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One-Eyed Jack
There were three of us guys, Len, Dave, and me, and we all taught at the community college in town, and once a month on a Saturday evening, during summer break, we played Hearts. You know the card game. Wives accompanied sometimes, excepting that Len didn’t have a wife anymore, because she ran off with Mark’s wife, Mark being the guy who was once our fourth. (He went into landscaping and moved to Vermont.) Dave’s wife, Aileen, was very friendly with mine, whose name is Debby. Aileen and Debby often sat in the kitchen and drank cheap red or sat out on the deck, playing tapes on a boom box that still somehow performed the task. We men cloistered ourselves up in the attic for an hour and a half, around the card table, box fan in the gabled window, shooting the moon. We’d been playing for eleven years.
     We knew one another well, I’d like to think, as well as you can know people with whom you grew from idealistic young college professors to weary middle-aged parents. There was a certain kind of banter that was routine among us, some of it good-natured complaining about college students, some of it about naming conventions for asteroids, worst presidents of the United States of America, and everyone who played on a certain Coltrane session in 1965.
     I can remember a long conversation at one game, during which Dave successfully controlled the lead for all but one trick, in which we discussed at length the physical complaint known as Burning Mouth Syndrome. It bears mentioning not one of us had personal experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome, which is rare, but neither did we refuse to believe in Burning Mouth Syndrome—as though Burning Mouth Syndrome required belief in order to make irrefutable its symptomatic course.
     Knowing each other well was why the other guys were surprised on this night last July when there was a fourth chair at the card table. No one could play who hadn’t been through a rigorous vetting process, a process so rigorous, in fact, that we had entirely given up adding new players, perhaps because of the situation with Len’s wife.
     —Who’s the extra chair?
     Dave said,—Travis’s putting his leg up again.
     Len said,—But we agreed.
     Dave said,—We definitely agreed.
     The plantar fasciitis wouldn’t remit, probably because of the marathoning, but it seemed that putting my leg up, in a friendly card-game competition, left me open to charges of examining other people’s hands. Even though we didn’t really give a shit about the winner, didn’t keep score beyond a given Saturday, there were kinds of fair play that were the sign that civilization was taking place.
     The chair sat there for a while.
     The chips in the oversized ceramic bowl were the classic chips, because we had lengthily discussed the varieties of chip effectiveness, rejecting avocado oil and sour cream and onion as needless innovations. The salsa was medium spicy, and later on we intended to grill something conservative. Salmon, I think.
     —He’ll be here in a little bit.
     I pointed at the chair.
     There was no good way to describe him, there was no reliable bit of cultural commentary that would suggest what was to happen. It either would or it wouldn’t. Because I really liked these guys at the Hearts game, I had a hunch that we could easily share this next particular strange turn, and these guys, my good and true friends, would accept it without, for example, mounting a whisper campaign.
     In the interim, I must admit, Len again commanded an entire run of diamonds, top to bottom, excepting the two I had played in the first trick, and that sinking feeling set in, as if the tax authorities had just sent me a request for information. It was clear that Dave and I were about to be far behind. You know, there’s some kind of mise en abyme that comes with Hearts, even more so when Len shoots the moon, because he does it with performative zeal, with a kind of running commentary about his mastery of this and all games. Highly ironized, of course, but funny and charming, especially because Len fails when trying to command the run of game on many an occasion. Anyway:—All you cisgendered heteronormative STEM guys, with your unexamined privilege, and your guarantees of appointments on all the standing committees, can’t even beat one associate professor from American Studies!
     Len and Dave were uproarious over this comment, and hitting the chips hard, and the beer, and how could we stop Len, and would history just become one long run of Len spieling while amassing the suit known as diamonds?
     And then the guy walked in, the guy for whom I put out the chair. It is safer to say, though I am suspicious of the terminology, that he substantiated, because there was no real physical sense of him walking through the doorway, shuffling through, really, because the door was not open, nor imperceptibly ajar. The floorboards were old as befitted the crumbling New England housing stock of our address, and there were dust bunnies gamboling, and these were unbestirred by his substantiating presence; his physical presence was nonphysical; and there was an insufflation by the assembled, and there he was beside the card table, over by that rusting metal bookshelf with the trade paperbacks on it, one hand hovering above the topmost. He just kind of was there.
     I could see the other guys arrest, and Len even reached by habit for his inhaler, ever at his side in his latter days of asthmatic symptoms. Dave said, Holy shit, under his breath, even though I know—because at one point our kids were in day care together—that he had internalized that contemporary day-care advice that suggests: never overreact. He’d picked Shirley up at pre-K, that one time, when she had sliced off a majority of one index finger, without a word.
     Shimmering would be a good word for it, the guy I was preliminarily calling Knuckles, because of the evident swelling of his fingers, sign of some postmortem arthritic inflammation. Knuckles did not substantiate in any complete way. On this day, for example, he didn’t seem to have a below-the-knee self at all, not fibula nor tibia, just a shimmering into nothingness where his trousers, which looked to be abundantly befouled gray chinos, just ceased to be. In certain spots, you could see through him. Right where his knee was, or would have been, I mean, I could see a run of Asimov paperbacks behind. He was wearing a houndstooth tweed blazer in tan, wide lapels, over some kind of light blue permanent-press dress shirt, which I presumed was short sleeved because you could see his wrists, or a suggestion of wrist, and he had on a skinny tie that didn’t go low enough on his paunchy middle, like he was pretending to be the slim man he once was. There was a folded handkerchief in his breast pocket. It bore a little crest of some sort. Let me also note in the spirit of completeness that he had on graduated sunglasses, and his hair, even in his apparitional immateriality, glistened with some pomade from the 1950s. The effect, overall, was of a compulsive gambler, fresh from some really bad bet at trackside, walking into your attic unannounced, when you had an elaborate security system.
     While the guys were taking it all in, Knuckles ambled around the crowded side of the card table where Len and Dave were kind of crammed in, mumbled an apology that was both audible and not, and sat down in his chair, if, in fact, he could be said to sit, if it were not rather closer to hovering. He heaved a sigh of weariness as he did so, as if even in his semimaterial state he was bone-tired. And then he fell silent and, for the most part, motionless. Shimmering.
     Dave said,—Uh, hello there, I’m Dave. Dave French.
     It was an inspired approach, trying to engage the apparition in conversation, and soon Len followed suit, if you’ll excuse the pun.
     —Len Spalding, Travis’s friend from the committee on promotions, and mandolin player, and . . . father of two.
Len, who had responded to the absconding of wife, and the mitigation of custody of his children by getting more affable, actually stuck out a hand. To the ghost in the attic.
     The tubercular purring of the former lungs of Knuckles, and an uncomfortable tapping of a crusty penny loafer, nowhere visible, suggested that Knuckles had heard, but nothing more was said. In fact, he rarely said anything. This, apparently, was who he was, just not very talkative. So he looked up, in this fluid, sort of liquid way he had, and gazed at Len’s hand, smiled inscrutably, almost generously, and then crossed his arms. The effect was of keen disconsolation.
