Diana Brawley Sussman

Posted on April 30, 2012

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The Tired Ghost

The first time she came to this house he was rescuing a turtle from the road. He kissed its domed shell and set it down in the yard, which was full of tiny wild strawberries. That was the first kiss—the kiss she saw.

She loves the house because it is square, a bungalow, all the rooms connected. She can walk through it calling out “where are you?” and he can walk through it calling out, “where are you?” and they can go on like that, forever circling, seeking each other. She loves that. She says, “You do not know how simple, simple things have never been.”

She came here to teach for a semester and she never went back. A pressure slowly lifted from her as she drove away from her old home. It lifted, every hour on the highway. It subsided, day by day until it finally let go of her completely and she could not imagine leaving this bungalow, returning to that other place, as if the road between here and there had lost its friction and nothing would hold her to it, there would be no force to propel her forward, nothing to push against. It was like those dreams she used to have where she would take off running and then her feet would leave the ground. She’d lose momentum. They were not dreams of flying, they were dreams of hovering.

When he kisses her and leaves for work she is still sleeping. She half forgets he’s gone, so when she hears the bathroom door open she doesn’t startle awake. It’s not until she feels the pressure on the mattress, someone crawling up from the foot of the bed that she wakes up kicking. No one is there.

There are some older students in her classes. They tell her that things are no longer linear. It’s not just a matter of technology being new to them. It’s that they were taught to think in a straight line from beginning to end and now things are layered and webbed. One man tells her he cannot check email. He has a deep Lithuanian accent. He shrugs and says, “I don’t understand where it is.”

Morning after morning someone tries to crawl into her bed. He tries from the foot of the bed and the side of the bed. She kicks. She pushes with her arms. He always leaves, a feeling of apology in the air. She wakes up to no one. She doesn’t understand who it is until she hears him in the kitchen, throwing the dirty silverware into the stainless steel sink, slamming the cabinets, disgusted at the logic of where her pots and pans are stored now, how nothing is where he would put it. The man she left, back there, before. She recognizes him by his anger. What more was there to him, in the end? But she doesn’t admit it. She still calls him the ghost. How can a living person be a ghost?

One morning he gets into her bed and she kicks and pushes, but he will not move. She tries and tries, but she can still feel the weight of him in her bed. Finally, she simply lets him sleep.

We rarely know a last time. Even when she left him she did not turn to look at him and think, there he is, this is it, the next time I blink… She did not think of herself as a bird flying through an open door. She probably said, “I love you” over her shoulder. She’d promised she’d come back.

The ghost would never come back after that time he lay down and slept beside her. But she didn’t know that, wouldn’t know that for years, not until they left that house and bought another, one with soft-coated voles raising fragile rivulets all through the yard. Years later she still tells it like a ghost story. She never mentions who he was, or what he wanted.

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Diana Brawley Sussman lives, writes, and works as a librarian in southern Illinois (US). Her writing has appeared in the journal Kalliope, the anthologies Thinking Outside the Book and Revolting Librarians Redux: Radical Librarians Speak Out, and elsewhere.

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