The stars shone bright, even so close to the city, and the wood fire scent permeated every neighborhood, or so it seemed. It was the perfect autumn night, and in spite of it I had only reluctantly left the comforts of home to head out to yet another pre-Halloween event. Do they ever end? I wondered, thinking already of the costume I needed soon, the grand affair I was hosting, despite my foul mood lately.
Things were just not working out, he had told me, leaving me standing in the doorway one morning in my bathrobe and tears, flustered and confused, and after that, angry at his sudden disappearance. Not a trace of him remained anywhere, I realized, not that I was looking.
And honestly, I was not, convinced as I was in retrospect that his mood swings of late, his silences, his long, heartfelt if bewildering looks toward me, were all indications of some sort of change that would not include me in his future. Why chase him if his heart had already gone?
It was only when his sister called me frantically a few weeks later that I knew that he had abandoned not only me, but his family, friends, and job, as well. And then came the stories of the emptied bank account, the missing car found later several states away, the classic signs of someone who has either been kidnapped or who means to start over somewhere else.
He had said goodbye. It seemed unlikely to be foul play, and even now, months after he left, no reason seemed to make sense. It was as if he had died. I did not know exactly how to define my feelings anymore, and remained utterly unable to move forward in my own life, much to the chagrin of nearly everyone who knew me. Despite my initial anger, I realized that he was still with me somehow, though I never mentioned it.
I never spoke of this feeling, strong as it was, because I could not explain it, was in fact not sure if I felt him or his ghost. At times wished that he had died, if only so that I could believe in the paranormal, rather than wondering if I was losing my own mind.
Friends mean well, I am sure, when they try to coax people out of self-inflicted longings. But I wonder, too, if it is simply their own discomfort at watching what they believe to be undue suffering. Perhaps even suffering itself is misunderstood, poorly tolerated in spite of its inevitability in our human lives.
Did I suffer? I wished him close, wished that the desire–no, the sheer erotic ecstasy of whatever possessed me now–were complete in his physical nearness. I wished for some tangible evidence of his presence, and only in that, I suffered because I feared being misunderstood.
It was a haunted hayride. We stood in line sipping apple cider for nearly an hour, the brisk fall night coming in quickly as we waited. At last, the masks, the scary teenagers jumped at us, the doll feet on a barbecue grill, the werewolves and witches, the various horrific creatures lunging themselves toward us… I laughed, screamed, wished I was home, but less now as I saw Cassiopeia in the sky, the moon low and bright. We climbed into the wagon for our ride, and squeezed tightly together near the back.
The tractor started, and we bumped down the grassy hill, the hay fresh and distinct in my memory of those weeks in the country. I remembered the barn he knew so well for so long before he even showed it to me. I remember his rough beard scratching my cheek as I wandered down in the early morning while he tended to the horses, let them out to the field, chores interrupted by coffee and days otherwise free, beginning there against the side of a stall, kisses, rough, urgent, the hay then beneath us until we finally ran inside, leaving the stable then for hours and hours while we fucked on an old featherbed. This could never last, and yet it did.
Hay. His fingers ran up my arm now as another group on the wagon knocked into ours. Yes, his fingers, I was sure. I looked up, and saw a cap, a jacket, not his, not then. But now, no I recognized his exquisite grasp, even as zombies with chain saws chased the wagon down the hill.
It had been months, though–months that I ached for his touch, his breath on my neck. I searched for him in my dreams, in all the collected worlds that I kept safe away from the harsh day-to-day in which he no longer existed.
A hand touched my shoulder, moved my hair from it and ran along my neck. Graves in a mock cemetery opened, and skeletons ran out, chasing us once more. Women screamed as fires blazed bright. Hillbillies ran from their houses shooting rifles at the sky as we passed. He whispered my name. “Sarah, oh Sarah.”
And I melted as I gave into my longing, felt my body like butter, melting, warm, leaning in toward him on the hay, whispering back, oh yes, stay now, please stay.
The lights from the barn reappeared as the tractor made its way back up the hill. I felt a chill, wondering what to do now where I could see, half afraid that I might have dreamed him, too. Suddenly the tractor slowed as men ran out at us, once more yelling, their masks hideous. He jumped from the hay and ran with them back toward the woods, as I felt the terror once more of watching him disappear with no explanation.
I never said anything to my friends, and after a late night coffee and a few forced smiles, made my way back home, to my bath, my bed.
It was not until the next day that I reached into my jacket pocket and found it. A note.
“I love you, Sarah.”
And a number, ten digits.
A dial tone.
Hay. His hand in mine, then, as before, now, perhaps. I am red, heart pounding, yielding yes, dizzied. Hope. His phone rings.