A noise wakes us at 2 a.m., and when we open the door to Zoi’s bedroom, rather than spotting the five-year-old tucked under blankets, Stefani and I are greeted by Zoi’s small, padded frame wrestling with her pink down jacket, for she must already be wearing three pairs of pants, six shirts, four sets of socks. A plum-colored magic eight ball sits on the floor. She surely knocked it off her bureau while hunting for clothes. Its bang on the hardwood is probably what roused us. This is the first time I have spent the night, and when Stefani informed Zoi of the sleepover after dessert, Zoi gave me the stink eye before she threw a pair of unused butter knives at the wall and stomped up to her room. It’s funny, since during dinner, Zoi told me the carbonara I prepared was the best spaghetti ever and asked for seconds. She even laughed when I pulled a face behind Stefani’s back. But presently, she freezes next to her stuffed backpack when we flick on her bedroom light. The scene looks ridiculous, the three of us standing there. I almost laugh until Zoi declares that she is taking all of her clothes and moving in with her father across town, and since I know that there is nothing I can say at this moment that will get me back in bed any sooner, I return the magic eight ball to its bureau perch, step into the dark hallway, and listen as Stefani patiently tells her daughter that nobody makes rational decisions in the middle of the night. I hear the rustle of fabric as she pulls layer after layer from the girl, much to Zoi’s frustration. Their voices rise, so I retreat to the living room downstairs and turn on the television. What they say above me I cannot decipher, but on the screen, I see that the network is airing 13 Ghosts, a black-and-white film I have not watched in probably 25 years. I am just in time for the early scene where the lawyer tells the married couple that they have inherited a new home, only that it is full of ghosts. When the couple try to chuckle off such a declaration, the lawyer turns serious. “They go with the house,” he says, stony-faced, before he leaves them alone to consider their future.
Benjamin Woodard's fiction has appeared in journals like Joyland, F(r)iction, Cutleaf, and SmokeLong Quarterly, as well as in the 2019 and 2021 editions of Best Microfiction. He is editor-in-chief at Atlas and Alice Literary Magazine and can be found at benjaminjwoodard.com.