After I become a ghost, I decide to haunt my ex-husband. This is not as vindictive as it sounds. I bear him no ill will. I merely wonder what it feels like to be him. You see, my husband is a man, and I had been a woman. I am curious to try on a suit of flesh with new bits and bobs in it. And because we were once physically intimate, it would not be much of a violation to haunt him. My husband is a known territory. I have seen his penis. I have seen him sick with diarrhea and drunkenly peeing on a houseplant at a party. If anything goes wrong during the haunting, I will leave his body to respect his privacy.
Being a ghost is disorienting. In my supernatural, post-mortem state I still have a sense of up and down, of head and feet, with a stretched taffy feeling in between. I don’t see other ghosts, and I don’t see myself reflected in the mirror, but if I zoom out far enough I can see every living person on the planet. Traveling is easy. I simply think about a person or place or object and arrive at its location. The Subaru key I’d lost in 2003? There it is, and there I am hovering above it, in a soybean field in West Virginia. I think about my ex-husband, and there he is, and there I am, hovering above the showers at a pricey gym in a nice part of town.
When I shuffle forward into his body, steam fills my/his throat and beads of hot water slide down my/his cheeks. The lower part of our face is rough with stubble. My god, I think. I am a person with stubble.
I want to rub oil on the stubble. To treat myself to a musk-scented cream. My hair is getting long in the back. Wet, it stretches to my shoulders. I want to sit in a barber’s chair and pay another man to cut off the hair. I want to go to a shopping mall and ride up the escalator and stare openly at the women who are riding the down escalator. I want very much to have sex with someone, anyone, not because I am feeling sexy right now, but because I am curious about how this body would do it.
We rinse off, and I realize we can hold an entire bar of soap in one hand and still touch our fingers together. It seems plausible that if we put our wide palms against another person’s body we could eclipse them entirely. Is this hand larger than an ass cheek? Would it cover a face, a groin, a foot? What damage could this hand do? What about two hands, one right after the other?
My ex-husband and I turn off the water. We stand there and drip. It’s a great feeling to look down at our body under the drips. Our abdominal muscles are a rumble strip on the highway of our torso. I had cultivated an expert knowledge of my husband’s body when we were together, but this is not the same as owning it. Owning this body is the thing, the full thing.
Another man passes through the room. He walks behind the shower stalls, aware of our presence, but not looking at us. I feel the cool neutrality of his attention. It is demagnetized, calm and accepting, as if we were two stones in the same rock pile. I have never felt this before. When I was a woman, men appraised me, and women did, too. Perhaps babies and dogs did not, but for everyone else, my body was a public discourse.
My ex-husband walks out of the showers, and I marvel at the distance between our eyes and the floor. It is like riding at the top of a rollercoaster. I become dizzy and unjoin from my ex. I watch him go in the locker room, but do not follow.
I am immediately bereft. The desire to be in his body overwhelms me. Am I addicted to my husband? Coldly, I wonder if I can kill him. Can I push his soul away and take its place? Perhaps this feeling is simply an expression of unprocessed grief at my own death. I feel ashamed and alone.
I leave the gym and wander for a bit. Being a ghost gives me freedom, but I desire the heat of possibility that comes from being locked inside a body. A body can do anything. It can hurt or be hurt, kill or be killed. These things can happen at any moment. How did all that blood stay inside my body? I miss the sweet threat of its loss.
My ghost-form has no blood or blood remnants, because (I assume) the blood vacated during my death. I have no hands, no arms. I suspect they were ruined during my death. Clearly, it was not a natural or peaceful passing. I can’t remember anything about it, or the years leading up to it. Did I have a family? Pets? What did I do for work?
I can vaguely remember the house where my husband and I had lived together. Red door, white siding, brick columns. When I think of it, I appear there, blurred above the doormat in the afternoon sun. I stay outside until the sun lowers in the sky and my vision improves. A black car pulls into the driveway and enters the garage. It is my ex-husband, and a blonde woman—years younger than us—sits in the passenger seat. The garage door lowers. I move through the red door into the house.
