A slight downpour puddles in the street. I watch and a vine winds tighter, twisting inside of me. I see a couple heading for the alleyway. A hot whisper, a face to touch, and I feel it. I taste it. I hear it. Fingers dig and clench. Before I know it, I’m crying, swirling with the rain. Vaguely in the distance I hear a child ask, “What’s wrong with that lady, mommy?” I tilt my face to the darkened sky and laugh—like only the insane can laugh.
The sudden downfall quickens and hides my tears. I catch the drops with my tongue. I’m freezing, my skin chaffing under my clothes. Still I laugh. I spin. I stomp in puddles larger than myself. Then someone shrieks. I can’t place the scream—though I’ve heard it before.
Yesterday, in fact, I heard the scream yesterday. A primal thing, not unlike a wounded animal—it carries the eerie sound of loss in its vibrations. In music, the instructor says “crescendo people!” Raise the volume; raise the pitch—I scream louder, higher. The child cries and clings to her mother. I see them rush off in an abstracted way.
I was sane once; I swear that I was. I was whole, fresh, and clean. I laughed like normal people. I worked. I had friends. I had a lover. I can see that life shining in my past. The doctor says that I could have it again if I wasn’t so intent on being a martyr.
A martyr! Ha! The nerve of the man was astounding. What had he ever lost in his pathetic little life that gave him the right to judge me so callously? It is not as if I asked for my life to derail. I never wanted this. I am not a martyr. I am just another soulless bastard seeking warmth and the occasional glimpse of sanity. I am a ghoul. I am broken.
I pick myself up from the street puddle. Water runs down the length of my frame. I know that my clothes are drenched and I feel disoriented. A man stops at the edge of the sidewalk, “Hey lady are you okay?” I stare at him through hollow eyes and say nothing. He pulls his coat closer to his body. “Do you want to share my umbrella? You’ll catch your death out here.”
It always starts with a phrase. A trigger sparks a memory and awakens that final shred of humanity within me. I smile and take his hand. I don’t care that he’s old enough to be my father. I don’t care that he’s bald or slightly overweight. I don’t really even see him. I see a replacement. I smile sweetly and ask his name. He squeezes my hand and says, “Ray.” With that, it begins.
I lead him to my apartment. He protests and says something completely boring about his wife. I pet, paw, and kiss him into submission. My need outweighs my morality. I know in my heart that I am selfish and that one day my craziness will cause someone else pain. But tonight I just want to feel heat—a little warmth to ease the chill and dull the pain. I’m not a martyr, Doctor, I am a coward.
I drag him inside my apartment leaving the lights off so that I can pretend my victim is someone else, someone lost to me. I create the fantasy in my mind as I rip his coat from his body and push him blindly to the couch. I never take them to our bedroom—not ever. I tug on his zipper and close my mouth over his sex. I hear his gasp in the distance and feel his shock turn to pleasure. He begins to moan. You used to moan. I begin to cry.
The emptiness within me becomes a physical ache. And without hesitation, I straddle his thighs. I impale myself with his shaft…again…and again…He comes in a heaving mess. Vomit rises in my throat; my eyes are red and swollen. I climb off him—no release to be found. Ray, I remember dully, his name is Ray.
I step away from Ray, his semen sticky and foreign, clings to my thighs. He clears his throat, still trying to process what had happened to him. I wipe away the tears only to realize that they have dried to my face. The coldness spreads within me and I shiver again. I lick my lips, his taste still there, and say, “I’m sorry. You can go if you like.” My voice sounds old and defeated, even to my ears.
Ray shifts uncomfortably on the couch and zips his pants closed. “Can I see you again?” I laugh dryly and tell him, “No. That’s not a good idea.” I can see his frown in the darkened room, or more accurately, feel it. His confusion is palpable and lingers in the air. He tries again, “Well, can I at least know your name?”
Something inside of me takes pity on him. I cross the room, ignoring the discomfort between my legs. I take his round face in my hands and tilt it toward me. I kiss him softly on the forehead and whisper, “Ghosts don’t have names, silly boy.” Without a word, I lead him to the door by his tie. He stares at me, baffled, even as the door closes in his face.
I lock it and walk woodenly to the bathroom. I vaguely remember arguing with you over the emerald towels. You had wanted navy blue, but caved to make me happy. The memory cuts slowly, quietly, through my troubled mind as the water fills the tub. Fresh tears collect on my face, mingling with the steam from the bathwater. Someday my tear ducts will run dry. Then I won’t cry anymore.
I swallow hard and let my dirty dress flutter to the ground. I used to be obsessive about putting my garments in the laundry bin. It seems so silly now. I sink into the water and pray that its heat can sooth me. My hands rub a soapy washcloth against my dirty flesh—as if I would ever be clean. Sobs rack my fragile body and I scrub my vagina until it bleeds. Unfaithful, loathsome whore—the accusations peck at me like unseen demonic birds tearing at my skin.
It’s too much, my mind reels, I can’t bear this Lord! My heart breaks repeatedly but just as suddenly as the storm raged—it dies. I see your face smiling at me and peace begins to thaw my frozen limbs. I must truly be insane. You died six months ago. There is no way that you could be in our bathroom, in our home. I see your smile widen, “Why not? What makes you think I ever left here?” Now you read minds.
Your ghost walks closer to the tub and I reach out to touch you, but my fingers only find air. You look the same. Your dark hair, your blue eyes, the strength of your body is all the same. My eyes find yours and you shake your head, “I can’t stay long. Not in this form.” I try to crush the stab of pain your words bring, “Why?”
You caress my face with wisps of air. “Listen Babe, you have to move on. Your friends are right. You can’t be like this anymore. Live your life and I’ll see you at its end. Do you hear me?” Your eyes implore me to see reason, to understand. But I want…I need…I choke on the words, “I love you! I don’t want this life without you. Don’t you understand? I buried myself with you. Let me die.”
Your smile fades; your face falls. “No. If you die, then there is no one to remember me and then I really am dead. If you love me, you will get out of this bath and put the razor back in the cupboard. If you love me then you will live.” You brush a cold kiss on my dry lips and just like that, you are gone. Again.
I look at the razor blade in my hands. I don’t even remember grabbing it. It catches the light and gleams silver, a welcoming friend. It is a lie. I throw it on the floor and grasp my wedding ring instead. It was a promise given out of love. If you want me to live then I will live. I slip the ring back onto my finger, smiling through my tears as it winks at me. The soft light holds the gold band and I swear it glowed.
I rise from my bath and cover myself. I feel raw, but oddly reborn. I scoop up the pile of clothes and toss them in the bin. I love you. My heart repeats the words slowly, rhythmically in my chest. I love you. I place one foot in front of the other unsure of what morning will bring. As I drift to sleep, I swear that I feel you wrap your arms around me, but when I look, no one is there. I close my eyes and hear you whisper softly, “Sleep tight.” I smile and nestle deeper into my pillow. Maybe I’m not that crazy after all.