“Seven Ate Nine” – Fiction by Hannah Lackoff

Death With Girl In Her Lap – Kathe Kollwitz, circa 1934

The grand finale of our Winter 2017 issue is “Seven Ate Nine,” Hannah Lackoff‘s deeply moving story of growing up, letting go, and moving on.  

{ X }

DEAR NINE,
WHAT’S IT LIKE IN THE AFTERWORLD? Ha ha.  Mr. Banks is making me write this.  I don’t know why I bother.  It’s not like you’re going to read it.  Mr. Banks is though, probably, so Hi Mr. Banks!  This Assignment is Very Important and not at all Futile.
Love, Me

 

To: 9Bishop
From: 7Seals
i miss u

 

Dear Nine,
Apparently last week I did not follow the assignment.  Mr. Banks was Not Terribly Impressed (his words), and he knows I Can Do Better If I Try (ditto).

So today’s assignment is to write about the last time I saw you.  The last time I saw you you were bone gray ash.  We took you to the field behind the Marshalls and we let you go.  Cage said in some cultures people mixed the ashes into a soup and ate them.  Meggie said that was bullshit.  Your mom told everyone to shut the crap up and then we all laughed so hard, and it was really inappropriate and the man from your aunt’s church turned red and told us we were being disrespectful but we weren’t really, because I don’t think you would have minded.  Then the priest guy said a few words that were all churchy and serious and your aunt cried but only her.  The rest of us were cried out, I guess.

Better Mr. Banks?
-Seals

 

To: 9Bishop
From: 7Seals
u always said u would come back and haunt us
r u there?

 

Dear Nine,
Today I’m writing in cursive because it takes longer.  I don’t like this class but I like math class even less, so I’m going to draw this out for as long as I can.  Did you know there is such a thing as imaginary numbers?  I mean what the fuck?  Like regular numbers weren’t confusing enough already?  Look at the loops in my Ls.  Lllll.  I haven’t used cursive since like 4th grade.  Only when I have to sign my name on birthday checks.

School is boring without you.  It’s more than boring.  It’s horrible.  In Home Ec we’re not allowed to cook for a while because someone turned the oven on to “clean” instead of “bake” when we were making the apple cobbler and it just sort of melted and smoked all over the inside of the stove.  Now we have to take a written safety test before we are allowed to use any equipment.  They moved all the seats around so there’s no gap where you used to sit.  Same in English.
-Seals

 

To: 9Bishop
From: 7Seals
what was it like?

 

Dear Nine!
Mr. Banks said since I chose not to do last week’s assignment (again) and instead use foul language and procrastinating mechanisms I have to do two this week.  I told him these were my private words and he shouldn’t be reading them but he said that’s not what this class is about and I can do that on my own time.

This week we are all writing a letter about a happy memory.  Remember when Cage and Meggie and you and me went to the lake and Meggie pushed Cage off the dock before he was ready and he sort of lost his swimsuit and we all saw his butt?  Mr. Banks is not going to like this memory.  I don’t think Mr. Banks wants to hear about butts.

But after the butt incident we went to Shirley’s and we had ice cream.  You picked the bubble gum out of yours and put it on a napkin like an eight year old and we were all grossed out but afterwards you had a big wad of gum to chew and what did the rest of us have?

Last week we were supposed to be writing a letter to your family.  I didn’t really want to do it, so I guess that’s why I used those “procrastination mechanisms.”  My mom sent your mom a card with a really beautiful painting of a little cabin on the front, next to the water.  It’s really peaceful looking and it reminds me of the lake.  Of our lake.  I think she’s really going to like it.  My mom wrote something inside that I wasn’t allowed to read.  Grown Up Talk Only.

This letter is getting long because I am really nervous to write to your mom, but I guess it’s time to bite the big one and get started.
-Seals

 

Dear Mrs. Bishop: Nine was/is my best friend and I miss her so much.  You were/are like my second mom.  I’m supposed to share a memory of you and Nine so here goes:

When we were little and we had sleepovers Nine used to have bad nightmares.  She said your house was haunted.  One time I woke up and she wasn’t there and I heard this weird rumbling noise.  I went out into the kitchen and she was at the counter drinking hot chocolate and you were waving a vacuum around, sucking up the ghosts.  It was really nice.
-Celeste Ingalls

 

To: 9Bishop
From: 7Seals
i heard a noise
are u there?

