My husband says he’s making me a ghost. And an hour later, I’m invisible to him. Or not so much invisible as unobtrusive, like the parched peace lily in the corner of our living room, the seaside painting hanging skew-whiff on the wall.
The next morning, I kiss his dry lips awake. He runs two fingers along the bottom one, feeling the notion of the name he can’t yet bring himself to speak. He watches our ceiling like memories are projected there. I wonder which ones he sees: that fair where I accidentally set loose a prize-winning pig, the Thanksgiving stuck in a Hoboken bus station, the argument that almost ended us and the feral sex as reconciliation. Babe, it’s Annie, I say again and again, but the sound of my voice is not rich enough to compete with his memory of it, with his memory of me.
At night, I climb in bed with him. Rub my feet against his and watch a shiver swim his whole body. He moans my name while he masturbates. I curl my fingers around his, and he leaps out of bed. Quaking in the corner of the room, moaning my name again, but not like before. Not with intimacy. Not with desire. Almost like he’s trying to recall what it means.
A few months on, Veronica moves in. Ronnie, he calls her. She wedges between us in bed. Removes my cotton underwear from the drawer aside his and adds all these lacy, impractical numbers. I corner her one Sunday afternoon while she unloads them still crackling from the dryer. Demand a stop to the game. She looks at me and says, “He knew you’d say this. He knew you wouldn’t last.” I argue that I’ve played the part long enough and she shrugs, “Not to him, you haven’t.”
Out in the world beyond our walls, my life is a demonstration in the mundane. I run into my neighbors at Home Depot who ask for my help choosing between green paint swatches that look the same, but I tell them to go with Ancient Moss anyway. I take a Lyft to Pilates sometimes and feel ashamed because it’s close enough to walk. Attend a non-fiction book club on Tuesdays, and hmm and nod even though my mind has deserted the circle. I work at the bank, and when the rare customer hugs me after I sign off on their home loan, I break — the affection like a familiar spirit passing through my body.
But at home, I keep playing the ghost. Even putting more effort into it. Knocking knick-knacks off shelves as the happy couple watches Netflix. Flinging open kitchen cabinets as they eat duck cassoulet by candlelight. I wear stained, white sheets with eye slits. At four am, I oooooooh and ahhhhhhhh and yank the blanket off their bare bodies, their skin turning translucent blue from the light bleeding through the curtains. I find myself looking over my husband’s shoulder in the bathroom mirror a lot these days too. Sometimes I pen my name in the moisture — a heart over the i — and watch the blood abandon his face. Other times I mimic his movements, no longer myself but an imprecise reflection of him. And there are times at night when he sits up suddenly in bed, and in that half-sleep state his eyes find mine, but it’s not as though he sees me, not as though he sees a human being at all. What he sees is eternity. Before he closes his eyes again and spills back into the sheets, unaware that somewhere in the distance a train abound with souls whooshes along a track, hurried like our little lives.
L. SOVIERO — L. was born and raised in Queens, New York but has made her way around the world, currently laying her hat in Sydney. She has an MSc in Creative Writing from the University of Edinburgh. When she is not writing flash, she works as a Learning Designer. She has been longlisted at Wigleaf and spotlighted in Best Small Fictions. Check out more of her work at lsoviero.com.
Art by KAITLIN NOEL HANRAHAN — Kaitlin is a little quirky, a little weird, the designated bad girl of the group, an IBS warrior, a sinner, and allergic to apples. Follow her on Twitter @coldslaw99.