At last I must have fallen into a troubled nightmare of a doze; and slowly waking from it – half steeped in dreams – I opened my eye. . . Instantly I felt a shock running through all my frame; nothing was to be seen, and nothing was to be heard; but a supernatural hand seemed placed in mine. My arm hung over the counterpane, and the nameless, unimaginable, silent form or phantom, to which the hand belonged, seemed closely seated by my bedside.
Chapter 4, The Counterpane
I’ve been sleeping with ghosts this past week. It has not been much of an escape.
There has not been much sleep.
There is the ghost of myself. She comes out to play so rarely. Too many bruises, she had taken to being a recluse. In her reclusive state she was claimed and staked and confined to a place where she quickly stopped breathing.
Sleeping Beauty had a glass coffin, and the good fortune of having death reversed by the simple act of a passing paramedic prince thinking to turn her face and do a finger sweep, clear that bite of poisoned apple, before administering mouth to mouth.
My paramedic didn’t think ahead. Perhaps he took the apple into his own mouth before he slowly, over the course of months pressed it back through my teeth. The poison entered my system and spread like barium. Scroll me under the x-ray you will see it has filled my belly.
My own ghost has begun to haunt the edges of my world, asking if it is not possible to rewind this business of time.
I tell her, sadly, no. It is my understanding that, in the case of this particular dimension, the choice of direction is limited. She stares down for a moment, as if contemplating her cold bloodless toes as she tries to warm them on the sun soaked pavement below.
“Isn’t there–” she hesitantly begins–“Isn’t there an alternative?”
Oh, she is fighting this death, she is, in her invisible way ramming her fists against that coffin’s glass lid.
“Make a new life for me.” she begs.
A fiction that sustains us.
Last night the carcass sat in the passenger seat as the paramedic drove her about. Giddy, he was, at the thought of engaging the ghost who had been slipping out to play with him as of late. The ghost, alas, finds the paramedic tiring with his focus on the corporeal. 100 chest compressions a minute hardly counts as intimacy–especially to the ghost who has no body. She finds his attachment to it mechanical and, a tad, insulting, as it places the ghost farther down on the hierarchy of things.
At this point the the ghost is ready to throw herself out of the moving vehicle. She is ready to hurl herself out onto the pavement. The bugs buzz and collide under the streetlight where she walks to wait for another ghost to come and connect with her.
Theirs will never be a physical contact, but they will await each other and in the waiting the longing grows and in this way she knows she, the ghost, will outlive me. She will outlive us all, and she will love richly.
Just before daybreak she stumbles in to find my bed and, as she places her phantom hand in mine, she whispers what had angered her so about the paramedic–he with his culture of matter over mind and minds encased in glass coffins–
Here she spells it out. It is about our friend who died two weeks ago. Died suddenly after the Texas storms escorted two tornadoes through our area. He was not killed by the storms. No one, amazingly, was killed that day.
But it was on that day,under the concert storms of those skies, our friend took his own life.
“Not possible.” the paramedic claims, when the news leaked out a week after we sat and wept in the chapel decorated by dryads, a hearth of mesquite wood burning just outside the chapel door.
“Rumors and gossip.” snaps my dear paramedic. Snarls it, really–disgusted that others would sully the memory. As if this demon within our friend, which we all knew was there, as if it’s final triumph somehow demeaned the man.
“Rumors and gossip, ” my husband insists.
As if wishing makes it so. But it is not.
It is not rumors and gossip.
I recall when I first met our mutual friend, this demigod of men, whom we mourned just last week–his uncombed hair and rumpled shirt and unconventional intensity as he looked at me that first time our eyes locked.
And I thought then, –how old was I–17?–I thought–that is a frightening darkness he holds.
The phantom hand in mine now pulls hard and angry and asks “What sort of protector will this paramedic of yours be, when your darkness rises?”
and with your last ounce of strength
with your last look you will seek me out
and into the morning we will steal away.