     What was so frightening about it? In that silence, in that dusk? All those preconceptions you might have, or torn sheets, withering cries, or whatever, those were oversimplifications. A malevolent guest, an incubus coming in the night to make mischief in your affairs? I had experienced no such thing, there was no torn-down face, no sinews exposed, in a bathroom glass. There was just a heartbroken and silent guy, who didn’t belong in our house, wouldn’t say why he had come, and wouldn’t go away. And his comings and goings were impossible to predict, which meant he would brush by you at all hours, mumbling, in a whisper, Excuse me, heading for the family room. And that was scary enough.
     —Guys, I said, this is our house guest. A vacuum of responses from my friends.
     —And he’s been living with you how long? Dave said finally.

How long had he been living with us? And why hadn’t I mentioned him to the guys, like four days ago when I ran into Dave at the farmers market?
     There was a sociologist I was acquainted with at school who’d written a manuscript about the sociology of hauntings, a book that was derisively treated by his colleagues, but which postdated his tenure, such that no one could do anything much about it. This fellow had asked me if I would read the manuscript upon completion, presuming, I guess, that my specialty (scientific ethics) made me a person who would react to the book with a useful set of tools, and, yes, I did let scientific method be my guide. I thought On the Paranormal was a doughy mass of delusion, a great sinkhole into which the empty calories of popularly understood superstition could be poured, without ever admitting to a critique of its nonsense, so that people in their delusion would not see the more potent kinds of ghosts ever massing around them, the meth addicts, the persons without homes, those with profound mental illness, evangelicals, and so on.
     I read On the Paranormal while smoking the occasional blunt late at night, and I read it at first the way I would read supermarket tabs, and later with a kind of self-righteous condescension. The more Ed Pearlstein, of the sociology department, tied the hauntings to persistent kinds of social usage, to normative convention, across cultures, the more I thought the guy was a rube, perhaps with dissociative identity disorder. And when people said that Pearlstein had engaged in financial improprieties when he had been head of sociology, I believed them. I was sure he had done it, and worse.
     My skepticism, as I told Len about it later on, was a kind of heartwarming certainty that I had come to reckon with in turn. Because it wasn’t long after I read the Pearlstein manuscript that I was in the basement of our place, which, I reminded Len, was one of those unfinished New England basements with a mud floor that glistened, and which also featured actual stone foundation, all of it shifting and vaporizing down to the level sands, according to the avenging of time, like clints of limestone in the Celtic wild, myself in the basement looking for a particular kite that I was going to attempt to fly with my son, when I heard the words Excuse me, sir, muttered with a distinctly Forest Hills locution, and I felt someone brush past, only to feel it two or three more times, like a repeatable experiment, and those words, Excuse me, excuse me, pardon me, as though he already knew me, whoever he was, in my cave of a basement.
     —Who’s there? said I, with the kind of clipped brevity that one employs in poorly written films of the Halloween season. This was precisely the wrong question, as you can see, I said to Len, because Knuckles was not a who, because he was both who and not who and there and not there all at the same time, a participant and a nonparticipant, whose insubstantial self exerted a powerful effect on those who saw him, the answer to the question who was he was simply: he was. He came to rest by a spot in the mottled and foul basement where, if one were going to torture, one would have tortured, and he leaned up against the wall, and I wondered if I was seeing, or not seeing, or dreaming, or failing to dream, or hallucinating. Was it, in fact, the light? Some action of quanta, particles, and waves?
     —And . . . what do you want?
     To which there was a hiss, somewhere between a laugh and pejorative sniffle, or more like an emphysemiac cough, and then the little bits of light that emanated through and around him, some last bit of a bright sunshine that eddied in through a basement crevice, faded, and he was gone.
     All at once, I should say, my interpretation of the Pearlstein manuscript seemed inadequate. Or, maybe, I wanted my interpretation to be the right interpretation, but the thing that I had seen in the basement caused me to go back to my psychiatrist, whom I stopped seeing three years prior, and thus I came to a more nuanced reading.
     That night, about the time that my son, who was into his contemptuous middle teen years, asked to put his dishes in the sink, so that he could go aloft, to the second floor, to pollute his brain with video games that I didn’t understand at all, I broached the subject with Debby. I was scrubbing some pots, containing the legacy of some fiery chili, and I said,—Honey, I’ve seen something in the basement.
     Her thought was mouse, or rat, or raccoon, all of which, at various points, we had seen near, or maybe something really exotic, a fisher or a coyote.
     —Can we trap it? Debby said, having pushed back from the kitchen table.
     I said:—I don’t know if it can be trapped.
     —Is it an animal?
     —It has the traces of an animal.
     —Will it knock over stuff? Will it knock over the skis?
     —It might.
     —A moose, she said. There’s a moose in the basement. How did a moose get the bulkhead open?
     —It was a man.
     —What? There’s someone downstairs in the basement and you didn’t tell me, and for how long? Is it a homeless guy?
     —I think he might be dead.
     —There’s a corpse in the basement?
     —Not that kind of dead.
     A long marriage, by the way, is a thing of routines. You think you can scam all the possible outcomes. You think you know exactly how the other party is going to respond, and that frees you up from having to improvise. You’re a piston rising and falling predictably in a modern factory interior, and you’re loving that. You have predictable responsibilities, and your downtime is immense. But at the first sign of unpredictable revelation, everyone is out of sorts and wants to resist. So it was for Debby.
     —I’m going to have a look, she said, but in a way that suggested she wished I’d take care of it.
     And then:—What do you take along for this kind of encounter? Should I have a flashlight?
     I didn’t know. Because there just had been the one time, and it might have been about school, teaching, the exhaustion of it, the depleting of anything like a normal ability to act upon the world, a depleting of surprise, until all that was left was syllabi, and grading, and fourteen-week increments. Was it the academic entanglements that made it necessary to see the ghost?
     —Let’s have a look together. We’ll leave him upstairs.
     I gestured to the probable resting spot above me, on the second floor, where Calvin was playing video games in his room, or swiping right on some indexer of love interests.
     —Probably best. Until we know more.
     Debby got the flashlight that was wall mounted in the pantry, the length and heft of a bludgeon, and we headed down the creaky stairs to the distant past of New England, rocky, colonial, or agrarian, whose loam and early bricklaying habits were still evident in our basement. And Debby cast the lamplight, with its flickering D-battery lumens, down the stairs, in a huff of disconcerted terror. Down we went. It occurred to me to wonder, if it was a haunting, if that was the right word, what exactly was the purpose thereof? Ontological crisis?
     —In the back, by the canoe.
     She found the wall switch, turned on the dim-watted fluorescents, and then trained the flashlight on the corner where I’d seen him.
     —There, I said.
     —And what did you see exactly?
     —An older guy, like a guy or a portion of a guy, a shimmering of a guy, whom you might see at the assisted-living place, or at bingo night at the church. A down-at-his-heels sort of guy, shifty, unreliable.
     —Just standing there?
     The beam caught here an old painting that was no longer hung in the living portion of the house, an idealized landscape, now destined to mold, and then a metal shelf that had some old terra-cotta planters, and a couple of painted ones with annoyingly floral exteriors. It shone where the paint was detaching from the rock, and where the wiring was festooned on the wall, some cable from where the cable installer had just slung it around, as a sign of good cheer. It shone at the juncture of the ceiling, and down where stone met packed earth. What it did not show was Knuckles, or any sign of him.
