Perfect Numbers

Issue #160
Summer 2024

I don’t know what to do with my ghost in the city. It’s too familiar here, too sticky.

The freight train clangs along outside. Flat car, coal car, oil car. I wondered if there were hoboes in trains anymore or if they had moved on to other transportation or if they had ever existed in the first place. I pictured a trio of old men sitting in a circle over a Bunsen burner. They would have tin coffee cups, and someone would roast a weenie, and someone else would smoke a pipe. Later, they play harmonica. I felt a dart of sadness that the time of train hoboes had past, though I didn’t know if it had ever existed at all—and maybe it still did. This was one of many losses I counted even if they didn’t belong to me. I was good at counting losses. I was a receptacle for losses. This was probably why the ghost found me. I was a good place to put sadness and leave it there to stay warm.



Before he was a ghost, my ghost was a man. He lived in the apartment downstairs, and from the crack under his door was a constant smell of melting butter. I saw him in the stairwell sometimes. Me, in a dress calculated to be youthful enough that the middle schoolers would see me as a person—valid, present-day—but modest enough that the vice principal wouldn’t swim his eyes over my body in the faculty lounge. The neighbor had tattoos up his arms, white t-shirts, and black pants. He was a chef. He was always going when I was coming home. Me, math books and the quiet shame of being someone no one had wanted to listen to for the last seven hours; him, freshly showered and ready to feed the world, a clutch of sharpened knives under his arm.

“Hey,” I said.

“Welcome home,” he told me. He seemed kind. He seemed like a person who called his parents every week and donated money to find forever homes for lost dogs.

“What’s on special?” I asked as I ascended, my voice echoing in the stairwell.

He looked up, “I’ve got some salmon collars, and favas are looking good this week. A pasta maybe?”

I thought about, but did not describe, the boxed falafel mix I was likely to eat. “Amazing,” I said. “Yum.” All the other interactions in my day felt complicated and hard. I taught preteens math, and they hated me for it. My family was no one I would have chosen. I had not yet made friends in this city, though I had been here too long not to have. My love life consisted of hopeful squares on my phone, great news in the form of headshots and tiny, crafted personalities, but when we moved into three-dimensional space together, a bar or restaurant, the men turned instantly flat. We were so obviously not going to love each other.

Down the neighbor went to the daylight, as I rose to my quiet box.



We met that way, coming and going, and once in the laundry room in the basement, where all his clothes were black and white, and all mine were printed with flowers. Then one day, someone angry went into the grocery store and shot everyone he could aim his gun at. I got a police alert on my phone to shelter in place. Streets were closed for hours while the suspect was cornered. Teenage ice cream scoopers, I heard later, had locked themselves in a dark bathroom for three hours, with no idea whether the shooter would come for them next. It was a day before they announced the names of the dead—a cashier, an old man who had been filling a prescription, a woman with a reusable bag full of mangoes—and even then, I did not recognize the name of my neighbor because I had never known it.

I found out when the landlady was opening his door with her key, and I stood on the landing and she said, “Unlucky,” and we both doled out our sorriest look. “He tried to help.”

My scalp heated up and I put my hand on my head because it seemed possible that it would catch on fire. “Is someone coming to collect his things?”

“He has a sister, but she’s in Spain. Parents, apparently, are unable to travel.”

“Can I look?” I needed to touch something that had been his. He was, in a tiny and ridiculous way, necessary to my daily survival. I almost told her that I had loved him, and it would not have been untrue. It was not justifiable love and completely unearned. Like all crushes, it would surely have turned to foam in the morning.

She shrugged. “I guess.”

The apartment was a mirror image of my own. Bedroom on the other side, refrigerator where the stove should have been. It was familiar and opposite, and it made me dizzy. On the counter, his knives were laid out like jewelry, shine against velvet. I could almost feel them warming under his arm. I had counted on him happily walking into his day when I returned from mine. He was proof that life was being lived. That people felt joy and satisfaction. That the circle would turn and turn.

“Can I have these?” I asked.

“Were you two sleeping together?” the landlady asked.

“We said hello in the stairs,” I said.

Her eyes told me that she thought I was capitalizing on tragedy, and I didn’t know how to tell her that the chef was one stone in the dam that kept me in.



There was a blue-green week, my own footsteps going up after work, no butter smell, no menu list.



Then, the following Monday, after I had put my bag down and hung my keys on the hook designed for this and only this object, a person walked out of the bathroom in my apartment, looking perfectly at home. “Chef?” I asked.