I meet the couple in the kitchen, which is an entirely different kitchen from the one we had when I lived there. My ex is having an argument with the woman. His voice sounds soft and underwater, but I recognize the sneer beneath his nose. The woman goes to the sink and points at it angrily. I look at her and feel revulsion. I do not want to enter her body. First, I do not know her, and it would be a terrible imposition to fill her up that way—like reading her diary. And second, I know her too well. I have been her. For many years, I stood at this sink and had this argument. Plumber, plumber, I said, hating the sound of my voice. The helpless, bitchy caterwaul of it.
I enter my ex-husband instead. Ah, the height of his eyes! The length of his tongue, which presses against the back of his teeth. I notice it all. The plurality of his genitalia and the fetid air around his crotch. The superfluous pop-pop of his nipples, like the bottoms of two exclamation points.
As I look at the woman who is gesturing at the sink, I feel a sudden affinity for the people I disparaged when I was alive. Politicians driven to corruption by their lust for power. Big game hunters, with their traps and guns. Like them, I feel a desire to dominate. The desire is sticky and salty. Why is this woman not complying? Why does she resist? Have I not just come from the gym? Are my biceps not bulging, are my thighs not weapons? My ex and I have the same thought at the same time, and together, we delight in it.
I could destroy you.
The woman does not realize we think this. She turns her back to us. Fool. She assumes we will not hurt her. She believes in the protection she implicitly receives from social norms, from state-sanctioned morality, from the kindergarten teachers who held up our piss-soaked papers and taught us about consequence and guilt.
Do we love this angry woman? I ask this of my ex-husband, and silently he answers. We depend on her a lot. She touches our hair in the way we like. We enjoy driving her around and seeing other men in other cars who stare at her with desire. Yet that is only part of the puzzle. A corner piece, maybe. It is important. But there are many other pieces to consider.
It occurs to me that when I was alive, I had been an object. Not a sex object per se, but more like the object of a preposition. I was not the subject who went around verbing other people. I was a thing that existed next to, beside, near, with, around, under, or against something else. But now our roles are reversed. I am inside him. I am the subject, and I want to be verbing someone.
My ex-husband and I move forward through the room. I feel a palpable sense of relief when we place our hand on the small of the woman’s back. At my urging, we move our fingers down to cover her butt cheek. Our hand is so large. Fuck, I love it. The woman smacks our hand away and gives us defiant eyes. In response, we press ourselves into her. Smothering her. My exclamation point nipples poke her shoulders. We are so broad, and she is so slight.
Submit, submit. Our body says this to her body, but her body won’t listen. So we sweep up her skirt with our hands. This is what two hands can do. One captures each wrist, like a giant holding two pencils. She protests, but barely. I remember protesting like that. You don’t want to acquiesce until a certain someone has acknowledged that they have fucked up with the plumber. You don’t want to spend twenty minutes dealing with everybody’s orgasms. You just want a glass of wine and a dose of prestige television.
We put one hand across the woman’s neck. Our thumb rolls across her trachea, and she gasps. But then I make a mistake. I am so excited to be here, to be seeing the sense of alarm rise like a green flash behind her eyes, that I bend her too far, and she breaks. Our thumb keeps pressing at the lifeless flop. It is remarkable, this thumb. I am so impressed by it. We remove our hands from her neck, and her body slips to the tiles.
I am disturbed by the aftermath of this situation. Negative emotions rise like sewage up our brain stem. Oh, God. A dead body is disgusting. We are disgusting. My ex-husband vomits, and I think he might kill himself. I don’t want to die twice.
I pull away from him and try to leave the room. But I can’t remember anything other than what we’ve done here, and the house won’t let me go. I huddle in a corner. I think I know what will happen next. Then it does happen. It is awful.
The woman appears. Her ghost is in the room, dazed and blinking in the orange light that streams through the windows. She doesn’t see me. Doesn’t want to see me. Doesn’t see her own corpse. It’s my ex-husband she feels curious about. Her gaze locks onto him and she floats to his side. She looks up at his body. What is it like to be him? He is carrying something out to his car. He slings it over his left shoulder. She follows him to the garage. What does it feel like to carry something that heavy, she wonders. What does it feel like to be so strong?