It was not in 2073, but in 2008 that she realized some of her missteps may have related to men. Her head was already in a lot of pain as she thought this. At this particular moment, questioning the twenty-five years she’d been alive seemed like too much. What she had to concentrate on was keeping her brain inside her skull. At this particular moment, her head on concrete next to the gas station’s dumpsters, she could not even command her fingers to caress her broken cheekbones. Soggy cigarette butts littered the ground around her. If she were able to stand, the butts would stick to the back of her Texaco polo shirt. Rick (the prick), the owner of the station, had one time seen her and a co-worker puffing away back there and totally lost his cool over it. What would he think when he found her tomorrow morning? But it wouldn’t be Rick who found her, she realized. (Her head was very hot and her tears were mixing with blood.) Carla would find her. Sweet, grandmotherly Carla who screamed whenever a rat scurried across 82nd and into the gas station’s lot. Poor thing.
Months later, in 2009, her eyes opened. (Figuratively speaking, that is. Her actual eyes were long gone to the worms.) She was drifting from the ground and moving across green grass to a weeping cherry in bloom at the edge of the cemetery. A young girl in a pink coat had climbed the tree. Situated in the tree, the girl gazed across the acres with calm ownership. From what she, the spirit, recalled of spring, she imagined the chirping of birds and the windy sound of an airplane’s engine, miles above. Laughter, too. From where she, the spirit, hovered, her eyeless eyes could see a college-age couple was walking on a path through the graveyard. She was drifting toward them when a tether dragged her back underground.
You must conquer your fear of speech, a well-meaning teacher had told her in grade school. It will be the death of you. As it turned out that summer night in 2008 when she was hurt many times for not speaking, there was truth to this pronouncement. (She didn’t realize that as she lay waiting for help, that she was actually dying!) The men (years younger than her) were outraged about something her boyfriend had done to them. Who knew what the crime had been? In the heat of the pushing and then punching, they may have said he put someone’s girlfriend in the hospital? But that so did not sound like anything that her boo would do.
When I look at you, I don’t know what’s real. He slept with authority, taking up the whole bed when she happened to stay with him. He liked it best when she left after sex, but sleep would master her. When she woke up in the morning, she tried to move very, very cautiously out of the bed, not tangle the sheets in her toes, to not step on the squeaky floorboard or kick through the fleet of beer cans in the doorway, but he would wake up. When she turned, she found him watching her in silence.
In 2010, again in early spring, she drifted out of her coffin once more. The little girl was gone, and so was the young couple. She looked everywhere (somehow, she was looking without her eyes) for a human visitor, but she saw only a white and gray cat sitting erect atop her gravestone. The cat was real. She got closer and could sense a breeze ruffling through its infinitely soft fur. The cat sniffed at the air, but other than that, didn’t seem to mind her inspection.
2073 was supposed to be the year of her futuristic and noble death. She had wanted to live to be 90. She had hoped to see the cure for cancer and Alzheimer and AIDS and the first woman president and flying cars and a small space station that would be open to humans who were interested in vacating Planet Earth for a while. When the time came for her actual death, she had no liberty in it except in these minutes of haunting the cemetery once a year. The cat, whom she named Misty, kept her company for many years. The girl came back, in 2072, as a horrifying apparition. Bits of skin detaching from her bones. The adult girl spirit had no pink coat. The adult girl spirit’s gravestone was placed next to her own. The last tour she made of the cemetery was hand in hand with the skeleton of that fresh girl spirit before the tether pulled them under.
She smiled in her sleep on March 18 of 2073 and drifted no longer. Every ghost needs a companion.
And now, a song to fade out with.