“Stairwell girl?”

I could hear the shower dripping, but the chef did not look wet. I shuffled through the deck of possible responses—cops, escape, screaming for help—and instead did nothing. His back was slightly hunched, and he seemed gently dissolved, like an aspirin tablet dropped in water that has just begun to give away its edges.

“You died,” I said.

He looked at his hands, flipped them over. He leaned against the wall, and he did not fall through it. Maybe he was not a ghost. But what else could a dead person become?

“There was a shooting,” he said.

“I know. You didn’t survive it.”

I had been sad and had texted with a therapy outfit the city hired for all the grievers after the shooting. The therapist could have been anywhere, absorbing the questions and misery of citizens of whichever town or city or school had most recently received a storm of bullets from a person whose heart was too cracked to see through the hate. “I am in a fragile mental state,” I said. “I might have been in love with a fictitious version of you when you were alive, and now you are dead, and I really can’t have a figment of my imagination in my home.” I was arguing against my own illogical wish for him to stay. I had math sets to correct, a large stack of integers and equations. They were already late. I had used the excuse of a death in the family (because a death in the building is no excuse), and now the dues were due, and the active and engaged parents of middle schoolers in a good district were awaiting news of their children’s progress, and the emails would drizzle, then flood, and no one wanted to hear about how I had been slowed by an apparition.

“Isn’t this my apartment?” he asked.

“You were downstairs. This is me.”

“You’re sure?”

“Is any of this stuff your stuff?”

He took it in, reality shifting the color in his cheeks.

It always seemed to be my job to proceed through nonsense using reason and logic. I could continue forth into life stepwise, reasonable choices accumulating until I had a lease and a car and a job and a small retirement account that would never actually allow me to retire. This is how adults made choices. This was my training.

“Are you in pain?” I asked.

He shook his head.

“Do you feel the wall when you touch the wall?”

He nodded.

“Do you remember dying? Did you walk toward some kind of bright light?”

“I remember a guy with a gun while I was buying carrots. We were out of carrots at the restaurant, and the delivery wasn’t coming for a day.”

“They cleaned out your apartment, and I think they’re sending your things to your parents.”

His eyes said What now?

“Go and see for yourself,” I said. “But don’t get caught. Not everyone will be so chill.”

I opened the apartment door and expected him to fizz into the imaginary mist he was. There were no such thing as ghosts. I was clearly crazy. I suffered a trauma on top of three decades of generalized sadness, all of which had now coalesced into this specific hallucination. He walked out. I noticed then that he was wearing a brown wool suit, old fashioned and too short, with plastic shower sandals.

“Bye,” I said. I did not feel better without him. I missed him immediately.

I sat down among the drifts of math homework. Correct, correct, incorrect. In the right-hand corners were doodles of unicorns, cats, names decorated with leaves. Then, a well-shaded and precise machine gun, strap hanging limp. Girls were sold unicorns and boys were sold guns, and it was just a fantasy, except that on any day in our country, a child might walk into their school, into my school, and kill all of us. I would have to report the gun picture. The math score on it was 98%, and the threat score was orange. I took a photo of the test on my phone and emailed it to the principle.



By the time there was a knock on my door, he was my ghost. It made heart-sense before it made head-sense. He opened the door and said, “It’s empty. There’s nothing left of me.”

I said, “I thought you were made up. I have your knives,” and when I took them from the drawer and handed them to him, he looked like a person who has just come indoors from the wind.

“You can stay here. It makes a certain kind of sense for us to end up this way. Do you need to sleep or eat? How does being dead work?”

He smelled a strawberry and said it smelled like a strawberry. He snapped a cracker. “Stale,” he said. He stuck his tongue out, but the cracker did not land there, as if it was repelled by some kind of counter-magnate. He forced the strawberry into his mouth but had to spit it out. “I can’t swallow,” he said. “I can’t eat.” It was the saddest sentence in the world.




At dawn, a butter film of sun on the walls. Shadow of a bird outside tracking across my room. Ghost bird. I looked over at the chair where my ghost boy sat, eyes closed but awake. “Go back to sleep,” he said. “It’s too early for living girls.”

It was as if we had known each other for a thousand years. For lifetime after lifetime. Me with a corset and him with a ruffle collar; me with a hunting spear, him with a spark of fire. In the modern version of us, he scrambled the most silken eggs for my breakfast, sent me to work with a cheese and avocado sandwich. If he hadn’t been there, I would have put an instant oatmeal package in my bag and looked forward to nothing. He said, “What’s on the math agenda for today?” and I said, “Perfect numbers.”