Dear Nine-
Cage is here with me today.  We are writing you together, but this is just my handwriting because Cage broke his wrist in a car accident.  Meggie was driving.  She’s fine but she’s staying home for a while.  She didn’t have her license.  Cage did, but Cage was too drunk to drive.  Imagine, Cage was drinking!  And STEALING.  Cage stole some raspberry vodka from the drug store.  He says it tasted like candy.  Now he has to write apology letters to everyone involved, like the police, the doctors, his parents (!) and even Mr. Banks.  I asked What About Nine? And he said he would be in even bigger trouble if it weren’t for you, so thanks.
Love Seals (and Cage)

 

To: 9Bishop
From: 7Seals
c says when he blacked out in the car he thought he would see u but he just saw nothing
r u nothing?

 

Dear Celeste;
Thank you for the note.  That was a lovely memory.  It really cheered me up to think of Nine like that.  I haven’t vacuumed since the funeral, just in case I suck her spirit up.  I don’t think she would like to spend all of eternity in a vacuum bag, do you?  I know I wouldn’t.

I haven’t seen any of you kids in so long.  Would you come visit?  I know Nine isn’t here for you any more, but I would love to see you, if you can bear it.
Love, Mona

 

Dear Nine:
Today’s assignment is to tell you about the weather and stay in the present moment.  Today the sun is shining and the wind is blowing the leaves around and it’s beautiful and sad and I feel sick.  I can’t write any more today.
Seals.

 

To: 9Bishop
From: 7Seals
789

 

Dear Nine,
It’s been a long time since my last letter because I had to take a few days off from school.  Dad even let me, can you imagine?  I think either Mr. Banks or your mom talked to him.  That was really nice of them (thanks Mr. Banks).

When I was home I just sat on the couch and watched tv.  Hours went by and I didn’t move at all.  I didn’t even drink water because I didn’t want to have to pee.  I heard that noise upstairs again but I didn’t go look.

In history we’re doing the French Revolution and in English we’re reading Hemingway.  I have an urge to bring you your homework.  We’re reading chapters 6-12 for Wednesday if you would like to follow along.
LOVE SEALS

 

Dear Mona,
I walked partway to your house last week but I couldn’t go any further.  I saw them bringing out the adjustable bed and I thought I might throw up so I went back home.  That’s a lie actually, I actually went and laid down under the bushes in your neighbor’s yard until a slow driving car passed me by twice and I made myself get up.

I hope you understand, and I’m sorry I can’t come visit.  Maybe we can meet somewhere else sometime.
-Celeste Ingalls

 

To: 9Bishop
From: 7Seals
i hear u.  morse code?  all i know is sos
s.o.s?
u ok?

 

Dear Nine,
Meggie is dating Damian Fox!  They hold hands in the hallway and I saw them making out by the biology stairs.  She says after art class they both have study hall, and they started walking there together in the second month of school and now this is happening.  Can you believe Meggie kept a secret for that long!?!

Cage’s license is still suspended so he is back to carpooling with the Bronsons.  Your mom and I went out for ice cream last weekend.  It was really weird.  My parents made me join an extracurricular activity, so I chose track.  I’m a really bad runner, but the cross country trail we practice on is peaceful.  Mostly I just go for walks.  Sometimes the other kids yell stuff at me when they pass me, but I just pretend they are bird calls.

In case you can’t tell, this week’s topic is News.
-Seals

 

To: 9Bishop
From: 7Seals
got morse book from library, keep tapping

 

Dear Nine,
They set up a memorial scholarship fund for you.  It’s for kids who like to read and eat ice cream and play the clarinet and then die.  Just kidding!  But not really, actually.  It’s for “well rounded students,” so I guess that’s you.  Maybe if I don’t get kicked off the track team I can win it next year.  I really am a bad runner.
-Seals

PS. This week’s assignment was to talk about My Future, which I thought I did by talking about my goal to win the Antonine Marie Bishop Memorial Scholarship, but Mr. Banks said it has to be something about my future that does not have to do with you, so here goes:

This weekend, Mom is taking me to buy a new cell phone because mine got a bug and stopped working.  And I guess in my future I will Go to College and Study Something Interesting and Have a Career.

 

To: contact@nss.biz
From: 7seals@hotmail.com
Subject: Possible Ghost Sighting

Dear Newhart Spectral Society;
Last September my best friend passed away after a long illness.  When she first got sick, she said if she didn’t get better she would come back and haunt me.  I believe she is trying to reach me from beyond the grave.  There are knocking sounds in the attic, and I believe they are morse code.  I got a book out from the library and downloaded a translation app on my phone, but I am not having much luck.