     And now my wife came in close to me, near upon my face, the flashlight pendular at the end of her arm,—Is there something you want to tell me?

It became clear, pretty quickly, that the ghost only appeared to human beings of the masculine persuasion. There’s no easy way to put this. I was only beginning to adjust to the fact that every three or four days I would see him, for a moment or two, mostly in the basement, but also eventually in the garage too, and so I don’t know whether the only-visible-to-men- (or masculine-presenting-) individuals thing was happenstance, or whether there was some kind of hard-and-fast theological rule there. But I considered it, as a theory, when in the garage. Most of the time the garage is terrain you pass through, but I found that occasionally I stood, disconsolately, in the garage, thinking about the yard work that I might have been doing were I a person who had enough time to do yard work. I knew that when people walked by our house on Massasoit Street they saw the house of someone who couldn’t be bothered to bag up the leaves, or cut the lawn in a timely fashion, and who was not flush enough to pay someone else to do these things. I looked at the wall of tools, nailed up in the garage, the bulb digger, the wire cutters, the hoe, as judgments against a certain kind of masculinity that was no longer to be had, in the midst of a four-and-three course load, with more than a hundred students per semester, many of them complete with narratives like: that they were living in a motel with their grandmother at the time of the midterm and had no pen, or their father had just died of an overdose, and the police had seized their homework along with all their possessions. I stood in the garage for long enough to grasp that I personally was a drag on real estate values in my neighborhood, as ever with the specters of my students in my head. By the way, it’s true I did go back to the therapist, per my wife’s request, and the therapist got out the DSM and diagnosed sensed presence and referred to an overstimulation of the agent detection mechanism, through which, she pointed out, we also get excessive religiosity and fanatical political beliefs, and she suggested that I did in fact have an anxiety disorder, for which she prescribed one of the new antianxiety meds (but not the backstop of antipsychotics), which I took for a while, only to find that in the morning, when I first took the pill, my hands shook, I couldn’t talk, and I had a desire to go face down on the breakfast table.
     Now here he was in the garage with me, in his meditative stillness, looking slightly more threadbare than last time, when he didn’t look so great. It seemed like he’d stopped shaving, and now had a sort of glowing and ethereal three-day fuzz growing on his chin, and one of the lenses in his sunglasses was cracked. I could not get used to the uncanny feeling of time stilled, the feeling of something deeply wrong, in the encounter. Him sitting on a piece of Walmart porch furniture in the garage (the screws were loose in the back), on a cushionless chair, as if stopping to catch his breath, looking like a group of street toughs had it in for him, or had just subjected him to a mild roughing up.
     I said,—You could at least tell me your name.
     He who was turned in profile, a grayish nose or its vestigial outline, turned now full to look at me, the empty eyes of some life after life, and said his name with such an elongated vowel that it was as if the wind itself made that avowal:—Staaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!
     The sound reverberated in my sense of what was right and reliable in the world like drone weaponry, and what I wanted to ask was: what business have you left undone, and did you do a thing you so regretted that you can’t let go of it, was there a person you cut off, when sympathy would have been the better gesture, was there a person you trod on to get ahead in your sales job, speaking ill of them, so that they were forever harmed, did you say something awful about a friend in school, did you call a friend the worst of names in middle school, because it was a thing they said then, the boys did that, only to find, later on, that you loved that boy in a way, or did you lie about your friends behind their backs, did you envy your friends, the boys who were your friends, the advantages they had, the boy who had an electric guitar, or the boy whose family had season tickets, or did you neglect to understand that the advantages were all yours, did you fail to see, Stan, your every day involved a sun rising and setting on a kind of promise that other people didn’t have, or did you take what wasn’t yours, Stan, were the moments when you stole because your deprivation was such that only stealing would cause you to feel better, did you steal from friends and the parents of friends, when you were visiting, or did you steal from your school, or from the state, or did you steal and otherwise commit fraud, perhaps of the sort the Securities and Exchange Commission would look into, and what about your dealings with the women of the world, Stan, did you do such numerous things with the women of your acquaintance that your unfinished business involves a desire to repent that can never be completed, or could not be completed during the time before your congestive heart failure, Stan, were you short with women of your acquaintance, as though that were your right, or were you inconstant with the women of your acquaintance, did you take up with one woman before the next was dispensed with in some peremptory fashion, or did you come on to some woman, even though you were in no way available, and dissemble in conversation, did you treat some woman as though she were a woman instead of a person, was she just the appearance of a woman, did you fail to think of a person as a person first of all, with the comprehensive set of human emotions and attributes, and instead did you treat this woman as though she were reducible to a set of ready-made components for a certain kind of Neanderthal engagement, and/or were you a prehumanist in the sense of failing to have the most elevated of ideals about women of your acquaintance, only, that is, to be a humanist of the failing sort, a human being of consistent and flagrant suboptimal performance in the matter of treating women, in particular, Stan, and did you, for example, hate other men simply for being, for being men, and for being rivals, did you hate them, did you walk into a room and imagine which were the men who could be beaten into submission and which were the men for whom you would need some sort of blunt instrument to subdue, maybe a golf club, to subdue them, were you constantly imagining ways that you could thwart other men, and did you have thoughts like these in environments in which you were supposedly doing more civilized things, Stan, is your burden that you had uncivilized thoughts in civilized environments, did you think about violence and coercion in libraries, churches, synagogues, hospitals, when you most should have been doing otherwise, Stan, or did you think about how unfortunate it was to be a father, or a husband, or a pillar of the community, because you wished you were doing other things, things that you would not talk about, were these things your burden, Stan, such that while living you found yourself balling yourself up in private moments, such that now, in your afterlife, you were stuck in this house from 1912 with warped floors and mice, in a woebegone midsized New England city, shimmering into being and then out again, and scaring the daylights out of people—
     Now he was gone, again, and without further answering. And so it was that Stan appeared to me and to no one else, at least until the day of the card game. I had a feeling, and I was right, that he would appear to Dave and Len.
     When I talked to Len about it later, one day when we were both on campus, and hitting the rancid American Studies coffee hard—Len was concerned. Did I think that Stan was of a different class, of the working class, perhaps, from a New England where the working class was particularly disenfranchised, where there was the dwindling of American manufacturing, the New England of our parents’ generation, for example, and the loss of self-respect that went with factory work in New England until it wasn’t there anymore? Was there a way that Stan was lingering around the house, slowly increasing in his exhibitionistic way because of the disaffection of the working class in the region where we plied our trade? Was Stan some kind of imago of an alienated working class? And what about the question of allegory? As Len put it, you could go blue in the face (a figure of speech) trying to figure out what Stan stood for, for which of the myths and legends of a colonial New England he was an emblem, the whaling community of New Bedford, and all of mariners lost at sea, the moneyed classes of Newport, the witches of Salem, the civil war of Rhode Island, the veiled parsons of Maine, and as Len made this perfectly reasonable and even nuanced argument about Stan, Stan as an incarnation of regional history, the shimmering guy in my garage, all I could think about was how Len had never rebounded from when his wife unhitched herself and took up with Mark’s wife, “ran off” being in this case sort of a very inexact reduction of a process that had taken many months to complete, a process that, at the outset, was visible to me, Len’s friend, primarily in the way she hectored him over the little things. There was one incident one night, involving a chicken burrito that was meant to be a burrito bowl, according to Len’s wife, Andrea, this during the course of a joint night out, You got me a what? What is this? What did you get? The problem of the flour tortilla could only be fully redressed with the kind of salty language that a married person sometimes seems to think is the right thing to fall into with a spouse; this salty language that Len’s wife employed lodged in my own consciousness, along with various other nearly legendary moments of unkindness that one sees and files away. Then there was the divorce, which involved bringing up Len’s addiction to painkillers in the nineties, and, before long, she had primary custody. Now his office looked like the FSB had gone on a vodka-inflected rampage through his personal effects.