“Perfect numbers?”

“It’s a number equal to the sum of its proper divisors. Six is a perfect number because it can be divided by three, two, and one, and three plus two plus one equals six.”

“Okay?”

“The whole and the parts do the same thing.”

“I want to make a cooking metaphor. Something about chicken stock.”

I almost said, “I love you,” as I walked out. I had made a pact against love because love was bad math. Someone was always going to get hurt. Someone was always going to be the one left behind. I didn’t know this person, this former-person. He was not my husband or my lover or my brother or even my friend. He was my ghost, which made me—what? His haunt? I had to admit, it was nice to have another being in the house, to have someone to send me off.

Walking down the stairwell that used to be our only touchpoint, I wondered what he would do all day in my apartment. He was dead. He couldn’t call his mom or his sister. I hoped that I would return to a meal of such lavishness that the smell would drunken everyone in the building. A still life painting: gilded goblets, lobsters, whole fish on a plate of herbs, strange fruits tumbling from their bowls, cakes covered in candied flower petals. I wanted a meal where you had to take your top off to make room for dessert, where you were dewy with sweat by the end, hair undone, so much bounty that you could no longer remember the rules of civilization.



At school, my marker squeaked across the whiteboard, illustrating factorials, and I kept asking, “Does that make sense?” and the room was faces drawn by someone who didn’t know how to convey expression. “Are you alive?” I asked.

A girl said, “It makes sense, but we just don’t like this class.”

“What would you want to do instead?”

“Sleep?”

“Go ahead, then,” I told them. “If you’re that tired, sleep is more important than math.”

A boy said, “Why the good mood? You get laid or something?”

They did not wait for an answer but put their heads on their desks. I turned off the lights, and there was a barely audible softening of the room—no more hum, no more flicker.

“In a faraway land,” I began, “there lived a girl who fell in love with a ghost. He was relatively handsome, but also very nice. He made good eggs. She had not had any luck with living boys, so she decided to give it a try.”

In a valley of bowed heads, one boy raised his hand and said, “Is this a word problem? Should I be paying attention?” I wanted to pet his warm, black hair. I wanted to pet them all. They seemed, in the greyish dark of the classroom, like a menagerie, my own little zoo of hormones and acne and crop tops and hope. “None of this matters,” I said. “You’re all getting an A for the day.”



Here’s how to fail at falling in love with a ghost: climb onto the couch with him when you can’t sleep. When you lay close and put a hand on his body, it is cool and there is no pulse. He says, “I know you’re there because I can see you, but I can’t feel what you’re doing.”

He puts his own hand out and rests it on mine, and it is like the memory of a feeling more than a feeling. I know I am being touched but my skin doesn’t.

It could have been so good.



Over the next week, my ghost drew closer and closer. I don’t mean that we felt more bonded. He was always near me. First, he’d follow me to the bedroom and lie by the door like a cat who wanted in. A few days later, he took up at the foot of the bed. He whined when I took a shower because he felt untethered. His own warm body was gone, and mine was his next-best resting place. He was a cold-blooded animal, and I was a sunny rock.

I locked the door and went to work, and I thought I would feel freer step by step, the welcome of hard, bright lights and baby children in their grownup disguises. If I could teach them the formulas, their little lives would be easier. I felt like a shopkeeper who wanted to give all the goods away for free—take it all, cram it into your backpack, into your beautiful heads. Math to me was stepladders and door keys and frying pans and power drills. It was that useful. If you knew the way to figure a problem, you knew how to survive the world.

My problem, though, was outside the formulas I knew. The farther I walked, the hotter I got, as if I was crossing not blocks but continents, the hemisphere turning beneath my feet. By the time I saw the brick and flag of school, I was tropical, sweating. The sun was behind the clouds, and the middle schoolers were in the drop off line, exiting a stream of SUVs and old hatchbacks and school buses, locking bikes to the rack, and they were wearing jackets and hoodies while I was ready, really ready, to strip my shirt off and tear a fiery path, topless, into my classroom, where I would surely melt the floor, linoleum turning black and molten, and me sinking downward, downward, through the foundation, and I could almost feel the cold and mineral and wet of bedrock. I would stay there forever. I would let the granite put me out like a campfire.

