An Unexpected Guest
The ghost stood in the hallway and waited for me to speak to him.
I had a creeping sense of him before I opened the door–
a need to keep the lights on, something timid about looking in the mirror at my own reflection
(not my reflection, really, but close enough–
the borrowed body I wear on visitations to the South)
that familiar sense of not being alone in my part-time home.
The full moon, fat, obscured, peered through mosquito net clouds
so I saw him brightly in the bathroom doorway:
5 foot 5, wearing drab, scarlet trim on his empty-hanging sleeve.
“Excuse me,” the artillery lieutenant said, “can you help me?”
I, who drove in the Motor Transport Corps,
splintered steering wheels with my sweating first hands
patched rubber tires in muddy places
and drove unmarked roads to carry munitions–
I, who moved cannons over heaven and earth
have never told an engineer I can’t help, unless I had to.
The war’s been over just about a hundred years
I have been lonely in my remembrances, aching and empty at anniversaries,
but old habits die hard, and I only say, “follow me.”
In the kitchen my borrowed hands pour red wine, jammy with the taste of plums
and set it before the moon-flooded window.
As is the secret code of soldiers, I light a cigarette but not for myself.
France is coming back in flashes. Anxious, I wonder, why have you come to me now?
Did we serve side by side?
I have no recollection of his face as he clutches the cigarette to his ghost mouth.
I wonder what horrors he will vomit out for us both to live again.
But he does not speak of our shared sorrow.
He does not say: in England I heard you crying for your missing eye
or: you held my remaining hand as the world fell apart
or: we marched in parades when all was said and done and drank after in silence, weeping.
He says nothing, drinking wine without even a thank you, desperately thirsty.
I am watching him solidify, almost real enough to touch
as if I could kiss the confused frown away from his mouth.
How did he get in here? How did he find me? Why isn’t he one of the ones I know?
Why do only strangers come for me after all this time I have been alone
pretending I am as young as I look, a new name in new towns
borrowing faces since my old body has worn down to nothing without ever getting old,
the perpetually cursed pilgrim doomed to live, and live, and live,
when everyone else has died the way that good men ought.
“I’m looking for Amelia,” he says, and bitter relief fills me. I don’t know any.
Wrong address– none of the ghosts I feed in this complex answer to that name.
“I’m sorry,” I say, like that’s enough for what I really mean.
“Did she live downtown? Market Street is that way.”
He drinks deeply of the wine as if he will finally remember. I hope he does.
I let him out the front door and try not to watch him out the window.
The cigarette at his mouth is still smoldering on the kitchen table.
When I cannot bear how it won’t quite burn out, I call a medium I know.
But who knows how to help a ghost when they go wandering?
What can you do but feed the dead, when they draw near you, hungry and full of want?
Though the sky is clear of all but gauze, weeping nothing from the wound of night
I hear thunder, like the cannons he once fired and once I moved,
loaded and unloaded on the rail lines in one piece,
broken into parts to haul in the backs of slow trucks named for liberty.
I go back to bed, curling around my lover who is himself half a ghost,
my pianist, who plays songs I knew when I was young
who does not know the color of gas and has never feared the whistle.
Still I am the only one cursed to live long after the rest have gone,
if this is living, me in a borrowed skin, embodiment striking on irregular days
(but of course it is living, if you can still satiate the dead
I still draw the line between us, they still do not count me among their own
and come to me with hungry mouths for what only living memory can give.)
At least tonight, with ghosts afoot, I am not the only one remembering.
Lev Mirov is a disabled mixed race Filipino-American who lives with his wife, fellow writer India Valentin, and their two cats near Washington, DC. When not playing a time-traveling medievalist dandy, he writes speculative fiction, fantastical poetry, and gluten-free recipes from around the world. His poetry has appeared or will appear in Strange Horizons, Through the Gate, Liminality, and the anthologies “Angels of the Meanwhile” and “Spelling the Hours”. You can follow him on twitter @ https://twitter.com/