How Ghosts are Made
I wrote this story and submitted it to a literary journal. After two long months, it was declined. I am at the place where it feels silly to try hard to get something published. I wrote it. I will continue to write. No work is so precious. So here it is. Keep in mind, this story is fiction.
How Ghosts are Made
I hear it’s not good to appear “sweaty” or “thirsty.” Somehow though, hunger is well-respected. Before I make my way back into the waiting room, I check the crease under my arms for stains. I dab a paper towel on the most damp parts of my skin. Because I didn’t want to look thirsty, I drank forty ounces of water this morning, and now I must empty my bladder.
It’s Niagara Falls. The walls of the stall echo the sounds back to me and somehow calm my nerves. Water, even when tinged with yellow, has a baptistic quality. Flush.
I walk out of the stall and examine myself in the mirror and try to mold my face into something different with my hands; I need to look younger, fresher, more hungry. And God am I ever hungry. My stomach clenches. I’ve eaten only brown rice topped with black beans and a “spritz” of olive oil from a metal canister for dinner, every day for the past week.
That is why I’m here now. I need work, because I need money, because I need to feed myself because… well all humans need to feed themselves. Except babies. Those little things have it so easy.
My efforts to sculpt my face are fruitless (I should have had a banana before I left home), so I walk out of the bathroom and sit down in the chair feet away from the receptionist, who eyes me, then goes back to typing diligently. I wish I were female for many reasons, but the most immediate is my desire to be a receptionist, who still to this day are almost always female. Gender bias at its finest. It’s more acceptable to be a laborer than a receptionist as a man. “I want a real man,” everyone says.
I’m not immune to this quality. I want a real man, too. A man with big, bulking muscles that might pop the seams of his shirt if he flexes too hard. A man who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. I look down at my crotch, which is expanding. I look at the clock in a panic. Luckily, it’s two minutes till two, so there’s time for it to contract. Hopefully whoever is interviewing me doesn’t have a habit of being early.
I’ve heard men say they think of baseball to curtail their lubriciousness but that doesn’t work for me because athletes in tight uniforms are highly appealing. Geology works better. Stiff, jagged rocks. Brown, rusty, ugly rocks. It worked. I’m flaccid.
“David!” says a man’s voice and my stomach jumps. I look up. He’s handsome. Why does he have to be so handsome? My eyes dart to his crotch, then his eyes, his brown, sparkling eyes. Boulders. Stacks of stupid, gray boulders.
“Yes,” I say, in more of a whisper than a tone. I cough to clear my throat. “That’s me.” I stand up and adjust my belt and my shirt and flatten my tie, then extend my right hand. Make it count, I think as he grasps my hand and I grasp back. Firm. Like a real man.
“Follow me,” he says, and follow him I do. His pants fit him well. “So you found us okay.” Is that a statement or a question?
“Oh, yeah. It wasn’t too hard.” Great, now I made it sound like finding things is easy for me.
“Good. Here, have a seat.”
We’re in his office now. I sit down in the chair in front of his desk, which is placed at an awkward angle, which I didn’t realize until just now. I lift it and turn it, then sit back down.
“Good, get comfortable,” he says. Should I have left it? “So, I’m gonna make this easy on you.” Thank God. “Why do you want to work here?” Easy, my ass.
“Well, first and foremost, I need a job,” dumb, dumb, dumb, “but on top of that it’s always been a dream of mine to work for a company with such high standards. I really admire the dedication to quality your company exhibits. I’m very impressed.”
“Okay,” he says. “Well, let me tell you why I want you to work here.” Really? “Your resume is outstanding. Really, just very impressive.” He twists the ring on his finger, the one on his ring finger, on his left hand. Married. There’s a glint in his eye.
“Oh, wow, well thank you.”
My resume is full of lies.
“When can you start?”
“As soon as possible.”
“Great, how does Monday sound?” Monday sounds weird. And boring. Like mundane without the n.
“Sounds good to me!” I lie.
“Wonderful. I told you it was going to be easy. Let me show you around and introduce you to some folks.” I don’t like the way he says folks, as if with his six-figure salary he’s one of them (one of us), but I follow him and his pants around anyway, and I don’t hear a word he says to me. I have a job. An actual, real-life job. I’m elated. No more calls to mom on the 31st or the 30th (or the 28th in February. 29th in a leap year.) I can pay my rent now.
He walks me through the break room, and we pass a standard issue coffee maker filled with most likely Folgers (not the best part of waking up) and I feel giddy knowing in a couple weeks I can turn my nose up at it as I instead sip from my Starbucks cup, or perhaps on Fridays from a cup via the super-indie coffee shop up the street that’s even more expensive than Starbucks.
My fingers dance in my pockets and my ears feel numb.
“Now normally, I’d skip the supply closet, but as you’ll be spending a lot of time in there,” he says as he opens the door, then trails off. We walk inside and I’m in awe of all the perfect stacks of boxes and shelves and plastic cubbies filled with paperclips, binder clips, rubber bands, rubber stamps, velcro straps to wrap cords together… this is definitely someone’s version of heaven. Perhaps mine, in a different universe where I’m just a skosh more boring.
