Each morning I find the ghost in a different part of my body. On Monday it hides in the cleft of my collarbone. Tuesday it finds a hair on my shoulder and turns it a shocking white, it unspooled and wiry against the other soft hairs sprouting. I do not pluck it until Wednesday, when the ghosts sits in the web between two toes. I need the company. I need to be an object of some melancholy.
My mother is religious. She believes all ghosts are demons, so when she sees the ghost all boogered up in one of my nostrils she tells me to get right or get out. I get out. I borrow three hundred dollars from Tasha, though we’ve broken up, and she thinks it’s a bad idea to keep a ghost like that. She says I might as well get a Bukowski tattoo while I’m at it, that I am hitting peak white boy, that even for me this is and is and et cetera. She hands me the money, though, and says she misses me, sometimes. The ghost makes my ribcage warm.
On the phone, my brother asks whose ghost? and I get into a huff. As though that’s the point of a haunting. He asks me what’s wrong and I call him a fucking voyeur and then I hang up on him. He’s always been so eager to understand something, has always found understanding to be a kind of comfort. Like my mother. Like most.
The ghost. The ghost in the house of my flesh. The ghost next to the bones, reaching in and bespooking the marrow. The ghost wading in the blood. Nesting in the space between organs. Mewling in my ear. Creaking the doors of me shut in the night. Making me home.
A man came down out of the smoke and lived with us for a time. Something was always on fire, or about to be on fire, or just finished being on fire. It was summer. The man poked around town, bought a few things from the drug store, set up a little camp in the backfield past where the little leaguers could hit.
At first we didn’t mind him. We didn’t wonder where he came from, since we knew. The smoke. It made enough sense at the time. Now we wonder, but that’s the way of a now. He would sleep through morning, wake up in the sweaty parts of the day and get gently drunk, hassle the children playing softball with a kind of good humor you don’t see much in adult men. We knew he was a threat, but we liked him anyway.
Meanwhile, the smoke moved closer, blanketed the mornings with thick haze, turned the moon to blood when we could see it at all. Our windows were sealed, we were like to bake in our homes. The man grew lonely with us all indoors. That’s how it looked, anyway. He wandered from house to house, peering in, knocking loose-knuckled on glass. It was then that we became afraid. Of him, for him. We didn’t know.
We wanted him gone. We told him so through cracked windows. We told him it wasn’t safe to be here with us. He said we didn’t know what we were talking about, or he opened his mouth and no sound came out, and the sound of crackling flames around him went silent, too, or he smiled, orange glinting off the plaque of his teeth, the burning that was coming preambled in the light on his face. King of smoke, ash king, char king, king of burn, king of all of this ending. At the window and happening.
After the accident, she became a kind of confessional. People would come up to her in the hospital bed and whisper into her wound, and in this way they were absolved. The wound would never close, not all the way. There was just too much of it, a jagged hole at her side packed with gauze and weeping. To speak to it is to cleanse one’s soul. So the people thought.
The hospital staff tolerated it because a person needs a purpose in life to thrive. She lay there in her near catatonia, occasionally stirring, or wincing, or eating from a tube, as people sought her out. She never reacted to their confessions. She heard them speak, though, felt the words enter her body.
One doctor worried that this was causing her pain because he was in love with her. There was a beauty to her restive face that was oracular. He sat with her most nights, feeling the warmth of her hand in his.
He wasn’t a fool. He knew that this was an objectification like any other. Some part of him cared and another part didn’t.
Much later, he grew bored and decided she was fine. He didn’t know about the pain in her, electric and growing, carving new pathways from wound to limb, arcing through the flesh, the sins of other people making their way along nerve endings and kinking them, snarling up the wires of her body. At the end of it all, he didn’t even bother to see it. He thought himself a hero of her story. Isn’t it always that way.