by Bryana Lorenzo
Ghost—a non-corporeal flash, faded memory, still noise, something or someone that came before. The wind was the ghost of gently falling autumn leaves. Polaroids were ghosts of seventies and eighties family portraits. You—on the beach, sand crumbling between your toes, in your oversized Hawaiian shirt with your tangled, mangled hair tied up loosely behind you—were a ghost of your older brother, as I was the ghost of mine. We were summer sun spirits together, snapping photos of the palm trees and sea shells and clams and tourists. Like all ghosts, we faded, were fading. And we exist—existed. Until all that we were, all that was, disappeared—
Haze. Summer hazy daze. We met when you stole a glazed donut from the Dunkin’ Donuts down by the beach, hiding under old white park benches to escape police. I watched from afar on my bike—once my brother’s—waiting, expecting you to get caught. But you always twisted from their grasp just in time, ran onto the beach, kicked sand in their eyes, escaped, like a creature–a bird of paradise overfed by tourists. The same song and dance played out every day for about a week, though always with a different item—a postcard from a gift shop, a pair of hot pink sandals from a clothing store, leftover waffles from a diner.
Then one day, you were caught, snatched by your too-long hair. You were being dragged away. And I watched, waited, listened… then you called out. Not my name. Not anyone’s name that I knew. But I answered anyway as if I knew you. As if I were a relative, a savior, your safety. I said you were my little sister, said you had known kleptomania, said I’d pay for anything you stole. And I did. And so they let you go, but on the condition that you wouldn’t return. You stared blankly when they finally left.
“Why’d you butt in?” you asked. “You didn’t have to. And you had to pay for all the stuff I took.”
“Who’s the guy you were calling?” I asked.
“You didn’t answer my question!”
“I don’t know!” I said. “I don't know why I got involved… I just, I heard you holler someone’s name—”
“My brother,” you said. “You answered to my brother’s name.”
“Oh,” I said. “Well, where is he—”
“A ghost,” you said matter of factly. “A spooky spirit! Like the mists of the beach! Or… dead coral? Maybe? He always liked the color of reefs, and dead coral is pretty ghostly.”
“Uh… sorry for your loss,” I said.
“Ah, don’t worry about it! Happened a long time ago. Besides,” you smiled wryly. “I’m something of a ghost myself.”
I didn’t question when you called yourself a ghost, and I didn’t hold you back to satiate any curiosity. Instead I came back and watched you echo the movements of the prior day. Just like yesterday, I had to butt in, had to hand over my wallet, had to watch my allowance get pilfered by the police. As if to echo when I answered by your brother’s name, I called you by someone else’s, and since you swiftly answered and it was a name ambiguous enough to belong to a little girl, so the police bought it. Then I bought them donuts to brighten their moods so they’d let us go quicker. Then they left and we stood in the sand, sunlight soaking through our skin like the warm wash of the waves.
You didn’t ask whose name I called you by—you’d already guessed, already suspected since we first met. You put a hand on my shoulder, but stayed silent. A seagull called out to the silver line of the horizon. The sky melted tangerine and dragon fruit. The tide tussled our still toes like toddlers tussle grapes off the vine. We were like statues for a single day, or at least I was. You watched the sun soaked sky and I watched you eat the ginger snap you nearly successfully stole from the bakery. Then I stirred and stared at the growing night and the blooming stars. Then I went home without even saying goodbye. I’d be back. You knew I would. Thus, you didn’t mind the abrupt stop.
The next day, you called me by your brother’s name, and I called you by mine. I bought you and I a strawberry and blueberry sundae at the ice cream parlor and parked us under an abandoned beach umbrella with a tear near the top. You watched and judged as I ate my sundae like you were judging the authenticity of a Renaissance painting.
“My brother would eat the whipped cream first before diving into the ice cream,” you said. “The flavor gets diluted otherwise, so he claimed.”
I rolled my eyes. “That’s impossible. The flavor of both is enhanced by eating both.”
“My brother would disagree,” you said. “You’re not a very good ghost, are you?”
“Who said I’m a ghost?” I asked.
“Well, if you’re answering to the name of my dead brother and thus waltzing about in his shadow, I’d say that pretty handily classifies you as a ghost,” you argued with a smug grin.
Humidity tugged at our skin. Ice cream dribbled down our chins and onto our chests and clothes. I asked what your brother was like. Gawky. Sun kissed. Stupidly prideful. He once nearly got himself beat up in the parking lot of a convenience store after challenging a boxer from an underground ring to a fistfight when the boxer teasingly called him a girl because his hair was long and curly. He once tried to prove his bravery by jumping off a cliff into the rocky riptides. He once snuck you into a movie theater to watch a slasher film after you cried and cried for hours that he would be scared without you. He once spent an entire morning combing your hair into pretty little braids for your first day of school.
“What was yours like?” you asked.
Older. Tanner. His hair was dustier and blonder. His two front teeth had a gap between them that made a shrill whistle whenever he laughed. He owned a beat-up jeep that he inherited from grandpa, which he’d use to drive me to and from school whenever Ma and Pa were busy, which they always were. He could fix a leaky pipe better than any plummer, and attracted dogs of all breeds wherever he went, while repelling cats even as he cooed over them. And he liked the beach, the waves, the sand—viewing all that from the mountains, calling the coastline a postcard perfect view.
I shrugged. “Uh… older… brave… he really liked biking up and down the mountain paths and going camping on the cliff sides. He tried to take me once when I was little, but I just complained the whole time.”
You giggled. “Wow! You were a baby! That sounds like fun!”
“I know! But tell that to six-year-old me!”
“I’d love to camp on the cliff sides,” you said.