     —He only appeared to me until recently, I said. That’s why it was such a relief when you guys were there. But Debby is trying to get the psychiatrist to go to the next level with the meds.
     —Maybe I can get him to appear to me alone, Len said.
     The view outside the window, beyond the piles, the empty cartons of Chinese on top of the book mounds and papers, was of a college green unspoiled by undergraduates. Len’s offer struck me as comically generous, maybe a little excessive.
     —You really want to do that?
     —Why not? Summer vacation.
     To Len, it was a sort of faculty research! Maybe he could get a departmental grant! Debby was a little surprised ten days later, it was a Friday night, when Len showed up with an overnight bag, and announced he was going to sleep over in the room on the third floor. It was possible that some of the particulars of what had happened to the guys, catching a glimpse of Stan the night of the card game, had gone unreported to any larger family constellation. I don’t know why, really. Why is it that a husband doesn’t tell a certain thing to his wife, when it would be just so easy to tell? I don’t know. Anyway, Len showed up, and he and my son, Calvin, sat around playing a certain video game that I knew nothing about, Len losing round after round, until around eleven, and then Len went upstairs with his copy of The Wretched of the Earth, which he was teaching at summer school that week in an underenrolled class on political uprisings, and prepared himself to wait for Stan. If the assumption was that a certain kind of drama, a certain kind of tension, caused Stan to turn up, well, then he couldn’t fail to appear, because Len was, as I say, a jittery mass of postdivorce vulnerability. If a certain kind of masculine disrepair caused Stan to turn up, a masculinity in extremis, then Len fit the bill.
     It all looked perfect. Len would stay the night, waiting up for Stan, and in this way we would perhaps answer some questions, such as, if there were one ghost, in our house, on Massasoit Street, would there not be other ghosts, at least in New England, where the housing stock was elderly, and there was much agony and ferment in the local historical files, going back several centuries, and witches, and religious humiliation. What was the statistical likelihood of ghosts in New England? Were they a contemporary phenomenon? Were they a phenomenon that stretched back centuries? Did they require an American literature to exist? Did a ghost require a witness? If we couldn’t get all of these questions answered, perhaps we could at least begin the process, we, the weary, middle-aged professoriat of the community college in town, with Len at the front of our battalion, publishing our research in one of the peer-reviewed journals.
     I put Len to bed, by which I mean that I trudged unsteadily up the creaky stairs with a shot glass and some inexpensive rye, thinking that it was akin to sending a heroic protagonist on his way into the underworld, it was like Jesus of Nazareth on his forty-day meditation retreat, or it was like the prophet Muhammad retiring to the cave at Hira awaiting, or it was like Joseph Smith out on the hillside digging for golden plates, and I asked Len what was the first thing he was going to ask Stan, and Len said, looking at first like he was going to laugh, and then, a moment later, as though he was going to weep:
     —I’m going to ask him about race. On the other side.
     I smacked him on the shoulder according to the rules of bonhomie, and then limped back down, and, having no appetite for sleep that night, I thrashed around, irritating Debby, until dawn, when I went up again for a look.
     And the third floor had been abandoned by my friend Len. There wasn’t a sign of him, nor did I see Stan anywhere. There was no sign of any disturbance up there, excepting a note from Len, on a lined yellow sheet, such as you might find on a legal pad, which said, I did finish making a syllabus . . .

After belittling me for not telling her about Len’s ghost hunting, my wife said that if I was not simply batshit crazy I should try to make it possible that professionals in the field could interact with Stan, by which I think she meant that Len and Dave were not entirely reputable, partly by constitution, or by association with me, but also because they were in the humanities and economics, respectively, and as a result were not able to make empirically verifiable claims. She meant that we needed someone else from the hard sciences. Debby had studied business and international relations when she’d been younger, and now she worked for the state in an administrative capacity, and she routinely employed words like accountability and transparency and she was worried about insurance liability and resale value where the ghost ownership was concerned. But: there was a back stairway in our house, a sort of a wind tunnel of a thing, through which, I suppose, a cook or some other employee was able to make it from the kitchen up to the third floor, in the old days, and she said she no longer wanted to go up that staircase, it was unsettling to her, and she said that she didn’t really want to be in the garage very much anymore, and therefore there was a kind of dwindling of what was accessible to us, in our rundown turn-of-the-century residence, which we were only able to afford because of the opioid- saturated qualities of New England’s urban wastes.
     It was not only the physical latitudes of our residence where something was definitely wrong, but we were having a hard time getting over an event of some years prior, which is to say the death of our daughter by reason of trisomy 13. And I apologize if I have kept this fact from you, thus far, but my keeping it from this account is like the keeping it from any other, which is to say that certain silences are so critical to the ongoing functioning of a certain group of human beings that the mere mention of what lies unspoken is enough to cause a real fissure to be opened up. We had been used to the idea, let me say, that we were just going to be parents of the one child, be- cause long were the days of attempting to have the second, until Calvin was seven or eight. We tried and we tried, and we got all the help that you could get for such things, and nothing seemed to work, and then, incredibly, it was as if our luck turned, which is always such a risky way of thinking about an outcome, because there’s no answered prayer without a price somewhere else to be levied, but there we were, and I can remember the autumn of our contentment, when, with yellow leaves and the sound of wind in the copper beeches, the test came back positive. The rabbit died. I was trying to become a full professor at the time, and so there was change afoot, and we rejoiced in it, at least until the dread eighteenth week, when we had the first amnio, which we did even though we knew midwives in the community who said you didn’t need to. Debby, though exceedingly tough, took to bed after the amnio, and didn’t get out, nor was she much out of bed at twenty-one weeks, when we did the testing again, with the same result. We named our daughter Cassie, short for Cassandra, when we knew it wasn’t likely to work out, and we braced ourselves for the not being able to breathe, not without assistance, or the having the organs in the wrong spot, the heart disease, the digestive problems, all of these things that in no way made Cassie less of a baby, or a person, or our child, a complicated, and loved, and welcomed person; this was how we tried to think of her, during all the tests to which she herself was subjected later, as the night began its closing in, merciless in early snow and wind, coming in off the North Atlantic, easterly, Debby hanging on so as to know that she had been a mother to a second child, a daughter, because a mother was what she wanted to be, and what she had been to Calvin. We knew Cassie’s life wouldn’t be long, and that we could try to make it as free of suffering as we could, and I could write for you many lines about the weeks in the natal intensive-care unit, knowing already that her breathing was going to stop, and that we were not going to prolong unduly this breathing, though every breath she gave to us was a gift to me and her mother, as I got as much of myself as near to her as I could get, was allowed to get, in the NICU, and the days when we even encouraged Calvin to visit with us, knowing that she was his sibling, and wanting him to know something of her, wanting to etch her on the glass-plate negative of his memory, wanting her to be like the scarifications on granite, like statuary in an Abrahamic desert, until the moment when the weakest thing in her, weaker than her gaze, her own body, gave out, and then there was a rushing away of priorities, and a sense of having done the most a parent could do in such a brief time, having helped a child immediately off to the beyond, so that everything in your own miserable existence could go unmoored, swept from the deck of your craft to sit on the bottom of the trench, you grasping for what had been before, and coming only to recreate a life from some cut-rate idea of what a life is, some ultra-discounted, postholiday, made-in-China-from-inferior-plastics idea of life, the one after you lost your child.
