Jen always closed the closet door in her bedroom because Tina lived at the back of the closet. Well, I say lived—Tina was a ghost. Jen kept the closet door closed not because she was afraid of Tina, but rather because Tina liked her privacy.

Jen knew the feeling. When Jen went to the bathroom, she had to effectively make a blockade in front of the door to prevent her children from bursting in. Her five year old son was forever rifling through her purse, that space that women have always held sacred as all their own, that small pocket of theirs, theirs. Her two year old son liked to climb right up inside her shirt to snuggle. Sometimes she loved that, but sometimes she didn’t. He didn’t ask. Two year olds never ask. Even her husband Chris kept pestering her to stop her own credit card and start a new one jointly, in the name of “financial organization” as he put it. Hers was a lovely silver Visa card, and at any time she could check how much she’d spent and on what, and Chris couldn’t. Her username and password were not written down anywhere, they stayed safely locked away in her own brain. She knew their game, all their game. They were door-openers and purse-riflers and peeping toms of her own goddamn private self.

So Jen respected Tina’s space. Tina came out when she wanted to come out, and Jen didn’t mind when she did. Tina used to roam freely in the house, but had receded more and more, finally boxing herself into the bedroom closet and only occasionally just a bit beyond.

Jen thought Chris might notice Tina. She thought he might perceive the odd coldness in that closet, the faint rustling sound of Tina’s skirts as she cowered in a corner behind the coats and dresses. Jen swore she had never met anyone so blithely unobservant in her life as Chris. What must it be like, how simple, how easy it must be, to never notice all the little threads woven all around us, the weavings that make up the world? Chris strode into the closet, jerked a shirt off a hanger, slipped it on, and absently buttoned it up, all the while not noticing the pale, luminous gaze of Tina burning quietly behind him, her knees drawn up just under her chin and her bright eyes peeking out just over her stockinged knees, waiting patiently for him to leave. Someday Jen wanted to give Chris a scare, and say “who’s that behind you?” and just imagine how he would jump when he saw those eyes!

When Tina did come out of the closet, that was a good time for Jen to tidy and cull and organize without disturbing Tina (does this dress bring me joy? Jen would ask herself; do I really need to keep these old college notebooks?). Tina liked things neat, and so did Jen.  

One day, Jen opened the closet to find that it had already been tidied and organized. Tina’s thin, spidery hand had even made labels for the plastic boxes she’d used to group together the family’s things. “Halloween” one box said, “Cal State Stuff” said another, “Photos,” “Kid Art.”

“See? That’s better, isn’t it?” Tina asked meekly in her cold, watery ghost voice.

“Why didn’t you do it earlier?” Jen asked.

Tina replied that she didn’t know whether Jen would have felt that she, Tina, an outsider to the family, was overstepping; far be it from her to assume such an intimate, intricate duty as that of organizing and cleaning a closet. That’s Tina for you—considerate, Jen thought. Tina just gets it.

Chris didn’t notice the eccentric handwriting on the labels, the writing clearly not Jen’s. He didn’t notice the reorganization, and come Halloween, he just scanned the neatly arranged boxes, opened the appropriately labeled box, got the costume out that he wanted, and put the lid back on. Put it back on crookedly, imperfectly, but Tina fixed it, pushed down each corner properly so it fit nice and snug and symmetrical. Tina and Jen started playing a game to see just what Chris wouldn’t notice. Tina re-arranged all his shirts, and Jen pulled out all his pockets. If he did notice, he never said a word. Tina would giggle, a far away rattling sound like a nearby echo, as she went through his top drawer, mis-matching each of his socks. “Oh Tina, you’re so bad,” Jen laughed with her.

And sometimes, when it was all too much for Jen, when the kids wouldn’t leave her alone, or when Chris was asking with so much detail about everything she had done that day, or when even the cat pestered her to let him sit on her lap, well then, sometimes, Jen would snuggle her way into the corner of the closet next to Tina in that little pocket of privacy next to the “Halloween” box and behind the coats and dresses, and pull her knees up to her chin. There they sat, four eyes peering out over four knees. They didn’t have to talk. Tina was good at being quiet, and so was Jen. We girls have to stick together, Jen thought, and Tina thought it, too.


Clare Rolens is an English Professor at Palomar College in San Marcos, CA, and one of the faculty advisors for Bravura, Palomar’s literary journal. Her writing has appeared in Callaloo, Arizona Quarterly, and American Book Review, among others. Born in California and a resident of sunny San Diego, she suffers from fernweh, the opposite of homesickness.