[Image Credit: monotype by Sophie Lécuyer]
After I died, there was a lot of paperwork. For me, I mean, to fill out in this big room with chandeliers that looked like fried crab baskets and ballpoint pens tied to the tables with string. They had the radio on, all these sock hop oldies that made me think someone was gonna sweep me off my feet, or that I was ready to make out in the backseat of a Chevy with no air conditioning and crank windows and a boy who didn’t know my body from a brick wall.
At least that’s how I imagined it was way back then. I mean, what did I know. It was the 90s, or at least it had been the last time my feet were on earth. I was filling in for Suzy at the lingerie store, fitting a woman with double DD’s and an axe to grind, her telling me it was for her ex-boyfriend, or maybe her girlfriend’s boyfriend, but I couldn’t remember anymore. She got this pretty little set in pink and paid with a hundred dollar bill and left.
That was a Wednesday, the same day a guy came through the back and said he’d been watching me from the Burger King parking lot. He smelled like chicken nuggets and looked like he’d been hit by a truck—bloody nose and his arms and legs all herky jerky, I swear it was like his bones were on all wrong. But he came in and said I was beautiful and that the universe had brought us together here in this place, but he didn’t want to come in through the front door and startle me. Well shit man, I said. I’m startled. What a way to make an entrance, now get out of my fucking store, I said.
I remember it being pretty fast. Fast like a playground ball to the head, or fast like a guy in the stairwell after fifth period with his hands down your pants. Fast I mean as shorthand for a blur, like I couldn’t really picture it if I tried. I mostly remember the smell of oil and the balled up two-for-one underwear in my mouth. Sometimes I remember his breath like rot. Sometimes I hope they got him, and sometimes I hope they didn’t. Sometimes I’d like to think of him getting lost in the woods and being consumed, from the inside out, by some brain-eating parasite that lives in the bodies of deer gone mad.
In this place, they say you can choose where you haunt, and it can be anywhere, so long as you’re registered. Territory, I was told. Can’t have too much activity in one place or people will get suspicious and send all sorts of things your way. Bad mediums, Ouija boards, television crews, hell, some people will bring gasoline if it gets too crowded. And after you see a place like this, you don’t want to be responsible for more things gone dead. Looking around, I mean, it’s already pretty full-up. The line’s circling around the middle and then out the door into the god-knows-what’s in the hallway. You don’t realize how often people die until you look at a room full of everyone dead.
So I chose the lingerie store, at least for my first go-around. Right there on the form, I put it down. Jessica Johansson, Sweet Nothings on the corner of 206 and Amsterdam. I thought it could be a funny place to chill from beyond the grave. Haunted teddies, haunted fuzzy socks with lace around the ankles, haunted mirrors that made you think he was falling out of love, or she was with another woman, haunted crotchless panties, I mean, why the hell not.
I was fifteen, after all, with a twisted sense of humor and some unfinished business. So I put it on the form and waited.
I thought I had gotten to this place early, but not early enough. Should have died faster. So I lingered next to a guy with one arm. Where’s the rest of you, I asked.
He turned to me, his face pulled tight and white like an unfired pot. That startled me. He looked more dead than most. The gutter, he said. Back where I left my mind too. He smiled, licked his lips with a speckled tongue. I’m gonna go back and make a ruckus down there, he said. I don’t think anyone else in here’s gonna want the gutter.
He couldn’t have been more than twenty, probably a handsome guy before he got here. Black hair in a mess and an Adam’s apple that poked out so far you’d think his neck could have been broke. He looked like a guy that could do you just fine with one arm, the kind of guy that would look you in the eye when he fucked you.
I’m Jessica, I said. Number 682.
85, he said. I go by Isaac. You look like you didn’t come here on purpose.
You’re right, I said. I got put here. What about you?
I got put here too, he said.
He went silent after that. Across the room, I watched a woman carry a toddler on her shoulders, the two of them in matching bunny-print onesies, the color in their faces going in and out. All the old people kept to themselves in a corner by a vending machine, most of them crumpled in a pile on the floor. A few stragglers hovered around as though on watch, their eyes darting off here and there, so I figured they were following something only they could see.
The lingerie store had cameras. I bet everything was on video, since it happened right against a pedestal of thongs, all that wasted lace fanned out and splattered with what was left of me. I wondered if the cops got any pleasure out of watching. People are sick, you know. I once knew a guy who whacked off listening to the scanner he kept in his room, where the porn folder on his computer was called Phil Collins to keep anyone from digging around.
By the time I was called, the only sign of time passing had been my feet going numb and my fingers going blue. It’s like the DMV, but for ghosts they’d told me. It could be a while, but everyone’s gotta do it. Regulation, they explained.
But when I got back to the ground, I got back to the wrong place. Something had gone sideways. Turns out the lingerie store had closed, and someone had the idea to build condos on the property. So there I was in a bedroom watching a kid watch cartoons. Clapping her hands and wiggling her fingers at a mouse bopping a cat over the head. Well fuck me, I thought.
I figured there was still work to do, so I settled onto the bed and waited, just to see what this new place felt like.
There were stars on the cotton sheets. Soon, I came to like it. Over time, I stayed.
Fraylie Nord lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Her writing has previously appeared in Catapult, Tin House, Longleaf Review, Heavy Feather Review, Armchair/Shotgun, Volume One Brooklyn, Bridge Eight, and elsewhere.