"Can I have some ice cream, Mom?" I ask. Mom's gaze flicks at my waist and back to my eyes. "Sure, if you want to," she says. "But think of your weight" rings in my ears ... something she had said yesterday.
And now I don't feel like having ice cream.
I pass the ice cream aisle without a second glance. Let her ghost enjoy it fully. Bon appetit, Mom's ghost.
The bread is like nothing I've seen. Salami, ham — the kind you don't find in regular stores. At home we only ever put a single layer of cold cuts on our bread, and I've never seen anything like this. The other guests are piling their sandwiches as high as they can open their mouths, but I hesitate. I meet my mother's eyes and she whispers, "don't get used to this."
I put two layers on my sandwich: one transparent slice of ham and one of wine-colored salami.
I make my sandwich to take to work with me, with just a few slices of ham, one of low calorie cheese, and a pickle. You can have the rest, Mom's ghost.
There's an open box of chocolate on the table as I come home from school.
"Hi Mom!" I say. "What's the occasion?"
"Your report card is due, isn't it?"
"Yes," I say, dreading what is to follow.
"Do you have it?"
"Yes." I reach for it to show Mom.
"I don't need to see it. Just tell me if you think you earned this chocolate."
There is a B in my report. "I don't know," I whisper. It's mostly A's, but I see the A's like the cloth and the B like that hole in my pants I ripped in first grade, that Mom patched, that other kids teased me about all semester.
"At least you're honest about it."
The chocolate goes back untouched.
My wife leans in against my back.
"What have I done to earn --"
She shakes her head. "You looked like you needed a hug."
I twist in her embrace and put my arms around her.
Mom's ghost will have to go hungry for now.
Anatoly Belilovsky was born in a city that went through six or seven owners in the last century, all of whom used it to do a lot more than drive to church on Sundays; he is old enough to remember tanks rolling through it on their way to Czechoslovakia in 1968. After being traded to the US for a shipload of grain and a defector to be named later he learned English from Star Trek reruns and went on to become a pediatrician in an area of New York where English is only the fourth most commonly used language. He has neither cats nor dogs, but was admitted into SFWA in spite of this deficiency, having published original and translated stories in NATURE, F&SF, Daily SF, Kasma, UFO, Stupefying Stories, Cast of Wonders, and other markets. He blogs about writing at loldoc.net.