- The president calls to beg for my hand in marriage although I’ve told him many times I can’t. I’m marrying Raúl tomorrow. We rented an island. We have matching outfits. We fixed our hair up. But the president starts to cry deep heaving sobs and something in me crumbles. I know what I must do for the country. “I don’t care who wants to marry you,” Raúl yells into the phone, so loud I lift the speaker from my ear, and that’s when I notice the battery’s low. “We already paid for the island,” Raúl says. “And what about our matching outfits?” “You don’t understand,” I say. “It’s the president!” “No, you’re the one who doesn’t get it,” Raúl says. “If we don’t marry tomorrow, I’ll lose the condo in Hawaii.” “Why?” I say. “Ask my bookie,” Raúl says. My battery is dying fast but I dial Raúl’s bookie. “I can’t back out of the bet on your wedding,” the bookie says, “I promised the Hawaiian condo to the president’s daughter.” I can’t believe this. “There’s an issue here,” I tell the president. “If your daughter wants her condo in Hawaii, we shouldn’t get married.” “I don’t have a daughter,” the president begins in a frightened voice I’ve never heard before, “I’m impotent—” but my phone dies. It’s for the best. I’d never marry an impotent president.
- I can’t fall asleep. The rain is so loud against the roof. But it isn’t rain against the roof at all, I realize, it’s more of a gurgle in the bathroom. “Do you hear that?” I whisper to Raúl. Of course, Raúl doesn’t answer. Raúl can sleep through anything. As soon as his head touches the pillow, he falls into a heavy innocent slumber. I’ve always envied Raúl for that. I try to ignore the noise, but it only gets louder. Water seems to be sloshing all over the floor. At last, I tiptoe toward the bathroom. I switch on the light. Inside the toilet bowl floats a mass of hair. I grab the hair in my fists. It is attached to something heavy. I heave with all my strength. Raúl slides out. He slumps on the tiles, naked and shivering. “What are you doing?” I say. “I was having a dream I was being born,” Raúl says. “I squeezed through a tunnel toward a light. The light hurt to look at. It was the brightest light I’ve ever seen.” “Let’s get some sleep, Raúl,” I say. “What about all of the water on the floor?” Raúl says. He starts crying. “Don’t be afraid,” I say, stroking Raúl’s face, “it was only a dream.”
- I go to my Halloween party as a ghost. When I knock, Raúl opens the door and stares out, puzzled. He closes the door in my face. That’s how I learn I’m invisible. I’m really a ghost now. Excited, I drive across the country to my childhood home. It’s raining lightly. I hide in a bush. Shadows lengthen. The house looks exactly how I remember. The yard is overgrown. It smells like flowers. A child wanders out. He looks a lot like me, I mean, a lot like me, and it startles me so much that I rustle the bush. He screams. The moon cuts the night. It’s the witching hour.
- Raúl won’t text me back. He’s on a business trip to Skellefteå selling luxury mattresses. The people of Skellefteå love sleep, and they can’t go without Raúl’s breathable organic wool slipcovers, his multifunctional spring insulation, or his shredded memory foam. I try texting Raúl a selfie in a suggestive outfit. No response. Perhaps the outfit does not suggest what I think it does. I text Raúl his favorite joke about the baby on the dinosaur. Nothing. Maybe it’s a flaw in my psyche. I should learn to absorb the silence of Raúl. I have two theories for my strong reaction:
A) I am suffering from all the mugwort ice cream I ate for lunch
B) When I was a newborn, my father would disappear on long business trips to sell luxury mattresses in Skellefteå, and he would never text me back. “WAAAAAAA,” I’d text him. “WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA.”
- After I divorce Raúl, I move to a house where I sit in the yard to be alone at last. But a dog barks at me through a neighbor’s window. A beam of sunlight hurts my knee. Dying flowers nearby smell like trash. Someone past the fence splashes in their plastic swimming pool. Gnats spiral at my eyeballs. A bright blue tarp is crackling in the fucking breeze. You must go further to be alone, possibly under the dirt. But even there, aren’t there worms?
EPILOGUE: My first day in the afterlife, they put us in a classroom. It is incredibly hot in here. A projector shows us charts about time we wasted on things that don’t matter. Next, we watch a scary black-and-white safety video. When it is over, our dead faces look strange in the fluorescent light. We are led to a cave. The safety video didn’t mention the cave. It’s nice and cool inside. Dark too. It smells like neanderthal. Minerals and blood, fur and fruit. It grows familiar. Anything can grow familiar. Nights are hard, especially if a saber-toothed tiger eats somebody, but when the morning sun clears the mist off the mountain peaks, it’s beautiful.