I saw on your website that you sometimes make house calls, and I would greatly appreciate if you could come and check it out.  I think this would really be a great opportunity for both of us.

Sincerely,
Celeste Ingalls

 

To: 9Bishop
From: 7Seals
ghost hunters coming on Fri
get ready

 

Dear Nine,
Boy am I in trouble.  I’m supposed to write it all down and think about what I’ve done.  I think they just want a signed confession, but I guess I don’t really care, cause I DID do it, and so it IS a confession.

I emailed the Newhart Spectral Society, AKA some ghost hunters, because I thought you were in the attic, tapping out morse code to me.  They were really excited, and they came right away.  There were two skinny guys and they set up machines with needles and monitored my pulse (Mom was not home).  I didn’t tell anyone they were coming, not even Cage and Meggie.  I skipped school.  I guess the school called Dad cause he came home early, and saw me with all these wires sticking out of my head and arm and he really flipped.  He yelled at the ghost hunters, and he called Mom, and she came home too, and then everyone was yelling and NOT ghost hunting, so I ran up into the attic myself while they were negotiating the Spectral Society’s fee (I didn’t know there was a fee!).  There was a NEST of baby raccoons, and they all sounded like they knew morse code, and also I put my foot through a weak place in the floor/ceiling.

So now Mom and Dad have to pay the NSS, the exterminator, and the repair service.

Two of those things are actually not my fault, but everyone is mad at me anyway, plus the school and Mr. Banks, whose class I missed.  I have lost internet and television privileges and I’m grounded, which is actually fine because there’s nowhere to go anymore and we just had another big snowstorm.

I have to go.  I have to write apology letters as part of Mr. Banks’ punishment for me.
Love Seals

 

Dear Mom and Dad,
I am very very sorry that I emailed the Newhart Spectral Society and let them into our home without you being there.  I can see that this was very irresponsible of me.  I did not know they charged for this sort of thing.

I am also sorry that I put my foot through the floor, but actually shouldn’t you be thanking me for discovering that raccoon nest and the broken boards?  I will help you clean up when I get home, after you read this letter.

I’m sorry that I ruined your trust in me.  I promise to do better.

Love, Your Daughter, Celeste

 

Dear Newhart Spectral Society;
I am sorry I got you out to our house under false pretenses.  I should have checked the attic myself before I got you involved.  I can see that you take your ghost hunting seriously and I apologize for wasting your time.

Sincerely,
Celeste Ingalls

 

Dear Mr. Banks,
I am sorry for skipping your class on Friday.  I can see now that it was not a good idea.  I know that you always say you are available to talk whenever any of us needs you, and I should have taken you up on your offer before I emailed the NSS.  Thank you for not sending me to detention.  I promise to try to take this class more seriously and participate more regularly.
Celeste Ingalls

 

To: 9Bishop
From: 7Seals
sos

 

Dear Nine,
Spring is coming.  Cage and Meggie and I went to Shirley’s.  We sat outside even though we had to wear our down coats and mittens and my cone was covered in wool fuzz by the time I got to it.  It was nice to hang out with them again outside of school. Meggie’s always busy with the Fox, and Cage and I never hang out just the two of us.

Just so you know, we didn’t talk about you.  We talk about You and our Feelings About You so much in this class that we made a rule that we couldn’t talk about you at Shirley’s.  At first it was hard and a little awkward, but then I think it was good.  We talked about regular, easy stuff, like school and movies and gossip.  Meggie mostly talked about Damien.  None of us ate bubble gum ice cream.

Only a few more weeks left of this class.
-Seals

 

Dear Nine,
This week’s topic is Moving On, Letting Go, and Forgiving, which is too bad Mr. Banks, because I am not interested in Moving On Letting Go and Forgiving.  Where are you, Nine?  I thought you were going to come back to me and haunt me and we could have tea parties and draw pictures and paint our nails just like we did when we were little, only more see-through?  So I do not forgive you.  I am angry with you.  I don’t care, Mr. Banks.
-Your FRIEND Celeste aka Seals, did you forget about me?  Are the other dead kids just that much more awesome than I am?  Well Fuck You Antonine.  I am left with nothing but dead raccoons.

 

Dear Nine,
Mr. Banks let me skip math today even though it wasn’t my session.  He let me sit in the back of his office and color all the pictures I want even though they’re for the little kids, on the condition that I write you another letter.  He said there didn’t have to be any topic.  That was really nice of him.  He said he wouldn’t even read it, he would just look at it really quick to make sure I had done the assignment and then he would give it back to me and I could do whatever I want with it.  I think I’m going to burn it.

