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"Upon Becoming a Ghost," short story excerpt

Thursday 8/26/21

Conversations shift in tone, if not in language. An effort is made to keep up running in-jokes. The silly verbal leitmotif about “what is a McRib sandwich anyway?” feels integral to retaining a grip upon sanity. A grip that the eyes cannot keep when they desperately strain, in their unblinking need, to hold a face in place. A love. A life. What is more frequently thought of as, “my other half. The half that is as much me as the part I started with.”


You know what he thinks about a lot, when he is cognizant that the strength he’s tried to hold on to has reached the level where he can no longer even ration it so that each day gets a minimal helping?


He thinks about if she knows this regarding his strength, for starters. And she’s leaving the words unspoken. He wonders if she thinks she knows it but maybe he doesn’t because she’s always seen him in such limpid light and she’s trying to be strong so that he is not further taxed. Not so that he might rally. Just so that his burden can be lighter, if that is possible.

She wonders how the hell hospice care workers do it. She imagines that maybe she’ll give up her life as her life has been, as his life is removed, is peeling away and back as she watches, and become one of those hospice workers herself when he is gone, because what will there be for her anyway?


But we were talking about what he thinks about a lot, now that rubber is about to meet the road, or leave the road. What he thinks about the most. He wants her to depart where they have lived. He knows her so well. He knows how she can celebrate a cherished memory as if, paradoxically, it has not happened yet, is just about to happen, and these journeys back in time might become the entirety of her future, and he’d rather have anything happen to him than for that to happen to her.


The past, the past, he thinks—the glorious past. Sometimes one should put sardonic quotes around that last phrase, other times, it deserves a fanfare of a thousand trumpets, so long as a future exists and can be envisioned.


As a child he watched movies making a list in his head of his favorite parts even as the movie continued, quizzing himself on what they were, so that he would not forget them when the movie was over. And you know what? He never forgot what it was he liked best about any film he ever saw. She was that way in her life. She could end up that way in a form of death that could take root while she was still living. He spoke often of peace of mind, if not peace. The latter smacks too much of the dead and wailing words and cries that are not, in truth, unlike those we were talking about that sometimes squeak through from ghosts, and which may or may not be conflated with the just-noticed hum of the refrigerator. She’d want to cater to that peace of mind. He could help her in that manner, even if he was taking advantage of what he knew about her, somewhat.


“I want you to leave here,” he said, about where they had lived. “Let it just be the place that was ours.”


He had enough time for this purpose. I mentioned his eye for details. The questions he’d ask on her behalf to get necessary answers when she reached her own point where some mornings she hauled up her toothbrush, put the paste upon it, then stared at its mocking mulberry color for a handful of seconds, before concluding, “Not today,” convinced she hadn’t the strength to make her hand saw back and forth, and leaving the undaubed utensil upon the sink. And besides. He’d lost his sense of taste and smell. The kisses—she always wanted to hit a quota, to keep things “normal”—would feel and register as they had been feeling and registering, except that they’d be about now, what had been, and not five years from tomorrow.


She wasn’t going to fight. She wouldn’t raise her voice. And she sure as hell wouldn’t lie. “I’ll do whatever you think is best,” she said.


Almost anything in this world can be overrated. Overstated. Did you know that? You can overstate the intelligence of the smartest person who has ever lived. You can overrate the goodness of the most decent person there has ever been. But what you cannot overstate, overrate, “over”-anything—and I have this on exemplary authority—is the scope and efficacy—in other words, the raw materials of greatest foundational power—between two people connected in how explicitly and implicitly, how totally, they trust each other.


“Good,” he said. And, “Thank you.”