To go back in time is to unwind the spool of thread inch by inch, life line to dead end. That’s the way the story goes.
Bennett writes about a ghost, squinting at his too-bright phone screen; the way he used to tuck his arm beneath her head, damp hair so cool, so clean. He tries to explain how much heavier the absence feels now, but can’t.
Elle hadn’t ended things, not really. She’d stopped responding to texts, ignoring messages and Snapchats and everything else that bound them to the millennial generation. She’d ghosted him, and now she was his ghost.
Sometimes he writes to her as if she were really dead:
Today we are here to remember the life of Elle. We wrap our minds around the idea of death; life so tenuous, like string wrapped tight around the finger: circulation cut, heart stopped. If she were here we’d tell her we love her, and we would mean it.
But time creeps back in. Elle is no longer lost to us. We remember, and so we expound her greatness, excuse her ghostly presence in that pew just there. We remember, and we make her real.
He revises her eulogy, curses the Fates for cutting the thread, taking her away from him. He thinks about Thomas Hardy’s obsession with fatalism; Elle used to read him poems. And he’d told her he loved them, even when she whispered the words in her sleep.
She never mumbled nonsense, just poetry.
For this, Bennett loved her mind. When he called her sexy over a text, he meant her sentences, words; all the bits buried within her had hardened.
Once he’d told Elle she smelled like spun sugar, and she’d smiled, face soft. He’d loved the idea of her being pliable. Like he could send her messages at 3 AM about the essence of gin and friends who talked about nothing and how life was a bitch because they were young but they were living, and she would understand. And once, she’d quoted a song that made him understand.
That song played at the funeral he held for her in his head. And he knew it was fucked up, but he just called it coping, because he couldn’t do anything else.
Weeks before, he’d made up a song that only used words that started with the letter ‘L’ because that was her name and no one else could know he was grieving. And he turned that half-assed attempt into a poem, which was published today at Letter Porn.
He will read it next Saturday at the local coffee shop. He’ll sigh into the mic and close his eyes as if conjuring the pain of her ghostly presence. The crowd will go silent when he dedicates those words to the dearly departed. He will watch the woman’s face in the front row as her eyes go wide with imagining: a car accident, a terminal illness, pills beneath the pale Sturgeon Moon; tragedies Elle doesn’t deserve.
But now Bennett reaches out across the bed and finds a strand of her hair still clinging to the sheets. He twists that last piece of Elle around his finger until he feels his pulse thrumming hard and fast and sure, summoning her to him.
“Maybe I wanted your question to mean more,” she says, appears as a pierian poltergeist meant to meddle with this reality.
“But you’re dead?” Bennet asks, closing his eyes, clearing her from his mind.
“I wanted you to ask for a picture of my soul because you knew I loved books, creamer constellations in my coffee, and orange marmalade, and maybe, you’d wonder how those things would scar a soul.
I wanted you to want me like someone else, and I know that’s not fair. We were on a collision course toward something terrible, because that is what love is.”
“Baby, I think,” he says, as if to himself.
“Sometimes I think and think until I see stars, but that’s the way you wanted it. You wanted. You wanted. You wanted. And you couldn’t imagine me enough not to ask. Not to want.
So here we are.”
“I’m just trying to write you out of me, Elle.”
“You think this is what it must be like; exorcised by some Holy man with hymnals and words. Oh your words I loved, you’d say.”
Bennett unwinds the piece of hair from his finger, lets it fall to the floor below, disappears amongst dust.
Elle returns to the darkness.