So here are all the things I wanted to say:

I’m sorry I didn’t visit you more when you were sick.  I mean really sick, like when you had the colostomy bag and even the bathtub hurt you and you had to get sponge baths.  I know I visited a lot when it was just you in that adjustable bed, eating all the ice cream and playing cards with me.  That was easy.  That was just like hanging out, if you ignored the medical stuff and the fact that we weren’t in your usual room upstairs.

What I’m sorry about is that I didn’t come enough when it got harder.  I’m sorry I missed the End.  I thought we had more time, and I thought you would be back.

I’m not sorry I knew you, and your mom, and the nail polish you guys painted on the adjustable bed frame, even though it smelled.  I’m not sorry about any of it.

My mom and dad would want me to write that I’m sorry I made up the story about the ghosts in the attic, and that I know better than to believe in ghosts.  But I’m not sorry, and I don’t know better.  I’m sorry I overreacted and didn’t check to see if it was raccoons instead of spirits.  Next time I will.  And hopefully next time it will be you.

I’m not sorry to have this hope.  I’m just sorry that more people can’t share it with me.  Did you know your mom still hasn’t vacuumed?  Just in case.

I’m sorry this dead pen pal situation is so one sided.  I’m sorry I haven’t texted in awhile, but last time I called to hear your voice mail it had been turned off and I got a little freaked.

I’m sorry if I’m moving on, just a little.  Cage and I are going to the movies this weekend, by ourselves.  I don’t think it’s a date, but you’re not here to ask so I’ll just have to figure it out while I go.

I’m sorry you’re not here to see any of this.  I’m sorry you can’t graduate and go to college and get a job and all that other stuff.  I know that’s nothing for me to really apologize for, but I’m still sorry.

And I’m sorry Meggie gets to date dumb Damien Fox instead of you!  I know you thought he was cute, but he’s kind of an idiot.  I’m sorry you didn’t get to know him well enough to figure that out.

I’m sorry that I’ll always be missing you, and I’m sorry for the times I won’t think of you, or remember you, or call you on your birthday.

I’m sorry that I probably won’t be writing to you any more after this class is over.  It’s not really my thing.

And I forgive you after all.  I know you didn’t want to go.

Love always,
7Seals

 

To: 9Bishop
From: 7Seals
❤ u always

 

Dear Nine,
This is the LAST class, and the LAST letter!  And the last week of school.  This last topic: The Future (without you).  The parenthesis are my own, but I think it’s what Mr. Banks means.

This summer I am going to:

Get a job.  I don’t know where.  I don’t know what I’m good at.  Maybe the NSS would hire me, ha ha.  But seriously, I would really like that.  But more seriously, I will probably end up working at a Target or something.

Hang out more with Cage and Meggie.  Meggie and Dumb Damien Fox broke it off, so now we can hang out again.  I guess she noticed she was way smarter than him.  Are Cage and I dating?  I don’t know.  This summer I will:

Figure That Out.  Maybe Meggie knows.

Visit your Mom.  I have been really bad about that.  But you know what?  Your mom is pretty cool.  And I think she’s lonely.  And I think she needs to vacuum.

Be better to my parents.  I know this thing with you really freaked them out.  Well it really freaked me out too.  But I’m going to try harder, and not call any more ghost hunters without permission.

Learn morse code.  Just in case.

Tell more jokes.  Here’s an oldie by a goodie.  I know you know it already, but here goes:

Why was 6 afraid of 7?

Because 7 Ate (8) 9.

That works better out loud.  I always know that, but I always write it to you anyway.  Wrote it.

Here’s part two.  I’m not going to tell you the punchline.  You’ll have to figure it out for yourself:

What happened after 7 ate 9?

Love you.  Always,
Seals

 

To:9Bishop
From:7Seals
more glitches
more raccoon sos noises
had to get another new phone
here is my #,
just in case

{ X }

HANNAH LACKOFF‘s work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the storySouth Million Writers Award and has been published or is upcoming in Spark, Pinball, Kaleidotrope, Drabblecast, New Myths, 10,000 Tons of Black Ink, 10,000 Tons of Black Ink—Best of Volume II, and others.  Her short story collection After the World Ended was published in May 2016 by 18th Wall Productions.  She lives in Boulder, CO.  Visit her at http://hannahlackoff.wix.com/writing.

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