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Came Back Haunted

Laura Craft Hogensen

I thought I’d know when the last time would be. If my heart hadn’t caught on yet, then my skin would, surely. A tremor there, at least. The prickle of gooseflesh. Someone is walking over my grave. This is the moment that buries us.

The undeniable pull of skin-to-skin we’d always had. I’d feel it there first. I must, or I could never trust myself again.

When I came to, the air in the room had changed. The sun slanting through the blinds laid bars of swirling light in the smoke from your lit cigarette. An open bedroom window and an October breeze that expressed autumn’s return. Down the street, the Episcopal church bell clanged the quarter, but not the hour.

I’d curled in on myself, my hands tucked into my chest, the sheet bunched to my waist. My back to you, the skin on my arms and shoulders now cooled to stiff marble. I surfaced slowly. The silence in the room was heavy. The smell of smoke had woken me, but you had chosen not to. The weight of your hand was absent from the curve between my stomach and my hip.

I rolled towards you, gathering the sheet around me. Watched you sit up against the headboard, surfing your phone, your face detached. Bored. You felt the shift in weight and looked down at me from where you sat. I felt small and shamefaced, falling asleep unguarded while you sat half-clothed and waiting.

Sunday afternoon and work tomorrow. Elsewhere, televisions in cozy rooms showed long lines of football fans in numbered jerseys filing up stadium stairs at games’ ends. Elsewhere, it was time to start dinner. It was time to fold clothes.

We could open a bottle of wine, if you had anything in your kitchen. We could sit across from each other and talk. I could have asked for that, I think. If I had known that our time was short.

Instead, you ashed your cigarette, and got up from the bed, passing me my hoodie from the clothes heaped on your floor.

Our embrace was brief. It was cold outside. You were in shorts and bare feet. I nudged my head into the space between your shoulder and your collarbone and felt the ridges of your ribs beneath the pads of my fingers. Muscle and bone. The way we always fit ourselves together, skin to skin. The way we closed our gaps to make one shadow. My body still pliable. Loose against your sharper angles. My heart – dozing, pacified – gave no warning.

The final visitation and no explanation. Silence that was puzzling, then unnerving, then pointed, and now merely dull.

These days, I drag it behind me like a shade over my left shoulder, still present, yet fading. I cannot trust myself. I let superstition rule me now.

In a city where it should be easy to lose someone, I find myself haunted. The quirk of your eyebrow on another’s face. Your knobby wrists peeking out from a stranger’s sleeves as they hand me my change. The bark of your laugh across a crowded restaurant thick with unfamiliar people.

I am unable to bury your memory. I can’t relinquish your ghost.

Laura Craft Hogensen is a writer and pastry chef who lives in Los Angeles. Her work focuses on the ways that memory can shape who we are as individuals, lovers, and partners as well as how our personal narratives influence our interpretations of past, current, and future relationships.

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