“Miss Andros?” a pair of dark-haired twins said. I was dressed still, to my happy surprise, but my hands were full of rocks, and my shirt was lumpy, and I understood that I had been filling my clothing with gravel.

“It’s for a project,” I said. The excuse the kids gave when they’d used up doctor’s appointments and dead grandmothers. “On body heat.”

They bobbed away, nodding the nod of those convinced long ago that adults were beyond help.

I took out my phone and was surprised that it didn’t dissolve in my hand. I dialed the front office and reached the school secretary. “A fever,” I said. “High. Maybe an infection.” She grumped about calling a sub five minutes before the bell, and I hung up without apologizing because if I was going to get home without bursting into flame or melting a hole to the earth’s core, I had to run.



Closer and cooler, closer and cooler until my key slid into the lock, and my apartment absorbed me like a cloud. I could almost hear the sizzle of water putting the embers out. My ghost said, “No school?” and I said, “I burn up when I’m away from you. What have you done to my temperature? I don’t even know you, and you are torching me from the inside.”



On the third day calling in sick, my ghost was an image that kept jumping around. Like a record skipping, only visual. “Are you losing the signal?” I asked.

“I don’t have a phone,” he said.

“To the world. Never mind.”

If he fizzled out, I would be alone again, but I didn’t know if I would be hot or cold, lonely or happy. If it would be worse of better or exactly the same as before.

He said, “I’m starting to feel dead. Before I didn’t, but now, yes.”

He said, “I feel compelled to teach you to cook.” He stood over me and gave instructions. He told me how to mince, guided my hands as I brought the knife down across a carrot and watched a piece of flesh thin as glowing paper peel away. He was disappointed in my spice collection, which lacked za’atar and had only cheap cinnamon. He said, “The world was colonized for spices and sugar. People took ships over oceans for a little bit of nutmeg. A continent was enslaved for sugar. You have no excuse.”

In an hour, I had a plate of couscous and stewy chicken and a glass of cold lemonade, and I sat on my couch because I didn’t have a table. He took a bite, and then he looked at me with big eyes and spit the chicken back into his hand. “I can almost taste it,” he said, “but I can’t make it go down.” So I ate until I was uncomfortable while my ghost watched me, bite to bite, consuming the matter of a realm to which I still belonged.

I tried to stop, to save the leftovers for lunch, but he shook his head and said, “I can only eat by watching you eat. You have to keep going.”

I sliced smaller bites, chewed slowly, considered spitting bites into my napkin. Food pressed out. My body begged me to stop. My ghost stared, hungry, at my mouth.



That night, we sat at the window and watched the train thread its reliable path. The shout of its horn. I didn’t turn a light on, and we lost vision in the apartment, could only see what was lit from outside.

He said, “You’re only two stories above my place but everything looks so much smaller from here.”

My phone pinged with an alert. The shooter had been found and arrested. I read the news to my ghost. I envied him his deadness, the fact that he had already left his mortal body, had nothing to cling to. He said, “Human beings are broken, but the world is still worth the effort.”

On social media, people posted their heartbreak and their pretend heartbreak, and the two were indistinguishable, which only made the real thing seem cheap. Devastation was a competition, just like everything was. We all wanted to be the best mourners, the internet ringing with our theatrical wails.

“Will you look at my page?” he asked.

I hovered my cursor over the magnifying glass. “I don’t even know your full name.”

He told me something that sounded altogether too normal. Too alive.

We scrolled. A far higher proportion of women than men had left a comment on his wall. Middle school friends, high school friends, a girl who claimed him as her first kiss, mothers of kids he swam with, camped with. Cooks. The landlord had written Nice guy paid rent on time quiet. As if she were recommending him for a new house.

I wanted to lie down. I wanted to digest in complete stillness. In my bed, the ghost tucked himself around me, a cool cloud. I moved to the couch, but he followed. I was hot, and then I was freezing, surrounded by whatever material he was made of. Not water, not air, not flesh. Light. Cold light.

“I have a date next week. With a living boy,” I whispered in the deepest trench of night. “What if I want to take him home?”

“Is he good?” he asked.

“Surely not. They never are. His interests include model sailboat racing, astrophysics, and trying fun new restaurants. I am constitutionally opposed to second dates. I just want to kiss a warm pair of lips.”

“I should have asked you out when I was alive.”

“Maybe you would have missed work to make out with me and not gotten shot and not be dead. Maybe we’d be planning our wedding right now.”

“You would have been ready to marry me after a week?”

