THIS EMPTY PLACE

CATHY ULRICH

 
 

All the boys I know see ghosts.
 
One is haunted by his grandmother. She is always turning corners just ahead of him, gone when he looks. He recognizes the hem of her ephemeral skirt, the scent of paprika trailing her.
 
One sees the back of his father’s head in reflections, that familiar cowlick. The back of his father’s head, always ever only the back of his head.
 
I wish, he says, that he would turn and look at me.
 
 
All the boys I know check my eyes for signs of a haunting, knock on my closet doors, rap against my kitchen table.
 
I thought the ghosts were supposed to be the ones doing the rapping.
 
None of the boys I know like when I say that, knuckle my bureau sharply.
 
Quiet, they say. There’s a presence here. There has to be.
 
 

All the boys I know say: This place is so empty. It’s like you’ve never been cared for, ever.
 
Ahh, I say, that’s what it’s like?
 
They say: Ghosts are everywhere.
 
 
All the boys I know tell me about the ghosts haunting them: fathers, mostly. Grandmothers. One says his childhood cat still twists between his legs from time to time.
 
I swear, he says, I can hear the meow.
 
He says: You believe in ghosts, don’t you?
 
They all say.
 
I only smile, never answer.
 
All the boys I know think that makes me mysterious.
 
There’s nothing mysterious about me.

 
 
All the boys I know say I’m beautiful, sexy, magnificent.
 
Maybe they don’t all say magnificent.
 
 
All the boys I know kiss me firmly, hold my thin wrists in one hand over my head, back pressed against my bedroom wall. Rock my hips forward to meet their own, drape me backwards onto my bed, a conquering, a submission.
 
You’re soft, they say. So soft.
 
 
All the boys I know fuck me tenderly, say sweet things.
 
But you don’t love me, though, I say, do you?
 
All the boys I know don’t answer that.
 
 

All the boys I know wither and fade and leave, like ghosts.
 
They are gone in the morning, their mugs of coffee sitting on my counter, cooling. I don’t like coffee myself. I only brew it for all the boys I know.
 
The steam rises in a swirl into the air, disappears.
 
I rap my hand against the counter, rap my hand against the counter.
 
Again.
 
Again.
 
Again.

 

 
 

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