     And was that not the space into which Stan now launched himself, when I saw him, with a ruined cable-knit sweater, a sweater as if set upon by moths, hovering, sometimes over the commode, as if deeply grinding out some glum thought while he shit there, as I brushed my teeth, ministered to my receding and bloody gums. Was it not the space of our grief?
     Was he there, like Cassie’s memory was there, a lingering of familial or ministerial feeling sundered in some untimely way? The two seemed so much alike, Stan and Cassie, so united in their inability to leave us alone, that it was only natural, after a point, that Debby started to ask if I thought Stan could have any possible contact with Cassandra. It really was a natural question to ask, though I didn’t want to ask any questions of him at all, because, when he spoke, he was the most unnerving that he ever was.
     It’s more plangent, and more urgent, what happened with Debby, the way the thought of Cassie unspooled in her over some tuna casserole one night, while Calvin was sitting with us. I could see it happen, almost, a way that memory passed across her, a dusky light, a draining of daily rectitude, the way she didn’t say anything, the not saying as remarkable as if she had, waiting for Calvin to shrug up from the table in the contemporary teenaged manner, managing to rinse his bowl in a disdainful fashion, departed, after which Debby said:
     —Do you think the guy knows anything about Cassie?
     —The guy!
     Whispering in a fashion that was routine when speaking of Cassie.
     —What’s there to know about her?
     —I mean if it’s possible that there’s a guy living in our house who doesn’t really have a body, and who talks to you occasionally, is it not possible that there is a place where Cassie still lives and is a presence, to which he has access, where he goes when he’s not here?
     The first thing I did, of course, was to hold my wife, leaning around the table in the breakfast nook to do so, while she heaved into her sob. This is what one does. Debby doesn’t cry often, but when she does, she gets a rag-doll-like quality that you cannot help but want to comfort. However, it is worth pointing out my almost total refusal to ask anyone for help under any circumstances, a problem that extends much further than refusing to ask for directions when lost. I cannot hire a subcontractor, nor can I finish any repair, nor am I willing to ask my elderly parents for any financial assistance, nor can I ask my colleagues for a sabbatical, nor can I ask for relief from the everyday torments, for a holiday, or a break, I cannot ask, and this made it impossible, in my view, that I was going to ask Stan, our ghost, for help on the matter of Cassie, it seemed just outrageous. A total imposition. About the only time I was certain I was imagining the whole thing was when I came to see that my wife was more than serious.
     —Deb, I don’t want to—
     —Don’t say you’re not going to—
     —I don’t even know if he can really talk.
     —But you said he said his name, and also that the first time—
     —I don’t know if he said that. I don’t know, I might have been making it up. I was startled.
     —Don’t do this thing to me again, you always do this thing.
     —That’s not fair.
     —It’s definitely fair. You do this thing where you—
     —It’s who I am.
     —Well, this is a thing you are that I wish you weren’t. If only you’ll just ask him. The one thing. About Cassie.
     —How exactly would you put this thing to the, uh, the uh—
     —Just say. Well. Just say in the afterlife is it a community thing.
     —You want me to ask him if it’s a community thing in the afterlife?
     —I don’t even know what that means.
     —It means is it like you could find a person. Can you put out some kind of bulletin and locate a person, or the essence of a person, or could you feel that person, or feel the essence of that person, and know that that person is still extant, is a part of this place, an energy in this place, a little spaghetti strand of materiality in this place, more than just our loss, wherever this place is, if it really is a place, and might a person know, for example, if she’s loved or esteemed there.
     —Can you formulate that in a way that’s a little bit less abstract, so I know what it is I’m supposed to ask?
     Her voice, edging into a not whisper, into a prickly irritation.
     —Why can’t you do this thing for me this one time?
     —Because it’s not just this one time—
     —Oh, fuck off, then. You married me, and this is the person you married, with whom you . . .
     And then a longish silence,
     —Lost a child.
     Well, when you put it that way, was what I thought, or perhaps I had a feeling and that was how it felt—well, when you put it that way—because our lost child was the full stop, the blunt declamatory period above all others.
     —So I will ask him then if he knows anything about our daughter, or can confirm our daughter is there, and that—
     A pause of my own.
     —Our daughter is at peace.

Who was Calvin, our son, you might ask by now, that is the Calvin who was not simply upstairs on his phone, or playing video games, the revenant whom I still thought of as a small kid attempting to scooter around the house, and who in this way once broke a collarbone? A watercolorist, a silkscreener of T-shirts, a reader of speculative fictions, a socially phobic kid, with whom I tried, mightily, to talk, though the habit of his disinterest made this impossible. We both liked a certain kind of lo mein (with vegetables) from the Chinese hole-in-the-wall several blocks distant. I had through sheer determination passed on to him an esteem for the nearest professional baseball team. Beyond these two things, I could find few places where we could talk openly, though I loved him, even by telling him all the lore about the rock and roll bands of my youth. He was all hip-hop all the time. Sometimes I would listen from my office to him rattling around on the first floor eating dessert after dessert, before taking to the stairs, for more video, thinking: This is me loving my son. I awaited his enlightenment and my own.
     That summer, we had gotten Calvin his job teaching art to elementary-school kids, in a rented outdoor space, beneath a canopy, a sort of wedding tent, staked down on a baseball field that no one ever used. Out back of the school. Every day Calvin readied the finger paints and the papier-mâché and the clay, and the scrolls of paper, and the pens and inks, and waited for the kids to get dropped off. As far as I could tell, he appreciated the kids, but seemed to feel some duty not to let them know the degree of his appreciation. Their parents paid hundreds of dollars for this privilege, and then, at the end of the week or two weeks, these families were presented with a portfolio of artwork produced by each of the kids, suitable for framing. Soon the next group arrived.
