What’s Become of Us, Virginia?
By Christopher Murphy
You’ve probably outgrown ghosts, Virginia. You appeared outside my window after midnight. I was talking to myself and there was your glowing face, framed by darkness, your maniacal grin. You slid down the posts that held up your porch. You rolled your ancient Honda Accent to the road before starting it. You waited for me to join you outside in the dark.
We both felt it by that playground. Snuck there to smoke brick weed and wait out the night, I stopped short where the sidewalk gave to the grass, the swings twitching in the wind. You said it felt like facing a wall of roaches. Had a girl hung herself on the swing’s chains by accident?
You saw the shadow people. We both did. One stood behind the car watching us leave. An weak outline, a phantom hunger, a way of looking at you passing peripherally like they hoped to be noticed. We’d talk about them when you slept over and they’d materialize in the corners of the room.
Where have you gone, Virginia? To Jackson Hole and ski-bumming, to baggage handling, to baldness and full beards. To nicknames I didn’t give to you. You didn’t like yours: Virginia, because of that one sweatshirt you wore in traveling soccer. I see you on Instagram.
It’s hot down here in Land O’Lakes. You came down for the wedding. Blitz remembered you and you still called him the furry Buddha. You credited him with saving your live when the pills took control that one night on the Cape, begging to sit in your lap and then lying on your chest and steadying your heartbeat with his breathing.
You never married. From what I can tell on Instagram you have a coalition of friends, male and female, but no one appears solitary with you in those posts for long. You were there for the wedding I didn’t want, the marriage I didn’t know I needed. When Lee is asleep in our house, gotten cheap because white people don’t want to live around black people, with our AC out and the puppies whimpering and money the axe above my sternum, I think of you and wonder how you handle these nights. Without Lee I would be dead. I know that now.
We lost Blitz, and Fenway, and Buddy. Back when you still wanted to be a writer, I said you were the only one that could write about that last drive I took with my mother, home from freshman fall at New Mexico and her seven months from being gone. How much hope there was, how much I laughed at her impersonating my father’s laugh. How that drive was the opposite of what you’d expect.
How you met the father that left your mother before you were born. How you said it felt like nothing at all. A scab that finally fell off.
When we talk it’s about that first Patriots Super Bowl in ’01 and the Sox finally winning it all in ’04. Different kinds of ghosts. Benevolent ones. We talk about those teens materializing from the New Orleans night. How you fought. How my fresh-cracked rib provided a hindsight excuse for watching you scrap that kid. I was crumpled against a wall, unable to stand.
When I finally told you that the shadow people never left, I thought for some reason you already knew. I didn’t tell you the name, ‘shadow people’, gave them a terrible form. I told you it took years to realize their voices weren’t imaginary, came from some fragment of my brain that only spoke in that way, sometimes just insistent and sometimes driven to darkness, a self-destruction to shut us all up.
I didn’t tell you that it’s our history—the whiffleball, laying on our backs with a face full of mushrooms watching the summer sky, the April blizzard we got into the rolling snowball fight with the Newton North kids—that helps keep the voice in another room. I didn’t tell you that our nights—your face in the window, the wall of roaches, the chainsmoked apparitions—were the start of things fracturing.
What’s become of us, Virginia? We wore each other’s coats. Now I see you in pictures from airport bathrooms, mountaintops. That isn’t your voice I hear, Virginia, but I wish it was. I wish it was your face in my window, unwilling to go it alone.
Christopher Murphy received his MFA from The University of Arkansas. He teaches creative writing at Northeastern State University and reads for Nimrod International Journal. His work has been published at Gulf Coast, This Land, Jellyfish Review, Necessary Fiction, and decomP among others. He has a collection of flash fiction, Burning All the Time, from Mongrel Empire Press.