edited by David Steffen
Of course a dybbuk is flat. Flat as a blini. All the easier for that damn ghost to slip under your collar.
Of course a dybbuk is colorless. That’s why, when you say you’ve got a dybbuk, most people say, no you don’t. Go see Dr. Weiner. Spend a few days in Florida.
And of course a dybbuk can stretch like a goddamn balloon animal. So it can stick. Sometimes to fridges. More often to living people, to their familiar messes and warm smells, but not always. Some folks insist that dybbuks full-on possess people, make them fly around, screeching, like giant fruit bats dressed in their funerary finest. Those people are yutzes.
So. We come to the first day of Louie’s shiva. All the expected mourners show up. Larry. Bekah. And look at this: Some kid. Marla. Bekah assumes she’s Larry’s torah student. Larry assumes she’s Bekah’s second cousin once removed. But let’s be honest: nobody cares. Nobody asks. After an hour or so of being thus ignored, Marla drifts into the kitchen and makes herself useful scrubbing dishes.
And that’s when Louie’s widow, Dory, spots a dybbuk. Happens just as she’s adjusting a sheet hanging over a dining-room mirror. There it is, inching along the wall toward the sideboard. Well, if you’re raised right, you don’t care whether that ghost is Louie’s or not. You stab it with a pickle fork and throw it out the window before it can stick to a full-on person, and that’s what Dory does.
Marla stares out the window, watching the dybbuk coast like a frisbee into a riot of neglected crabgrass.
“Good for him,” Marla says. “He loved green things.”
She’s just put her egg salad on the sideboard. It’s festooned with fresh dill and parsley and chives from her kitchen garden, and everyone hates it. Not because they’ve tried it, but because Dory asked what was in it, and who doesn’t bother to put Miracle Whip in an egg salad?
Marla goes back into the kitchen.
We come to the second day of the shiva. Larry comes out of the bathroom. It’s the one — and this is important — decorated in tans and golds. Larry announces that somebody’s kid needs to be sent to his room, because one of Bekah’s latkes is stuck to the bathroom wall next to the towels. The only reason Larry even spotted it is because he almost touched it. Could’ve gotten his hands all greasy.
Bekah hears this and says, “I didn’t bring any latkes.”
The whole shiva races to the bathroom. Bekah has the pickle fork this time.
The dybbuk goes sailing out the bathroom window, landing on a dirt smear that once featured a fennel plant taller than your teenager.
Marla says, “He did love that garden.”
Dory rolls her eyes.
“He was on oxygen,” she says. “Bedridden. Did you even know him?”
“Oh yes. We met on Reddit. In a group about container gardening.”
The whole room looks at Marla like she just landed in a pod.
Later, of course, they go home for the night. All of them except Dory, who is stuck living there, with her stinking, choking grief, and her utter certainty about everything. There’s also Marla, who, if we’re being honest, doesn’t have much else to do.
Marla goes outside. She finds the dirt smear. Now she has the pickle fork.
She brings the dybbuk inside. Dory’s eyes are swollen like golf balls and her nose looks like a sour cherry, but she manages to say, “He couldn’t grow anything anymore. The chives. The fennel. In the end. Couldn’t eat much of anything either.”
“I know,” Marla says.
Marla puts the dybbuk on the counter and opens the refrigerator. No one has touched her egg salad, but the constellation of herbs still shines up from under the plastic wrap, green and good.
She removes the salad from the fridge, peels the plastic wrap from the top of the bowl, balls it up, throws it away. Marla lays a hand on the dybbuk, feels its cool, shivering skin.
She picks it up.
“Louie liked it with Miracle Whip,” Dory says.
Marla says nothing.
Gently, like the pizza guy down on the corner, she stretches the edges of the dybbuk. She lays it across the top of the salad bowl, sticky side down.
Then it sags in the middle, just a little, just enough to touch what’s beneath. There is no eating for Louie, not anymore, but there’s this, and I will not pretend to know whether any of it, in the end, did the poor bastard any good.
Dory can’t help it. She chuckles. Then goes into her room and pops two Ambien.
Marla rummages around in a corner and finds her tote bag. She lowers the bowl inside.
Tomorrow will be day three of the shiva. Marla will be gone this time.
And so, if Larry and Bekah bother to look, will be the egg salad.
© 2023 by Hammond Diehl
Author’s Note: I may have had a dream about a pancake with teeth, or a ghost that was shaped like a pancake. I think it was the latter, because I remember being stricken by how completely pathetic the thing looked, and thinking poor bastard. What if this is as good as it gets?
Hamm’s work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Kaleidotrope and more. Hamm lives in Los Angeles and writes under the protective blankie of a pseudonym.