     I was happy for anything in Calvin’s life that involved his being outdoors. I didn’t know that Calvin was being pursued by the administrator of the program, a fellow in this early thirties, named Rob, who also played electric viola in a noise band in town. Rob didn’t want Calvin to feel that his responding to the “great warmth” that he felt for Calvin was in any way unusual—this I learned from Calvin later—or rather, Rob said, the warmth was a sense of a shared purpose in bringing the visual arts to the kids of the community, which naturally resulted in a kind of eruption of electromagnetic waves between committed persons that could be cast aside, without being acted upon, or not, depending on the freely consenting wishes of these principal actors within a staff setting. Calvin, who felt himself to be a revolutionary, who was ready at a moment’s notice to overturn the prevailing norms, especially where his northeastern- white-guy privilege was the norm, and who was willing to do what was required, who was willing to risk exile, was seriously considering Rob’s nonoffer, because he could feel molecules attracted to other molecules, a bonding of molecules, and he felt like it was perhaps his obligation, as a revolutionary (who mostly stayed at home playing massively multiplayer online games, wearing the same monotonous pairing of sweats and T-shirts that any other kid wore, and sulking because his parents would not allow him to get the gauge earrings). All of this was happening, and it was happening beyond the range of parental oversight, as in fact it was designed to do; that is that Rob was trying to decide if some offhanded seduction of Calvin was appropriate, and of course this turn of events had nothing to do with Rob’s preferring those of the male persuasion, it had to do with shared purpose, meaning proximity, meaning opportunity. Rob’s name could just as easily have been Regina or Ruth, the way Calvin saw it. That Calvin was between women friends made him, perhaps, more suggestible, or this is how Calvin described it to me. On the day when he was staying late, because the kids had an exhibit the next day, the last day of that session, Calvin was hanging the work on a corridor in the main part of the school, and now dusk fell, and it was the time when if one is not careful the rather flimsy ideas about attraction between persons shine with its neon, superheated, as night comes on, and so Rob and Calvin were hanging these finger-painted classics, and these watercolors of characters from the Marvel multiverse, and My Little Pony, etc., when Rob said he had to go get his backpack from the office, and disappeared. The foreboding was so powerful for Calvin, as he described it to me, that it was like the massing of a northeastern weather event. There was an industrial drone out at the edge of town, where large-scale construction was taking place, and this drone throbbed in Calvin. It was a perfectly natural thing between people that was happening, an exchange of pleasantries maybe leading to a kiss, or more, and it was a cataclysmic change, and industrial droning, or the knowledge of disappointments and regrets that Calvin knew to be on the horizon but which were now impressing upon him as he tried to understand what he was able to do or not do under the circumstances.
     That the dust helixes of Stan appeared to Calvin was about the most cataclysmic of actualizations imaginable to him, because, as I say, I had managed to keep Stan largely to myself. Which is perhaps how all the other New Englanders with their ghosts were living too. They were feeling embarrassed about the ghosts, and keeping them secret, thinking that the ghosts were evidence of a failure of some
kind, like having a child who had obsessive-compulsive disorder or very bad anorexia or trisomy 13. Calvin didn’t know. And, as he described it, this man appeared in the corridor where Calvin was tacking up pictures, appeared not in the sense of walking in a slightly sinister way around a corner by the lockers, no, this man made a form from formlessness, a presence in an absence, a coming from nonexistence up through the foggy semiexistence of his class of beings into a state where Calvin could enumerate for me later the outfit, literally an old torn T-shirt, a couple of sizes too big, maybe an XXXL, from beneath which his gray belly swelled, and a pair of plaid flannel trousers, no shoes, hair wildly disordered, with some dollar-store reading glasses on, this man of whom you would say there was something not right, waving his hands diaphanous and not quite, while trying to say something to Calvin, like a bystander warning someone out of a building in flame, there was an attempt to say something and not saying it as well. As the matter of whether Stan could really talk and simply chose not to had not entirely been settled, Calvin could not repeat what was said with any certainty, but could only say that the injunction to leave the building was clear, as was the sequence of affirmations in the negative, no no no no no no no no no no no no! 
     It could have been Rob, whose seduction and its antithesis were one and the same, a Rob warning Calvin away from Rob, or it could have been Calvin’s own conscience projecting a Stan he may have known was in the house, but knew only in the way of things not entirely known; this is how you talk about the unfathomable pres- ence after the fact. Calvin had been trying to read The Tempest for several weeks that spring in his gifted and talented English class, and he felt certain that at one point Stan said, Full fathom five thy father lies; Of his bones are coral made; Those are pearls that were his eyes; Nothing of him that doth fade, and so on, but this seems very unlikely when considering Stan’s personality, and if “Ariel’s Song,” which is what they call that bit, was rendered in what we imagine to be Stan’s New Jersey, or outer-borough New York, accent, with its class-bound wiseacre quality, it’s hard to imagine this being carried off with the requisite seriousness.
     What is unavoidable in Calvin’s recounting, however, is how scared he was. The shivering, wild-eyed teenager I picked up in the Toyota, not long after having received a desperate text, Pls Come Get on Breyer in front of Starbucks now pls, was not the self-sufficient, ready for adulthood Calvin, the don’t-bother-me son I had grown used to, whose obliviousness had become the fabric of the household. The story came out in a torrent of wobbly vulnerability:—Dad, I saw something awful, I saw something, I don’t even know what it was, Dad, it was like some kind of like a person, and also like a dead person, like a walking and talking dead person, in the school, it was in the school, Dad, and I was standing there, like, getting ready to turn in the art supplies, and hanging the pictures, and this guy, like, appeared out of nowhere, and he looked like he just stepped out of the graveyard or something, way more awful than in the movies, because he was, like, you know, a real person, like someone but changed, someone you knew, but he changed, some other person who was the most awful person—
     And then my poor high-school-student son, the one who didn’t need anything, shook in silence, and we pulled over by the Quik Clean, and I leaned across the console stuffed with the old CDs, and I put my hand on my son’s shoulder, as he came clean with another torrent, and in the light of the busted-out streetlamp we were close once again, and now I had to agree with him—there was a world that had these things in it.
     I am less tough than my son, but my son is not impermeable, it seemed, and so it all came out, about Rob the violist, which involved him telling me that there were these questions about his sexuality that he had not settled, etc., like he thought maybe his sexuality was a field, and not an on-and-off switch, to which I gave a somewhat conventional paternal response:—We delight in everything about our son. There’s nothing you can do that I don’t feel is admirable and beautiful, except for leaving wet towels on the bathroom floor. But no to sex with your employers. You can’t consent. And it’ll hurt later on. I’ve seen this one play out. It hurts later on. You can’t consent, and he knows that.
     —I don’t want to go back there, he said. I can’t go back.
     I told him, yes, there were events transpiring at the house that I needed to explain to him, and in this process of explaining, it became clear that Stan’s being at the elementary school, where the art classes were happening, rather than at the house, constituted an escalation, and would need to be evaluated, among all of us, for signs about what it might, you know, portend.

