Serving the Ghost
You’re on a moving train. You share earbuds with the person next to you, comment on the landscape whipping by. You know this person very well, having taken this seat when you boarded the train years ago. In fact, you’ve never been on the train without her. When you return from the food car with coffee and a damp turkey sandwich, she’s there. When you return from the bathroom or a walk to stretch your legs, she’s there. There are other people in the car, and you know them too, but not as well.
Suddenly, a voice on the loudspeaker: calling number 153. The person rises, leaving everything behind. She’s outside the window. You could touch her if it weren’t for the glass. She wears an expression you can’t read, one of resignation and stone. It doesn’t change. Nothing about her changes. She doesn’t head to town or sit or tap on the window. You draw schemes to get her back inside, but she doesn’t seem interested. She doesn’t seem anything at all.
The train begins to move.
Wait, you cry. There’s a person outside. You strain to look backwards. Passengers bow their heads; someone grasps your shoulder. People in the back stare. Her things are on the seat — a mystery novel, her sunglasses and sweater, her suitcase on the rack. The air around you vibrates with her presence, her gestures and smell, the cadence of her voice. You check the window, again and again, and her distant figure communicates nothing. She has no more need for you.
Eventually, you understand she will not return. Her exit becomes words you use when people ask about the empty seat. You pick up the book and read the last words she read. You sift through her suitcase. A new person needs the seat, so you consolidate as much as possible, cram what you can in your own bag and let the rest go. The seat is occupied, the air flooded with a new smell.
You take out her things on occasion, the book, now worn at the spine, her sweater pilling along the sleeves. You puzzle over them as though it’s your duty. You know only that you owe your service. When you look out the window, you see she’s become a tiny dot, a minor light. Can you see me? you ask. You are desperate to be seen. At times you feel guilty and you don’t know why. Ashamed and you don’t know why. She appears in your dreams as a black hole with violent gravity, sucking in the universe. A silent, waxen figure you embrace with confusion and relief.
New people arrive, and others move further away. They press their noses to the window, excitedly scanning ahead for what’s coming. They make you nervous. You look forward sometimes. They see you with the ratty sweater, the yellowed book. What are you trying to do? they say. You make them nervous. What do you think you can do?
Sasha Graybosch’s fiction has appeared in Hobart, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, Canteen, elimae, Dogzplot, and elsewhere, and she’s written non-fiction for The Rumpus. She holds an MFA from NYU and works as a writing consultant in New York City. She’s currently revising her first novel and working on a hybrid memoir that examines the boundaries between stuff and the self.
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Art Robert Rauschenberg e Susan Weil / BM. Public Domain