I hear a click, so I turn around. Mr. Married is now two inches away from me. My heart begins to pound with such force it feels as if I’m inside of a bass drum. I swallow hard. Why is this happening? He grabs my hand and places it over his crotch which is now swollen like mine was just minutes ago, before I knew how handsome he was and before I knew how married he was, and before I knew the reason my interview was so easy was because the “hard stuff” was to come afterward.
I don’t know what to do and a second later I still don’t know what to do and I don’t like the feeling of not knowing what to do. I wish I were unemployed again.
“Do you like that?” he says. Part of me does and part of me doesn’t. The part that doesn’t hates this man with such passion I wish I could make my hand twice the size of his whole body and crush him with my fist. The part of me that does is growing inside of my pants. The other other part of me is now growing to hate that part of me.
“I,” I say. I, I, I. What comes next? It doesn’t matter what I’m about to say because he moves my hand for me, across the barrel, over and over and over, and like a loaded gun it fires and he lets out an exasperated grunt and with all of the adrenaline forcing my senses into overdrive I can hear the pain and immediate regret in his expulsion. He gasps and swallows hard, and then expels air out of his mouth that I wish I could blow back in his face because I don’t want any part of him near me, even his carbon dioxide.
“Why don’t you go and ask Shelley to send your new-hire paperwork? I gotta clean myself up.” Shelley is the female receptionist. I say nothing to him, and I unlock the door, and open it just enough so I can fit my body out, then close the door again. Luckily for him, and for me, and everyone in this office, the supply closet is out of the way of everything else. I’m in a daze and I can’t find my way back to the reception area. Maybe I should go back and tell him I’m not good at finding things, and he’ll renege on the job offer.
Finally, I’m able to see Shelley and her hair floating above the counter that sits level to her eyes. I’m not sure I will be able to compose myself enough to even eke out a sound, let alone a full sentence. I float over to her and half-hope she’ll see the newly minted ghost version of me and say, “Sweetie are you okay?” But instead I press myself against the counter, twitch my mouth into a half-smile and say, “I’m supposed to ask you to send me new hire paperwork.” She nods as if she’s impressed and says, “Well good for you. Congratulations.” Thanks. Wrap a bow on it and this is the best day of my life.
I float for a few seconds, before Shelley looks up and says, “Everything okay?”
My eyes move to look at her mouth because I can’t look into her eyes, and I say, “Yes, thank you. I think I just ate something a little off this morning.” Yeah, nothing. I ate nothing this morning, which is why I’m so hungry.
“Poor dear. Well, I’ll have your paperwork to you by the end of the day. When do you start?” Mun-dae.
“Well, congrats. And I hope you feel better. You know what always helps my tummy? Ginger tea.” I nod as if I’ve never heard of ginger tea, and mutter,
“Thanks.” I move the corners of my mouth to the side hoping to emulate a smile. “I’ll see you Monday.” I float out the door and down the hallway, then through the lobby then out to my car which has just enough gas to carry me home. Luckily now I’m a ghost; I’m sure that’ll make for better gas mileage.
I get home and float up the stairs to the third floor, open my door, lock it, then unlock and lock it again, and float to my bed where I close my eyes and soon I’m no longer conscious.
It’s the first day of work and I’m stuck on the mat in the entryway of my apartment. I can’t force myself to move. I crane my neck to look at the time on the microwave. 7:47. It’s a ten-minute drive. Maybe if I’m late, he’ll think I forgot the directions to the office so he’ll insist on showing me the supply closet again as if I’d forgotten that, too. This inspires me to move and so my body moves without me, and drives away in my car to work. I float behind it.
My body walks into the office and greets Shelley with a smile, and I float behind and frown at her. I feel bad for her for not knowing what happened to me.
My body walks to his office and knock on the doorframe because the door is open. He looks up and smiles as if nothing ever happened. “Happy Monday!” he says as he stands.
“Yeah,” I say. “Where is my desk?” I say this a little too harshly than I mean to and his face tenses.
“Let me show you,” he says, then swallows hard. I can hear it.
I follow my body which follows him, down the hallway, through the break room, past desks and then more desks. He stops and my body stops. I float.
My desk is next to a potted plant which sits right on the edge of where the wall bends into the hallway that leads to the supply closet. There wasn’t a desk here before. My stomach drops. My body sits down.
“Hope everything is to your liking.” Everything isn’t. “If you need something else, well, you know where to get it. If you need help finding anything just page me and I’ll be there in a jif. I always come quickly.” I hate you.
“Thanks.” My body adjusts itself in the chair and I watch as it gets a feel for the chair and then the desk, then turns the computer monitor on, and looks down at papers and begins to type on the keyboard. He’ll be okay for now. I float up, through the ceiling, through the roof, and look down at the building. It gets smaller and smaller, which makes me feel a little bit bigger. I float up into the clouds and I wait. It won’t be long before he gets hungry again.