“I don’t believe in marriage. But it’s easy in a dream.”

The train went back the other direction. Freight from north to south, south to north. Oil car, flat car, engine.

“You can’t stay here,” I said. “Because if you stay, then I’m alone forever. I can’t bring a boy or a friend here when there’s a ghost. I’m too young to be haunted.”

“Take me home,” he said.

“Downstairs?”

“My old home. My family. Maybe if I go backwards.”

He described a desert, red and Martian, shale, sandstone, a river that was mostly silt. The theory was circular, bring the end back to the beginning and close the loop of his life. Accepting that nothing made sense, this made enough sense to try.



To everyone else, I was walking alone. I carried a small bag with my toothbrush and extra clothes, a bathing suit because I had been raised to bring one on every trip, no matter the destination. Outside, the landlady and her teenaged daughter were weeding dandelions with tiny spades. The daughter’s bangs were a curtain in front of her face, as if she was waiting backstage to enter the world. Hardcore music growled from the tinny speakers on her phone while her mother looked placid with earbuds—I guessed she was listening to a self-help podcast or a flute trio. She waved at me because she could not see that I was not alone, that I had her Nice guy paid rent on time quiet former tenant beside me. My ghost did a little chicken dance. Still nothing. I laughed and then had to explain to the women that it wasn’t them, it was a memory, something funny one of my students had said in math class. The least believable lie in the history of lying.



We ribboned the passes through the high peaks, where snow was clumped in the shade of every tree. It meant something to be higher up; altitude changed what lasted. “Do you feel any different here?” I asked. My ghost closed his eyes and took a long, careful breath. He shook his head. “You’re wearing a seatbelt,” I said. “That’s probably not necessary.”

He looked much sadder than I meant the comment to make him. Not having to worry was a kind of freedom, but maybe that wasn’t all it was. “I can’t be saved.”

“We’re saving you,” I told him. “Isn’t that the mission?”

We passed a jeep with too many teenagers packed in, their music loud enough to reach into our car-bubble. We passed signs for ski resorts and private airports, for a shooting range and mega church. My ghost closed his eyes, but I knew he was not asleep. The rules seemed unfair—you will be dead but stuck in the earthly realm, visible only to your neighbor, and you can’t eat, and you can’t sleep.

The landscape loosened into softer hills, peach orchards that would blossom any day. On the shoulder, a car carrier was pulled over with its flashers on and orange reflective triangles out. Instead of Buicks and Hondas, this semi had a load of hearses. Six or eight, black and shiny and brand new, the backseats hidden by lavender velvet drapes. My ghost and I turned to watch the trucker bend over to inspect a tire that had gone flat. My ghost asked, “What do you get when you cross a ghost with a broken-down hearse?”

“What?”

“I-70,” he said.

“That makes no sense.”

“I have to work on my material.”

“Tell me about your family. Tell me about your home.”

There were a bunch of sisters who all got married young and put another trailer on the family plot. There were nieces and nephews and chickens and an aged donkey that honked when anyone came or went. There was red dirt in everything, all the sheets and towels stained pink. There was a mother who bathed exclusively in the river and built ceremonial huts borrowed from other people’s traditions. Crystals on the windowsill, sage in the copper bowl.

“Do you have a father?”

“Everyone has a father, but not everyone has a dad. Mine was a river guide, younger than my mom by twenty years. He washed up on our beach, shared a bottle of whiskey and a granola bar with my mom, left the idea of me, and floated away again.”

His sisters had similar origins. Desert creatures, drifting on wind or water who blew through the valley. “My mom liked to tell us that our fathers were the dirt and the water.”

“Maybe it’s true,” I said. I liked that idea. I liked it better than my home, cul-de-sac and lawn-land, my parents who’d had me because having children was the only thing they could think of to do. “If you are a river baby, then I’m born from a combination of tennis whites and dandelion poison.”

He laughed. “Everyone has ingredients,” he said. I saw the fingertips on his left hand curl in; those on the right, knife-grip and chop, mincing the air. Spilling onto his lap: invisible, beautiful food.

“What if you haunting me is the closest I ever get to love?” I asked.

“Worst case, we find each other in the next world. Best case, it’s a visitation that makes you believe that you can contain more than sadness.”

“Do you want me to go to the trial? To cry, so the jury convicts?”

“I have tried to be angry, but it doesn’t stay. Maybe it’s a ghost thing. My anger sort of lifts off. I think what happens in that trial is none of my business. The trial is a human machine built to answer an unanswerable question—what is the consequence of harm?”

