by Stephanie Lachapelle (Art by Sophie Peters)
I pick the man because his arms are smooth, thin with muscles that bulge for lack of fat. Veins like ropes I can hold onto, a lifeline, and hairs so fine I can’t find them at all. If I search for them hard enough, use a magnifying glass and a fine-toothed comb, I wonder if I’ll find you there too, clinging to a light blonde hair, your face smiling up at me.
After a few drinks and some small talk, I tell the man it’s far too smoky in here, and he sighs when I ask if he wants to go on an adventure, says, “Sure,” but as if I’m forcing him to, playfully, even though we both know it’s more like This is what I’ve been waiting for.
People meet in bars to fuck, you used to say. We are meeting in a bar to fuck.
He asks where we should go, and I take him to the graveyard we first made love in. Its grass is brittle beneath my feet now, but with you it had been lush and damp. I can’t help but compare, and I didn’t mean for this, to come here, but I find myself in places we used to hang out at all the time these days, even when I will myself not to.
“Take your shirt off,” I tell the man, and he does. On his clavicle, I look for my favorite mole. It’s not there. I close my eyes, imagine anyway, and I’ve committed this to memory: the rise of your chest, the stubble of your chin, and your freckles, all your freckles. Like tiny brown ants marching with every breath.
We laid down in the grass, like I’m doing now with him, this man with the smooth arms, and you licked me all over, your tongue wet with heat, which he isn’t doing because he doesn’t know how to. Do you remember the glow of the street lamps nearby, the way my knees shook after you pulled your fingers from inside me and licked them as if they were a lollipop?
Can you remember anything?
The man asks if I’m cold and I tell him I wouldn’t really describe myself that way.
“No,” he says, “you’re shivering.”
It’s sweet how concerned he looks, but I don’t feel anything and I wish he wouldn’t look at me so closely. I push him away and tell him this isn’t working, not the right place after all. He asks what I mean, but I just shake my head, say, “It’s an adventure,” and, “We’re looking for a haunting.”
“Like that ghost hunters show?” he asks, excited now.
“Exactly,” I say.
We drive to the cemetery in the woods next, the one you and I found after breaking into all those abandoned trailers, feet crunching over broken glass, air Florida-thick with heat and salt and moisture.
Florida will swallow us all, you’d said, your eyes a bit wild, unfocused.
The man talks about an app he can download on his phone, how it can detect electromagnetic fields. It’s funny how he thinks you need an app to find a ghost.
“Put your fingers in my hair,” I tell him, brushing mine against his smooth arms. I smile. I’m smiling so hard my face might fall off. “Say you could get lost in my curls. Call them a Florida hammock.”
He does, but frowns.
When we get to the cemetery, I tell him nobody has been buried here in years.
“Should I download the app?” he asks.
Above us, the clouds roll in and blot out the moon. It’s like a shadow show at night, sans ghosts and bunny ears, and it feels like palmetto bugs are crawling up my spine. Graveyards aren’t so scary when you’re alive, but here, with him, it’s like I’m choking on dirt. Like the corners of the world are folding in on me.
The man puts his arms around me, and I ask if he can hear the tree branches swaying in the wind. He doesn’t respond though, only pulls my shirt off.
“Whooosh,” I say. “It’s a ghost.”
His hands could be anyone’s and also never the right ones, so I stop paying attention to what he does after that.
I can only think about how these were the oldest graves we’d seen, and about how we sat in the center of all these headstones and told ghost stories: the woman who shot herself one, two, three times for each return to sender; and the other woman who, searching for her missing husband, walked out into the woods, dug her fingernails into the bark of thousand-year-old trees, and was never found again.
Stephanie Lachapelle is a writer who lives in Jacksonville, FL with two feral children and about a million butterflies. She is also the publisher and prose editor for Longleaf Review. Her fiction has been nominated for Best of the Net (2018), and can be found both online and in print. Find her on twitter @thegothest.
(Artist) Sophie Peters identifies as fluid in both gender and sexuality and this perspective means she is never static in her relations to people and herself. She was born in the USA but grew up predominantly in the UK and is currently based in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her work centers on motion, emotion and capturing moments of exquisite pain or joy.
Artist's Statement, "Not Our Time to Speak", Acrylic and oil on canvas, 19" x 24"
I am influenced by surrealist techniques and abstraction. My works can be absurd but are routed in the daily reality experienced as a queer female writer. I like to use realism in my work in a contrasting manner to selectively depict the aspects of life I believe deserve more recognition (ie couples unseen in the media) or that I believe add poignancy to a piece. Namely, underrepresentation and pain. My work seeks to bring peace and catharsis to observers and to stimulate senses meaningfully.