Toward the end of the summer break, last week thereof, there was an onrushing of students, and an autumn whispering into the evenings, every night with its diminishing of crickets, and so it was the last time we were going to play Hearts that summer, Len and Dave and I, and it was different than it had been a month before, because now it was Hearts with an extra chair set out, and everyone knew what to expect. I’d been out for a walk, an attempt to clear my head, in the gloaming, with its melancholies, and came in through the backyard, past the long-rusted children’s slide that no one used anymore, and then in through the kitchen, where I could hear the weeping of spouses in there, And he never even asked! He never even asked! This was true, up to a point, I had not asked the dead guy much, as he mostly appeared like the flickering of a filmstrip in a projector, out of the corner of the eye. He was spirit photography. Any more generous husband, one not preoccupied by his own failure, not locked in, would have stopped in the pantry and said hello and comforted Debby, but I just kept going, to the front, where the other guys were sitting in the matching chairs from the late sixties, the ones that needed to be slipcovered, in silence. They weren’t saying anything. The light was dim inside, and there was a clenched desperation there, as though everyone had just threatened someone on social media and was living in the shame of it.
     —Shall we go up? I said.
     The three of us went upstairs into the lair that was the attic, redoubt of brown recluse spiders and mice, and then I went back down to get the chips and limped back up, an example of my attempts to get the resting pulse up in the era of elevated HDL.
     —OK, I said.
     I passed the set of Bicycle Playing Cards to Dave, who commenced to shuffle. There had been an abduction in the news that week, and Len said something about the father of the kid who perpetrated. Dave said something about legislation to eliminate the loophole in background checks, and he said that snakebite fundamentalism interested him, which was all totally reasonable, but for some reason, I couldn’t stop myself, and I looked at Dave and said,
     —Are you just trying to distract us, so you can, like, begin the process of cheating early in the game, get us all off guard, so you can have the whole night to yourself, to your preening and vanity and your desire to win?
     Len looked at Dave, gaping with incredulity, and then at me, as if candlelight had burned away all the usable oxygen in the room.
     —Wow, who made you into a total asshole for the evening?
     —I’m just tired of listening to you and Dave complain about how hard you have it. I’m the one with the dead kid.
     —Jesus, Travis, do you want us just to leave?
     —Maybe we can just play cards in peace, and not have the ridiculous, miserable jousting and masculine displays of penile length. What I can’t stand is all of you guys in the faculty with your desperate need to be smarter than anyone else that dates back to when you were last smacked around by a football player in the eighth grade, or when you were cast off by a woman in high school who went on to be a world-famous plastic surgeon who makes more in a week than you make in a decade, or your dad, the attorney general, who thinks you just couldn’t make it in law. And that’s why you’re hiding out on campus. I can’t stand all of it, and sometimes I just want to plunge a meat cleaver into my own chest rather than face another day among you guys. You all smell a little bit too, you know it, both of you. There are two things that are unforgivable, which means I had tried to forgive you and I’ve only gotten part of the way there, and the first of these is the smell of deodorant on men, and the second is the look of middle-aged men in short pants. I’d like to say I could forget about this where you both are concerned.
     Who knows why I said any of this. Maybe I was having a stroke, or a glioblastoma. I don’t know why I said what I said, except that I was tired, and something was collapsing inside of me. It seemed to me that in the fresh air of incipient autumn men in our situation should be left to rot up in an attic, should not be displayed to the populace, especially not the undergraduate populace.
     Of course, Stan then appeared, as I knew he would.
     —Just what we needed, Dave said.—Does he count cards and then whisper shit to you, Professor Walton, because you’re too impaired to be able to do the counting yourself?
     —Dave, Len said, you’re only going to make it worse.
     Stan’s entrance was upon the drafts in the third-floor stairwell. Stan was a handkerchief thrown from a train. Stan was like a raptor drifting over something flattened in the road. Stan was like a train whistle in the wake of the interminable freight. Stan was the whispered oaths of a nighttime parting. Stan was like a memory isolated in a neurotransmitter, never to be restored, by reason of amyloid plaque.
     And what he was wearing was particularly bizarre. The guy had on a nightshirt, it seemed, and nothing more, like he was left over from some PBS miniseries. The nightshirt was in shreds, and his thinning, combed-over hair was disarranged, and in his mouth he seemed to have clamped some kind of cigarette holder. There were dark circles
under his eyes, as though he had not slept in half a century, and, it was true, he had no feet, like the standing part of him had given out, became of dwindling substance, as you looked down at his feet. Except that the panicky feeling was such that if you looked at him, in reply you got his pitiless gaze. You didn’t want him looking at you. He drifted into the room, and put a hand on the shoulder of each of us, and there was an especial chill that lingered there. It was an atrial flutter, or like you were fidgeting multidimensionally, here and elsewhere, present and beyond.
     And then somehow the chair was pulled back, and he was seated there, and put his fist against his forehead and awaited his cards.
     Hearts is really better with four or five players, and so having Stan there was technically an improvement, but it became quickly apparent that Stan was in no mood to hold his cards, or was perhaps unable, and the three of us, as though bound together by an agreement to play through, went about the tricks of the first round. Nothing could stop us, apparently. But neither were we talking, not in the way we usually did, with the observational detail, the good-natured exile. We did not pry further into contemporary politics, or into Len’s online compendium of people who died in particularly silly and self- inflicted ways. We played the cards, and nothing terribly important was revealed by the cards. Someone picked up a few hearts in tricks. The queen of spades was doled out. And so it went around and around, the lead shifting, the numbers mounting.
     It seemed that the light faded quickly and in its fading, I came gradually to notice that Len and Dave were getting up to leave. Perhaps Len departed first, still nursing the wound of my shrill outburst, and then Dave got up, and I said,
     —Wait, don’t go, I—
     —Travis, he said, we’ll see you at school.
     —Hey, you guys . . . it was . . . because . . .
     But I could already hear Dave retreating down the stairs, landing without mercy on those squeaky steps.
     We’d been trying to have another child, as you sometimes do when you’re in your early forties, and it’s your last chance. We went through all the intermediate-stage interventions, and now because we had a little bit of coverage, we were going to try to go to the next level, hooking Debby up to a lot of machines, and getting her on a lot of medication. And we were finding each other on whatever the day was, like crazy teenagers, flinging off our middle-aged-person outfits from the design house of can’t-be-bothered, and doing it fast, whenever we had some privacy. It was harder because we had no privacy, because there was always the possibility of Stan. We were pretty worried about the appointment upcoming, the intake for IVF. We were worried about whether we were doing the right thing, or whether we had wasted most of our best years, and were running out of energy, with a son who had to live through all our ups and downs. Was all this the right thing to do, and would it bring an end to suffering? Debby didn’t want to go through it again, and I didn’t want to go through it, and I didn’t want to put my son through it, through the distraction and possibility of an outcome that is not the outcome you thought, not the good news. I didn’t want him to go through it, and we definitely didn’t want to go through it. But not being equipped to do a thing and then doing it anyway, without so much as a moment’s hesitation, was a sure indicator of the second half of life, where double helpings of disappointment were heaped onto your cereal bowl each morning along with the extra bran.
     There was so much to say to the guy, now I was alone with him in the attic, just the two of us, on that night in early September, in which New England, our setting, seemed like some metaphor for the ending of things, for the outright hatred in the faces of people in the street, the astringent inhumanity, the tribal loyalties, the tribal hatreds, the blood oaths, the instant aggression everywhere, the dividing of families, the brutalities, the warlike marshaling, the collateral damage, the works of men. And there we were, the two of us, amid all of it. Myself and the dead guy.
