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Needlework

HIM:
The heavy brass scissors slipped from my limp grasp as I noticed her. She looked just like she did the day she died. A tank top with peacock feather designs over audaciously ripped grey jeans, draped over a healthy frame, complete with rosy cheeks and thick black hair. But she wasn't all there.
It was as if she were made of frosted glass, coated with some sort of dull, translucent layer of transience. Her edges were blurred—I couldn't tell where her body ended and her surroundings began as she perched on the edge of my bed. She didn’t slouch, recline, or even sit at ease, as she used to. No, she perched, like some extinct otherworldly avian not sure if it will be welcomed back by its kin.
I looked at her, she looked at me. We might have set up a rendezvous: meet in my bedroom, 7 p.m., two months after you put a pistol in your mouth.
"What took you so long?"
"I tried to get into heaven," she snorted. "But Saint Peter stopped me at the gates and said I couldn't enter unless I went to purgatory first. So I told him I'd rather go back to earth. The Lord has given, and the Lord shall take away, said Job, praise be to the Lord. Well, God, if you were just going to take away what you'd given, why give it in the first place? If you don’t want us to destroy our lives, don’t give us them at all. Do you know how many people would be happier if they'd never been born?"
"Haha, very clever. And philosophical." I leaned down to snatch my scissors; a gentle metallic clink as my thimble brushed the handle. I’d been darning my socks, and yes, it is a veritably manly pastime. "So what really happened?"
"I don’t know," she said simply. "One moment I was tasting gunpowder—it's something awful, I'd never recommend it—and next I was just wandering around like nothing happened. I saw my body, and all the hubbub, and you fainting, and all sorts of crazy stuff. Being invisible really gives you a vantage point."
"You can…?"
"Sure," she said, and demonstrated. "But again, I don’t understand it," came her disembodied voice. "I just happened to turn out like this." The color leached back into the space she had occupied. "So you know how in ghost stories, the ghost is always demented and raging? I guess they must feel very confused and frustrated by their state of being."
It took me a few tries to thread the needle. For some reason, tremors raced up and down my arms as I wondered aloud what kind of ghost she was.
"You know me. I always expected the worst in life, so there wasn't any reason to expect anything better of death. I didn’t think I was going to end up this way. But I wasn't surprised when I did."
"You still haven't answered my first question."
"Well, why did I wait two months? I suppose… I didn’t want you to go crazy seeing me immediately after I died." She shifted uncomfortably and wrung her hands; I almost heard the bed squeaking nervously beneath her in spite of her weightlessness. "You might think that I'd come back to life, or never died… the truth would ruin you. So I waited for the shock to subside. You seem fine, anyways."
A bitter laugh tumbled from my lips. "Do I?"
"God knows—well, he would if he existed—you're dying on the inside. I've watched you all this time; you cope well enough in company."
"In company," I repeated. I idly flicked the thimble off. It hit my bedpost with an unreasonably loud clatter.
"I know what you're going to ask me. Why? But you should know. I told you the password to my diaries just a few weeks before."
"So you planned your death?"
"You mean, did I plan for that serial killer to blunder onto campus, and for me to club him with our music stand and grab his gun? No, I did not. But something like that would have happened, sooner or later. If you wish hard enough for death, it will find you."
HER:
He looked past my shoulder as he repeated my last words to my diary: 'Why live when the only reason I'm alive is that I'm not dead? If there's nothing in this world that you love and live for, you might as well die.'
I'd been in his room often enough to know that he was looking at my picture hanging on his dresser. To think that he could still see me in the mirror even if I didn’t have a reflection.
"But…" He raked his fingers through his uncombed hair. "But you had me. Wasn't I enough of a reason?"
Humans. What other species is so self-centered?
My silence was answer enough for him. "Then why are you here?" he challenged, jabbing a needle at the sock and missing several times. "Tired of being invisible? It's not as if you didn’t get used to that in life."
I was too far away to see the tiny red dot forming on the tip of his unguarded thumb, but I didn’t need to. Death lay no claim to my memories.
"Nothing has changed," I said sadly. "I walked unseen in life, and no less in death. My life was one long litany of missed deadlines and lost opportunities. My death was just as much of an 'oh well'."
"You regret it."
"Curiosity killed the cat."
"So you were just curious? Just experimenting? Hm… I hypothesize that if I pull this trigger, I'll die and become a ghost? That simple?"
I looked at him, he looked at me.
"What are you going to do now?"
"I don’t know. Haven't I always told you that? Life and death are no different. Just one interminable stretch of existence in ignorance. But I know this much: I can't stay. The dead and the living…"
"…were never meant to be. So what if I did this?" He snipped a thread from a spool with finality.
In my mind's eye, I saw the needle elongating, thickening, sharpening, plunging between his ribs in a deadly stitch, blood streaming from the end instead of thread…
"I won't say 'don’t do it.'"
"But you don’t want me to?"
… his fingers clenched, even in his last throes, too eager to grasp mine, only to close on thin air and nothingness. His body melted away, the blood evaporated, the needle alone remained to fall to the carpet with an anticlimactic thud.
"There's no guarantee that you'll end up like me."
We paused.
"I should go."
"Where? Oh, I forgot, you don’t know."
"I do. Away from here. Visit those hundred places you've got to see before you die."

HIM:
My cell phone rang. I glanced at the ID, some commercial number. When I looked back, she was gone.
"Don’t say goodbye."




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