After the holidays, a cold snap turned the sky to flint.
Kellie’d gone home for break, and I paced the apartment, my window open a crack to blow smoke out of.
After a few days of waiting, I went downstairs and knocked
on Tommy’s door.
He answered, said, Oh, you’re here, I didn’t realize.
Though he knew I’d only be out of town for a week, same as
Can I come in?
He hesitated. I’m about to get lunch. He backed into the
apartment, and I followed him, the door banging shut. I’m
going to Burger King, he said. Then I have stuff to do.
I said, I’ll go with you. I could use the air.
Fine, he said. Where’s your coat?
I’ll meet you in the lobby, he said.
We walked, he a little faster than I, toward Broadway.
It’ll snow soon, I said.
You think, he said.
I listened to the weather, I said.
I got a table while Tommy ordered. He sat and unwrapped his food, and I studied the people around us—a girl
younger than me bottle-feeding a baby; an old man in a
newsie cap; two cleanup workers huddling over their trays,
the fluorescent lights magnifying the shadows beneath their
eyes, the corners of their mouths pinched down. I wanted to
be anywhere but here.
Tommy ate his Whopper, watching the wall of televisions behind me, before he said, How long have we been seeing each other?
I counted back, said, Two months next week. Why?
Because I don’t want to anymore, he said. He shoved the
last bite into his mouth, finally focusing on me as he chewed.
There’s no arguing with that, is there, I said. I grabbed a
napkin and folded it into a loose cherry blossom.
He plucked it from my hands, examined it, let it flutter
down onto his tray. You’re an unusual girl, he said.
Did I do something wrong?
He removed his glasses and wiped them and put them
back on. I’m just—not feeling this anymore.
You don’t get points for honesty, I said and crossed my
arms over my chest.
He said, Are you ready to go?
I said, I’ll stay here.
He stood and walked out.
I moved to where Tommy had been sitting. The TVs
were all tuned to the same channel. On the screens a blond
woman with upswept hair stood beside images of the Towers belching smoke, her hands and mouth moving without
sound. Then images of Afghani men with kufi on their heads
crouching on desolate earth. A ticking scroll of names and
For a long time, I watched the frames flicker and repeat.
The thing that transfixed me was the smoke, how it billowed, blackening the air. How the people stepping out of it
covered in ash appeared so unsolid that an exhale might
blow them away. How that dust still hung suspended in the
air, how it slipped into the slimmest of spaces. How it clung
to each of us.
Back outside, enormous snowflakes blew down like
scraps of paper. I stood and let them pelt my cheeks. Then I
lit a cigarette and, bowing my head, made for home.
Last suitcase packed, set by the door, you drift through
the empty apartment, one final sweep. Running your
fingertips along the windowsill, you think you will not
miss this place. You will not miss this dust.
But the ghosts have become hitchhikers. You will discover them unpacking in another borough, another city, another state. They prefer the folds of hoodies, the grooves of
shoe soles, the corkscrew and bottle opener. They travel
light, with no particular destination.
Ghosts are like seeds that way, and they’ve sewn themselves into you.
Your body a field ripe for planting.
You wait, biding your time, until you burst into bloom.
SARA RAUCH’s fiction and essays have appeared in Paper Darts, Hobart, Split Lip, So to Speak, Qu, Lunch Ticket, and other literary magazines, as well as in the anthologies Dear John, I Love Jane; Best Lesbian Romance 2014; and She’s Lost Control. She has covered books for Bustle, BitchMedia, Curve Magazine, Lambda Literary, The Rumpus, and more. In 2012, she founded the literary magazine Cactus Heart, which ran through 2016. She holds an MFA from Pacific University. Sara teaches writing at Pioneer Valley Writers’ Workshop and Grub Street and also works as an independent editor and manuscript consultant. What Shines from It, which won the Electric Book Award, is Sara’s first book. She lives with her family in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Find her online at sararauch.com, on Twitter at @sararauch, and on Instagram at @sara__rauch.
Gokul Prabhu is a graduate of Ashoka University, India, with a Postgraduate Diploma in English and creative writing. He works as an administrator and teaching assistant for the Writing and Communication facility at 9dot9 Education, and assists in academic planning for communication, writing and critical thinking courses across several higher-ed institutes in India. Prabhu’s creative and academic work fluctuates between themes of sexuality and silence, and he hopes to be a healthy mix of writer, educator and journalist in the future. He occasionally scribbles book reviews and interviews authors for Scroll.in, an award-winning Indian digital news publication.