I smiled. “I’d be happy to take you.”
Even though the last time I rode up the mountains, my brother had just died. I saw his face in the mists, in the sift and sea-foam of the shoreline. I held my palm up to my son, placed my other palm on top, felt my own skin, the folds of my knuckles, drawing lines in the sand between real and metaphor and memory and ghost. Then I got up and never went back. I thought I never could go back, thought I’d never see another sunset on that mountain side. I thought nothing of your smile when I said I’d bring you there one day. I simply laid back and soaked in summer heat.
Then again a week later, you came with a tiny blue bike with pink lace on the handles and a silver bicycle bell. You didn’t say where it came from, and I didn’t ask. We rode in silence up and down parts of the mountain, listening to the chirp of the birds, the rush of the far off waves, and the strings of silence that sliced through the empty air. At one point, we stopped to take in the view. You leaned over the railing that should have kept you from falling. Then, a dragonfly landed on your nose, and you snorted at the sight, then almost fell. The only reason you didn’t was because I suddenly grabbed you by your shirt’s collar. When I helped you back on your feet, I almost pushed you back down the mountain myself.
“You could have died!” I screamed.
“Yet I didn’t,” you said.
“Why were you leaning over the railing?”
“To get a better view.”
“What would you have done if I wasn’t there?”
You shrugged. “Nothing. Stay a ghost.”
We rode our bikes up the mountain every day after that, and every day we stopped at the same view and I stopped you from leaning too far over the railing. The sun only grew hotter, and the pavement of the road baked our feet as we stood barefoot watching the sunny-side up sunrise and the watercolor sunset. I wished to ask when you became a ghost, or, really, when you thought you became a ghost, when you became incorporeal in your own mind. I felt your shoulder and it was solid. I twirled a twirl of your hair in my finger. Physical. Your laughter vibrated across the cliff face. The soles of your feet grew hot from the sticky, tar-like road. When did you become a ghost?
Then one day, near the end of July, you showed up without your bike. You wanted to wade in the water, feel something cold on your skin instead of the heat of the earth that was slowly sucking you dry and killing you. I agreed and waded in with you. Neither of us wore swimsuits, just ratty old clothes that seemed stolen from a thrift store. We floated in sync, on our backs, on, and seemingly above, the waterline, a pair of floaters,–cadavers. I held your hand so you wouldn’t float too far away from me. You tried to sync your movements with the tide, moving up and down and up and down and up and down and up and down again. At first, everything was silent, save for the crash of the waves. Then, your voice ripped through the water.
“In some ways, you remind me of him,” you said. “You’re always babying me, though you’d probably say it’s because I act like a baby. In most ways though, you’re a completely different person.”
“Is that a bad thing?” I asked. “I mean… I’m not really your brother. I’m just pretending I am to get you out of trouble easier.”
“No. You’re right,” you said. “After all, I’m the one who’s his ghost.”
“You’re his ghost?”
“Yeah! Every time I see my reflection in the tide, I see his visage. Every I get caught doing something stupid, I feel his presence. Every bit of me is a copy of him, a shadow. I’m obviously his ghost!”
I rolled my eyes. “By that logic, everyone’s a ghost of somebody.”
“I mean, yeah! You’re a ghost of your brother, aren’t you?”
I almost dragged us both under. When we righted ourselves, I started stammering. “Uh…”
“It’s alright,” you said. “You don’t have to say anything. Probably a harsh subject to suddenly spring up.”
I stared up at the sky. Hazy. Robin egg blue. Streaked with faded clouds like leftover lint. I asked how I'd even know if I were a ghost, and you said a ghost shadows other’s movements, living the same day everyday. Same memory. Voice. Echo. I said that sounded more like insanity, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. But a ghost didn’t do a day over expecting change. Ghosts expected everything to always stay the same. Until they faded. Until they are no longer. Until they are gone; nonexistent. You claimed to fade when the summer was over, that you were already fading. I didn’t believe you, expected you to still be there waiting for me at the exact same spot, day after day, come August, September, October. You giggled.
“You really are a ghost.”
On most days in late July, you showed up early to ride up the mountain to watch the remaining sunrise, before biking back down to sit at the base of the ocean, tide softly washing our toes, to watch the sunset. Then on some days in early August, you only showed up for half the day. Other days, especially later in the month, you didn’t show up at all. Only once did you appear for a full day, and on that day we rode up to the mountains, and I let you hang over the edge as far as you wanted, even as I feared you’d fall. Then once September hit, you were gone and never showed once more. And yet I came, every day, over and over, expecting the same and getting different results. Was I a ghost or the definition of insanity? I couldn’t tell, couldn’t ask you to parse out the difference because you weren’t there to parse out the line between the solid and the gone.
And yet everyday I came back to the beach, a summer spirit, echoing the prior months of June, July and early August. And every day, I felt the cold sand beneath my toes and the breeze run past my skin until my being was chilled and I ran inside for cover. But eventually, I’d come back out to watch the sunset. The day wasn’t as hazy as during the soaking hot days of the summer prior, but I still felt the effects of the shifting world.
Pushcart Prize and Best of Net nominee, Bryana Lorenzo, has had her fiction featured in Outlander Zine, The Graveyard Zine, Rhodora Magazine, Le Château Magazine, The Literary Canteen, Pile Press, Agapanthus Collective, Novus Literary Arts Journal, io Lit, The Talon Review, and White Wall Review, and has fiction forthcoming in Occulum Journal. She’s also an alumni of the prestigious Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship and the Iowa Young Writers Studio. You can find her on Instagram @bryanastarwrites or on her Tumblr bryanastar.tumblr.com.