come back to the school the next day or the next or the next, went on homebound. Alex Lutin, almost frantic in his innocence, kept talking in the principal’s office, damning himself.  

I played in the band, in the June heat, that graduation, and Karly Tan didn’t walk across the stage, but her name was on the program, some long name that we wouldn’t have known belonged to her except that it ended in Tan and she was the only Tan at our school. Alex Lutin, who played saxophone beside me, never missed a note but tripped up the steps looking for her and almost fell as all the graduates marched out. 

Both he and we knew she was never coming back to our school, or to our town, even if, every few years, some fool or prankster would send her an invite to the school reunion. She became a ghost, a warning from old wives to young girls, a sad banner that managed to still wave. We didn’t think she would be unsuccessful but knew she’d never come back, couldn’t. And people would talk about her, her valiant absence. 

Heard tell Mr. Lenore is retiring this year, prostate cancer, bad. I hope Karly Tan comes to his funeral like he left her to hers. But she won’t. Karly Tan won’t any more show up at that funeral than she will show up to anywhere else, to any other man either. Bitter, I guess she has a right.

I always wanted to ask her what she never told: if the pain of loving Mr. Lenore was worth the lack of loneliness, if only for a while, if anything about love ever works out. I think about what the old ones say. Folks say girls like us get what we deserve, messing around with old men. Don’t we know? 

September comes I’ll be a senior. I think about English teacher Mr. Sorensen — white, older, how rumor ’round is that he likes the young dark black girls, blondes too, but really likes the black girls, making out in the back of cars, stolen evenings at his house, those dinners to nice places we can’t afford.

Because I’m lonely too, invisible as Scotch tape lifted up and set down, some species the boys round here can’t decide about, as if my affections won’t grow under rock and duck the light.

I’ve thought about Mr. Sorensen. He ask me, I’ma go, even though I know I may end up like Karly Tan. Maybe it won’t be like that. Maybe like Karly Tan, no matter what, I’ll get out of Samson, Virginia. All I got to do is do like she did: let go of my belief in poetry and flowers, be here and gone, like a ghost that only rises.


Telisha Moore Leigg teaches English and Japanese. She has a MFA from Warren Wilson College and has been published in the anthology Long Story Short: Flash Fiction by Sixty-Five Of North Carolina’s Finest Writers and in Stickman Review. She received honorable mention in Glimmer Train’s July 2012 Very Short Fiction contest, and writes flash fiction stories for Evince Magazine. Currently, she is working on a collection of interconnected short stories set in the South that deal with death, loss, secrets, and spirituality.