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Dearly Departed

A.J. Coan is an Afro-Latina writer who lives with her wife and way too many dogs. They all chase cats and happily reside under a palm tree in South Florida. This is her second appearance in Daily Science Fiction. Through gaps in space and time, she occasionally blogs at ajcoan.wordpress.com.

The house was old, a 1920s Victorian-styled red-bricked beauty surrounded by lean metal fencing and thick spring grass. I easily imagined a playground on it. It was the perfect home for a young couple like us.
"Do you think it's haunted?" I asked.
"Nah," Dante said. "I asked the realtor. They're required to tell you if it's haunted, you know. No ghosts here, Rose," he said with a wink and playfully nudged me with his elbow.
I believed him. Dante was a lawyer, a good one too.
It seems ridiculous now, but I knew we were meant to live in that old house. The neighbors called it Dogwood Manor because of the lush dogwood trees overtaking the yard. The dogwoods smelled like southern hospitality and were as white as fresh cotton in summer. City mouse that I was, I fell in love at once.
When Dante finally secured the loan for our new home, I wasn't surprised. I knew fate had brought us there.
But not all stories have happy endings. Like our marriage, the house was warm at first, but soon cooled to a subzero temperature. We fought about Dante's work schedule mostly. His tendency to stay at the office late, his extended work hours, and how we never saw each other anymore even during the weekends. He blamed it on the law firm, but I wasn't convinced.
When that fateful day came and the bullet entered my sternum, I didn't see it coming. No one ever does, until death is close enough to shake your hand.
I was in my driveway exiting my car door after a late night gig as a college professor. The boy who shot me couldn't have been more than fifteen years old. He wanted my money, not my life. As I saw his eyes widen with glowing surprise, I knew he didn't mean to shoot me, but it was a mistake he could never take back, and I was too far gone. Scarlet fingers of blood flowed past the concrete driveway and onto the street before the ambulance arrived to rescue me.
I was dead before my body entered a hospital door.
Witnessing your own funeral is an ironic affair. Dante's eulogy of me was beautiful, warm, and mostly true. They were the kindest words I could remember him saying about me in a long time.
Even though the nothingness called to me then, and I was tempted to go, I couldn't leave him. Dante and I were closer now than we had ever been, and I couldn't stand losing him twice.
Dante didn't see it that way though. He was ready to move on.
Several weeks after the funeral he brought her home. Our home. My heart filled with burning coals as I saw her hold his arm in a way that rang of comfort and long familiarity. I knew exactly who she was before I even saw her. She was Dante's reason for staying late at work, taking business trips out of town, and working on weekends. It was Claire, Dante's coworker.
That cliche son of a bitch.
I wanted to be a cliche too. I wanted to be some sick sad joke with a dark punch line. I wanted to erupt in a rage that would smolder our sham of a home and marriage. I wanted to hurt him like he hurt me. I wanted to hurt her, too.
But being a ghost doesn't work like that. Ghosts can pout, grieve, and fume all they want. It all amounts to nothing in the physical world. I learned that the hard way.
All I could do was stare and watch as they held hands and finished their bottle of cherry red wine, then stumbled upstairs to our room. I saw him touch her the way he used to touch me. I watched him lightly brush her ear the way he used to brush mine. I watched it all.
When he was finished, he kissed her softly then strode to the bathroom door. I tried to move away, but he walked right through me, then shuddered. "Rose?" I heard him whisper.
I said nothing. I was too numb to care.
As I drifted past the front door and ghost-white dogwoods in the driveway, my final thoughts as I disappeared into nothing was wondering how long this had been going on--him and Claire.
Funny how Dante and I used to joke our house was haunted. I never thought the ghost was always me.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, October 24th, 2017

Author Comments

Credit for this story is owed to the song "Dearly Departed" by Shakey Graves. The song is largely metaphorical, but I was able to borrow the title (which seemed like the most appropriate title for a story about a dying romance) and the last line: "The ghost was always me." From there, I was able to fill in the gaps.

- A.J. Coan
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