“I’m angry. I am successful at feeling hate.”

“There should not have been a gun or bullets. The boy, though. He only makes me sad. What must it have felt like, for that to be his wish? For puncturing bodies with bullets to be the best thing he could do with his hands?”



My ghost instructed my turns, first onto small highways, then onto a road that threaded the edge of a cliff like it had been strung up by a giant. Decoration. Rock by rock, he told me where to stay left, where to stay right, where to go slower than slow. We went into a valley, through a stream, and then up another cliffside. We came, eventually, to a lookout over a cliff, where it seemed there was no more road. In front of us was a red landscape of rock and sand and a green ribbon of river far, far below. He said, “We have to get down there. It’s the hardest part.”

I said, “On what?”

He nodded toward a track carved into the cliff.



My ghost’s mother was a tractor tire, wheeling out to the car to suspect me. He sat in the passenger seat, needlessly buckled, while the woman who gave birth to him leaned right in front of his invisible face to interrogate the girl who had shown up on her property.

She said, “No trespassing, no turnaround. You’re not welcome here.”

I said, “I knew your son.”

She reached her hand into the cracked window, and it was a claw. I wanted to roll it up in the window before it tore my heart out. Instead, I put my own hand into hers, an instinctual shake to make peace. Force peace.

The ghost reached across me, a cool arm of nothingness, and grabbed his mother’s fingers, and they went slack. She looked at me like I was a witch. “He was a good guy. We were neighbors.”

“Were you sleeping with him?”

I shook my head. “Just friends,” I promised. I was a disappointing girlfriend even in the imaginary.

“Do you have something to give me?” she asked.

I turned to him. She might burn me at the stake if I told her I’d brought him home. His eyes went fast from her to me, mother to whatever I was. He whispered, “Follow me,” and then opened his door, and she froze in shock, a pause he used to kiss her on the forehead, and then this man, this conjuring, the son of the woman on whose life I trespassed, my ghost, ran.

His mother jagged her head to the passenger side, door open without anyone having touched it, gust of her son in the red desert, a streak I could barely see, he was going so fast.

“Wait!” I yelled and sprinted after the streak across a dry sand wash, boulders stacked like toys for giants, three unlikely cottonwoods, tall and bright green against all that dry.



I heard my ghost’s mother behind me, tearing the willows away with her hands. At the bank, he was there, waiting for me. He said, “On three,” and I took his hand, or I put my own hand out in the same place that his was, though I could not feel it, and he told me, “I would have loved you. I do love you. You are worth loving,” and then he chanted the numbers, and at the last one, we both ran into the river and dove under. There was the sound of fire being put out with a bucket. I surfaced, and I was alone. No birds for long minutes. Even the water seemed to slow to gather my ghost, or the water’s child, back.

The water moved quickly, though it looked utterly still. I let it haul me a while, that green current between walls of red. But my ghost’s mother yelled the word rapids and motioned for the shore, and I suddenly wanted very much to be safe again, to be alive. I wheeled my arms hard against the river’s downstream wish, aiming for the right angle of the sand and willows. The beach, the desert, the cliff-cut track, the highway leading back across high peaks and to the place where I lived my own, delicate days. A classroom of kids who needed algebra embroidered into their minds. Who saw the words Perfect Numbers on the board and felt panic instead of possibility. I wanted to run to them and explain the elegance of a whole created out of its own divided parts.

I had plants to water. A cutting board, a handful of herbs, the knife belonging to a chef I once knew.

My ghost’s mother, on the beach, held her arms out for me. In the emergency, she had forgotten that we did not know each other. I shivered hard, and my feet ached on the sand, which was wet and rocky, and it smelled so different than the sea. It smelled sweet and overripe. My ghost’s mother stripped my clothes off and removed her own dress, put it over my head. “You’ll be warm before you know it.” Her underwear, as promised, were clay pink. Her skin was its own cracked landscape. I put my fingertips on my wrist and felt the blood course. I put my fingertips on her wrist and felt the same beat. Water moving. Going toward and away in equal time.

“He’s home now,” I said, and the woman looked up at heaven, blue sky so clean it was painted on. I gave that big, high beauty my attention too, even though I knew it was not where our love was. His place was green and muck, silt. He was, right now and on every day to come, being carried downstream, outward, seaward, west. He was whole. He was on his way to everywhere, absolutely everywhere.