A stepchild, I’m sorry, is a ghost. Mine is called Ugrit.

To her face, her father calls her Ugrit the Holy. Holy, for short. To not her face her father calls her nothing, barely remembers her. “Where did you put Ugrit, Husband?” And Husband says, “Who?” And then he touches his beard and remembers. “I put her outside to dry.” And there she is, pacing back and forth beneath a clothesline, parched and gigantic.

I open the screen door. “Ugrit, come in.”

Over Ugrit, my heart is a fistfight. She is never my progeny, but when there is the hen for dinner I must buy Ugrit the hen. Husband and I have other, real children for whom I never question buying the hen. Only for Ugrit do I question buying the hen, as I question buying the surrounding vegetables, as I question buying the cold milk and the underpants.

“I do not wish to buy and cook and slice and serve Ugrit the hen.” “Who?” asks Husband. “Ugrit! Ugrit!” “But there is leftover hen,” says Husband. “There is so much hen. Give Holy some hen.” It is true. There is so much hen. But I am exhausted of Ugrit and the hen she needs. “She needs so little hen,” whispers Husband. “Just give her some hen. She is my flesh and she is my bone.” I do not wish to give Ugrit the hen, but without me she is so henless. It is too much henlessness to bear. And so I give her hen too. This is the problem with hunger. This is the problem with love. There is no end in sight.

Sometimes I think what does it matter. Like all the hens I’ve ever forgotten for whole entire days, and there have been many, we too will one day shrivel up to nothingness.

Ugrit the Holy. Ugrit of Over There. Ugrit the Ghost. Ugrit of Not Mine.

“How is the hen, Ugrit?” “Gaunt,” she replies.

After dinner, she creeps up to me. I cannot tell if she is sleeping or awake. She is hunched, like always. I throw bunches of roses at her, hoping a curtain might come down followed by great applause, hoping to end the scene of Ugrit. But she keeps coming closer. Her mouth is a thin moon of frantic light. I kiss her on the cheek, and she coughs up a heart the size of a marble. She spits it into my hand. “Whose heart is this, Ugrit?” It is wet, and I am disgusted. She shrugs. She pretends she doesn’t know the heart is so obviously her mother’s. And then she creeps away.

I do not want this tiny mother heart Ugrit coughs up. I give it to Husband, which I know is a mistake. He tells me he’ll bury it before it grows wild. But he never buries it. At night I hear it clicking against his teeth. It moves around his mouth like a hard candy animal, circling for comfort.

This child named Ugrit is not my child. She is another woman’s child. Being near Ugrit makes it impossible to be near a beautiful sea.

“How is the hen, Ugrit?” “Gaunt,” she replies.

For my birthday Ugrit bakes me a cake. The piece she slices for me is still pinkish and mewing. The rest of the cake is still. I tell Husband I want him to send Ugrit away. “Who?” asks Husband. “Ugrit! Ugrit!” He bounces the other, real children on his knees. They are so healthy and cheerful! “Who?” asks Husband. “Ugrit!” I say, but he cannot hear me over our other, real children.

Sometimes I wonder if Ugrit even knows my name.

“Happy Birthday, Stepmother,” says Ugrit. “Thank you, Ugrit.” “Are you happy, Stepmother?” I look at Ugrit. I really look at her. She is not resplendent in her heavy corduroy pants. “No, Ugrit, I am not happy.” “Because your slice is pinkish and mewing, Stepmother?” “Partially, Ugrit.” “What else, Stepmother?” “Because, Ugrit, I do not know what to carry into this unfolding epoch.” Ugrit brings her face close to mine. “Shovels and water?” she asks.

In the morning there is a bucket and a small, shiny shovel leaning against my bedroom door.

“Thank you, Ugrit.”

I cannot find the rest of Ugrit’s story. Believe me, I search. I go out walking. I wait for the air to thin so I can for once see something clearly. But the air rarely thins, and even when it does it’s always just Ugrit standing there. Staring. Waiting for something I will never dream up. She is never crying, but sometimes she holds my own crying mother in her arms. My own inconsolable, crying mother.

I cannot remember life without Ugrit.

“Stepmother?” “Yes, Ugrit.” “May I have more?” “More what, Ugrit?” “Never mind,” says Ugrit. “Please, Ugrit, more what?” “Ugrit. More Ugrit.” “Take as much Ugrit as you’d like.” She goes to the place where Ugrit is kept and she takes more. She knows I disapprove, but she cannot help it. When Ugrit helps herself to more Ugrit there is a humming in the house that lasts for days. One day we will run out of hen, but we will never run out of Ugrit. Of Ugrit there is galore.

I ask Husband again to send Ugrit away. “How can I choose,” asks Husband, “between Heaven and Sorry?” And I know he’s right. It’s impossible to choose. She will stay. The other, real children will grow up and kiss me on the forehead and leave. But Ugrit will stay.

“How is the hen, Ugrit?” “Gaunt,” she replies.

Click, click, click goes the tiny mother heart.

While Husband and Ugrit and the other, real children sleep I sneak into Ugrit’s room. I pile on all her clothes. I enter the cotton and corduroy and fleece and wool until I can barely move or breathe. I do not know why I do this. I want to tell Ugrit to go on without me, but it is becoming harder and harder.

In the morning, it is Ugrit who finds me. She lifts me up out of the cocoon. “I am so hot, Ugrit, and so thirsty.” She brings me the bucket of water. It is the same bucket she left for me to carry into the unfolding epoch. I take a sip. The water tries to climb up out of my mouth. I swallow hard. It is like slaughter. “I cannot drink this water, Ugrit. This water is alive.” Ugrit takes the bucket away. I wipe my mouth. I notice a bruise on Ugrit’s arm. It too is alive because everything is alive. The bruise on Ugrit’s arm is in the shape of a hen walking toward me. A magnificent hen. Far more beautiful than any hen I’ve ever cooked to perfection. “Where did you get that hen, Ugrit?” It keeps walking toward me. Ugrit needs to turn that hen around. “Turn that hen around, Ugrit.” It walks fast. No hen should walk that fast. “Who hurt you, Ugrit? Why is there a hen on your arm?” A fresh bruise of a hen. This hen will not be the hen who leads us out of this mess of love and jealousy and questions of belonging. This hen will lead us someplace else. The hen looks at me hard. Her eyes are two dark pits. She does not love me. And why should she? If it were up to me, I would cook her and eat her. I would give some of her to Ugrit too, angrily. Torn. But I’d give Ugrit some too, because there is never enough hen and there is always more. Ugrit hands me the small, shiny shovel. “We are here,” says Ugrit. “This is the unfolding epoch.” The hen walks toward me fast. I take the shovel. I hold it up. It is so shiny. Here comes the hen. I can almost see my face.

The other, real children weep. I hear them weeping. Someone should go comfort them.