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From Inside Hollow Walls

Melanie Whithaus


When we were young, my husband witnessed his friend die. It happened during the summer, right before the midwestern heat got too unbearably hot. I never knew this friend, except for that she loved pink and butterflies, as most seven-year-old girls do. I picture her holding a melted popsicle with sticky fingers and a cherry-red smile. I know she was a brunette with long curls over her thin shoulders, but I imagine her with bright blonde hair like a cherub. 

I heard about her death nearly 22 years ago. My family and I sat inside our home, just a few counties from where my now-husband and his family lived. The story was featured on the local news. That poor family, I’m sure my mother said while cutting tomatoes with a dull knife. My father might have shaken his head in disbelief as he turned to the next page of the newspaper.

I am spending the Fourth of July weekend with the girl’s family at a large pink house overlooking a lake. It’s close to 2 a.m., and I am lying on the wet dock, watching low, soft clouds move beneath the dark overcast. My husband and his brother drift in a canoe at the center of the lake. 

I ignore the mosquitos biting at my legs as I listen to the boys’ muffled laughter and bullfrogs’ song echo across the still water. I see fireflies moving in the woods, like ghosts dancing between the trees. Bats dive to break the glass surface surrounding the canoe, and I begin to think they are butterflies—messengers for the dead—paying the brothers a visit. I watch them fly toward the pink house and swarm outside the girl’s bedroom window. 

I never met the girl, but I can feel her ghost is near. She is restless, pushing on the glass, hoping it will break. I want to help her—rewrite her story with the fairy-tale ending a young life deserves, so she can climb back into her bed and finally sleep. But she doesn’t need me. She’ll break open her window, and thousands of butterflies will flood the house and spill inside its old wooden bones.

Everything is quiet. The brothers and I sit in silence, and even the clouds hold their breath. We all wait for more lights in the woods, listening for a loud crack. She’s here, up at the house. If you put your ear to the pink plaster, listen for the whistling inside the hollow frame like a seashell, you will hear her story. 

Thousands of wings beat inside the walls like a heartbeat. She’s alive.


Melanie Whithaus is a fiction writer based in St. Louis, Missouri. She has served as assistant editor for the Bodies of Words project by December Press and web editor for the WomenArtsQuarterly Journal. Whithaus’s work appears widely in journals such as The Quarter(ly) Journal, Palaver Journal, and Umbrella Factory Magazine.


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