There are no ghosts, only shadows of memories. Phantom thoughts that carry a shovel and pick ax.
Flashes, from somewhere, bursts of radiance from the roof of the sky. Blurry hectic light, soft, and distant, like a camera bulb, and there were many cameras, staggered laughter, ambulatory conversations. It was Jeremiah’s last birthday, and he asked for a backyard party, though I don’t know why, the beer, I suppose. There was still a hope for a decent harvest. There had been good rain, not plentiful, but not miserly, not like now as it rains out of spite, the crops are ruined anyway, so drench the earth with useless wet fingers, and his birthday was all right, a little forced, he was fifty-two, an odd number to turn it into an occasion, but he was like a boozy child with all that free store-bought liquor and grilled meat. The cameras, so many cameras immortalizing the moment, and Jeremiah loved the attention, right up until he passed out on the porch, his underpants exposed, the guests drifting away – driven away — by the tawdry words, the blurred agitated stumblings. From them, all their pious smiles, the sympathetic nods, happy birthday, Jeremiah, you made everyone wonder why you were worth celebrating.
The mirror. Jeremiah stood outside, and the mirror stood inside, and both reflected the darkness. The rain was a voluptuous wraith, the dirt a churning cadaver. They lay together in a bed of indecencies: these two heaving, resentful lovers who despised their coupling.
The mirror gazed back with its dim eye, and I saw the woman staring back at me. Thin, much thinner than before. Raw-boned, with a loose veil of weathered flesh. Eyes much darker than their natural green, hair as gray as soured milk.
Wim had stopped chattering, and the only voice I heard was in the echo of the rainfall. It was a cold voice, a whispery voice, void of compassion, deaf to reason.
“You don’t deserve to live,” said Me. The voice grew solemn with each word. “Inexpiable. It is best to end it.”
The lovers agreed, their voices flat and roaring, and the sound shook the house. I moaned and begged for their silence.
I waited for Jeremiah to disagree, but he was that voice, too. I waited for my own voice, my real voice, to defy them, or it, and it wore me out to find it.
I closed my eyes and waited for the storm to pass.
“I should have been braver,” I said to Wim. “I should have been stronger. I ought not to have drunk so much. Look at me. I acted in cowardice. I’ve always been weak.”
“Weakness is nothing that describes you, dear. You were alone and you did what you did to survive.”
“I could have lived with him if I tried harder. He gave me a home, he gave me a bed. At the first sign of panic I became him, the him I feared the most. A tepid drunk is easy to control if your hands control the bottle. A mean-minded drunk will take your hands and use them against you to get what he needs. He never mourned. Did I ever tell you that? He never mourned.”
“Mourning is different in different people. Some weep, some turn to stone. And some become blustery with their rage. They blame themselves–”
“Who else could he blame? Me? I was a victim of it, not the cause.”
“You almost gave him a child, and then you didn’t. That affects men in different ways. He looked for a way to get lost, but he didn’t know how to do that without pulling you along.”
“So you’re defending him?”
“For what he did? No. But he was blind, and so were you. You grieved differently, and separately.”
“I can’t go back, Wim. I couldn’t go back even if given the choice. It was too hard. Too much to consider. Look at me.”
“No. I won’t. That’s a feeble excuse, Charlotte. Don’t blame your misfortunes on how you look. Bravery isn’t something you wear on your skin, it’s something you carry. Resentments seep through the skin and make you harder and colder. You are what you are. Ugliness is in the mind.”
“You make it sound simple. It’s a cloth that’s wrapped around me, every day. Always I was told how much my appearance diminished me. I married Jeremiah because there was no one else, and there would not be anyone else.”
“What about Del? He wants you. He desires you.”
“He’s so clumsy with his words. He’s lewd.”
“But kind. He doesn’t know what words to use because he’s drawn to you.”
“Drawn to me? You’re foolish, Wim. Childish. I’m the only woman who hasn’t denied his fumbling attempts. He’s vain and–”
“And confident. He knows what he wants. There’s kindness underneath that crude surface. He could be a kind man, a loving man.”
“That’s what I thought about Jeremiah.”
“No. You know better. He took the first piece of candy that was offered to you. You didn’t know the sour underneath. You married a stranger because you thought you had to. But you know Delbert. Better than you ever knew Jeremiah. He doesn’t see the same thing you see when you glance in the mirror. He sees what’s under the skin.”
“He sees what’s under my dress, be honest.”
“Maybe. But he sees you. The bruises, the brokenness, the sorrow that lives inside.”
“Does he see the madness, I wonder? The coldness? The anger? I’m doing him a favor by keeping him away.”