     I felt something stirring that if I were to render it in words might have been: Oh my future, here am I in your company, my future as a guy who wanders around in a torn nightshirt, incapable of finishing a sentence, oh my future, my time of insignificance, my time of historical irrelevance, my time of abject homeliness, my time of physical weakness, my time of unfashionability, my time of being the object of contempt and ridicule, oh my future that is all a reckoning with the past, a dwelling in the past, a romanticizing of the past, a retreating into the past, oh my future of forgetting, my future of dementia, my future of time running out, oh my time of being stuck in what happened long ago, oh my future of regret, oh my beginning of understanding of the beyond, oh my future in which I am bereft, here you are now before me, like an in-law who wants to tell you everything you have done wrong.
     —Stan, I said, you are fucking my shit up.
     And it did seem that gradually he removed the fist from his brow, uncurling, extending outward the slender appendages, and he, the one-eyed jack in profile, turned to face me, eyes not eyes but totally transparent, as if the windows of the soul were a mere residue thereof.
     —You come in here, out of the blue, why out of the blue, we’ve had the house through four academic years, not so much as a peep out of you, and then you’re here, all of a sudden, scaring the shit out of me two or three times a week, my work suffers, because I can’t sit in my office downstairs without knowing if you’ll turn up or not, and then you start showing up more, you increase your range, like a rabid animal, and soon you’re scaring my kid. You don’t show up reliably so people doubt my word, and you make me look like I’m having psychotic symptoms, and then you scare my kid. You disrupt my card game, you pit us against one another, guys who have been friendly for years, and you get right in the middle of summer vacation, and frankly, pal, all I ask is that I have a nondramatic summer vacation. All I care about is the free and easy summer vacation. You think I don’t put enough into the school year? You try grading a hundred and ten final papers of community-college kids, some of whom are the first kids in their family to go to college. Have you done that, Stan? No I don’t think so.
     You hear all the time about low-level hauntings involving irritating household pranks, things being misplaced. Stan didn’t pull any of that conventional poltergeist stuff. So I guess it’s just a coincidence that at this point the cheap compact fluorescent bulb, in the fixture on the third-floor landing, flared once and then burst as Stan gazed wearily at me. Now a barely perceptible glow illuminated us as we sized each other up.
     —I don’t know if I should think that your lingering here is related to a specific bit of trouble, or if you just like the house and want to hang around, or is there some kind of indigenous burial ground onsite or nearby, or whether the fact that we aren’t that far from Lizzie Borden’s address is somehow related, but do you think it’s the best use of your time? Do you think it’s fair to us that you’re showing up at my son’s job? I mean, are you going to start coming to class this semester and interrupting the class discussion? Do you want to learn about scientific ethics? Maybe that would have an effect on you? Please tell me that you’re not going to be coming to class, OK?
     It was as if hours had passed, so long were the fallow passages in our exchange. It was like night on the exoplanets. Had my family missed me at all? Or had they simply gotten used to the fact that I was still in the attic, working on a book about the ethics of assisted suicide, which I had left unfinished for more than a decade.
     —You know we’re in the middle of a, of a, grief sort of a situation here, right? Do you remember what a grief situation is like, Stan? Can you remember back that far? And do you remember particular things, Stan, the habits of before, or are you condemned to just mime the feelings, like one of those kids’ programs where they show a face and then below it says angry! Or sad! Is that how much you know, Stan? Just the feeling of it?
     He reared up from the table then, as though he were capable of being bigger in size than the life-sized scale of him before, and all at once he was above the table, the card table, and I could swear that it was he who knocked the bowl with its remaining corn chips aside, causing a racket, and with a strangulated cry, he tried to say something again, and it reminded me of my son’s first efforts to talk, the words stuck in Stan’s throat, as the words had done before, the most superficial layer of what it is to be human, one of the last things you learn to do, and the first thing you lose, and it reminded me again of our daughter Cassie, and the days we had with her, where all I wished for was a few sentences, to be understood in the days we had.
     —Ppppppppppgggggggggggggghhhhhhhmmmmmmmmmmmm! said Stan. A long moan like the first burst of a young horn player on first picking up his instrument, massive and free and overpowering.
     He smacked his forehead with his hand, and the hand, the incomplete hand, did, in fact, pass through, and he grabbed his temple, and looked up at some corner of the ceiling, a devotee in some Dark Ages devotional painting, and howled anew.
     —Stan, I am so sorry, but I can’t understand. Do you think you could just enunciate a little better? I mean, I know you don’t have any—
     And then he said the word.
     There was a bit of a tornadoing to the essence of him now as if the concept required some terpsichorean moves.
     And again.
     The sense of joy, a joy that is only just longer than the anxiety that succeeds it, was much upon me, and I allowed myself to feel it for a moment, before a battery of further questions succeeded it.
     —Are you sure? Are you just saying this to create trouble, or are you sure? And is there a heartbeat? Can you see that? And what about the genetic testing? Can you figure out what’s going to happen? Could we lose her again? Cassie?
     He was breathing heavily now, though whether breathing is the right word or not I cannot say, whether the habit of breathing, of rising and falling in some constant but routine participation with the air around us, in which life is primarily a thing notable for the disturbance of air, is still a practicable activity for those in Stan’s condition. He gasped in the corner, and I would have said that he was a mere ghost outfit, hanging on a peg there, so still was he now, as though trying to be present, trying to haunt, and trying to be invisible at the same time. And yet rising and falling as if with each breath.
     —Don’t go all quiet on me now. You can’t start like that and then not finish!
     And then the ghost raised a hand—as if to say what? As if to say the conversation was over. And he gathered himself up and crossed for the door, which led to the corridor, which led to the stairwell down from the attic, which led to the rest of the humans who lived with me. I saw the nightshirt wafting behind, even in the deeper part of darkness, now everywhere about us, and he seemed to toss the cigarette holder such that it might have landed, corroded with nicotine and years of inflammatory habits, at the edge of the finished attic. He patted the top of his head, and called after himself,—I gotta go . . .
     —Talk to your wife . . .
     And I called after him,—No wait, no wait! Don’t do that! Don’t go talk to my wife! Keep it between us! Keep it a thing that happens between us! Or tell me first, tell me if the baby makes it, before you tell her! Tell me all that you have to tell, haunt me with all you have to haunt, foretell all that you have to foretell, tell me first! But in a gale of lukewarm silence he was away and down into the stairwell, and I was left to ponder the appearance of him in those weeks of summer, and to wonder if he would be back after the next academic year, and, if so, where we would be then.
     All this in the time before I grew old myself.

Longtime contributor Rick Moody is the author of twelve works of fiction and nonfiction including three collections of stories, two memoirs including The Long Accomplishment (Henry Holt), a volume of essays on music, and six novels, including Hotels of North America. With Darcey Steinke, he edited Joyful Noise: The New Testament Revisited (both Little, Brown). He teaches at Tufts University. He is at work on a new collection of stories entitled Thirteen.