Ghost Champagne

1. Comedy
You know what I wish? I wish I could just reach into someone’s chest and pull out their beating heart and show it to them, like a movie villain. (And then I would put it back and their chest would seal up and they would be fine. I’m not a monster!) But imagine how great that would be, whenever the endless string of entitled assclowns start screwing with you—just reach in, and ZOOOOOOOP! Oh, what’s this? It’s your heart. In my hand! You wanna say something now, huh? I didn’t think so. I mean, I would only use this power in extreme circumstances, like when one of the developers in my day job starts mansplaining to me, or when I’m super bored in a meeting. Speaking of which, why is it OK to text in a meeting but not to play Candy Crush? That’s discrimination.

My comedy set is off to a pretty good start, and then I notice my ghost at a third row table, right between the canoodling pierced hipsters and the drunken yuppies.

Some days I hardly notice my ghost, but lately she’s in my face a whole lot more. Today she’s wearing a lacy loligoth dress that I wish I owned in real life, and a little hat over her wavy dark hair, which is a little shorter than mine. She’s drinking a Sidecar or an Old Fashioned, because yeah, even ghosts must obey the two–drink–minimum rule at Sal’s Comedy Cellar, and she watches me go through my set with the usual disaffected look on her face, like been–there–done–that–and–died.

I do what I always do: ignore her. Even when she knocks the candle off her table and turns the floor into a minefield of broken glass and hot wax. Fuck her. Remember the toolkit. Keep going, look past her—I try to gaze instead at my boyfriend Raj, sitting on a stool in the back. The ghost doesn’t matter. She had her chance to be alive, she obviously blew it.

We’ve reached the butt–jokes section of my set. (Dick jokes are for lesser intellects, but butt jokes are sophisticated and brilliant.) And then, Raj gets up and walks upstairs with the rest of the comics, right when I’m getting to the part about how my man has a big butt, and why is there no female equivalent of an ass man? (Nobody ever says ass woman, which just sounds like the worst superheroine ever.) Raj just up and walks out on me. I see my ghost out of the corner of my eye, giving me a look like, What can you do?

I stumble through my set, but the energy is all gone. And I don’t even get any love for my spiel about how Japanese toilets are so great, with the heated seats and the jets of warm water, it’s like being rimmed by pixies—I sat on one and my butt finally forgave me for the horseback–riding lessons I took when I was twelve. My ghost gets so bored, she knocks over someone’s beer glass with the back of her hand, CRASH. The crowd is a goddamn humor sponge. Fuck all of these stupid people, why do they pay $15 just to zonk out in public, when they could stay home and watch the Homophobia Channel for free?

When I get upstairs to the sidewalk after my set, Raj and the other comedians, mostly dudes, are standing out front smoking. Even though Raj doesn’t smoke. It’s a cool dry night. They nod at me, and then start talking about how Raj and I should have kids. You should have kids so you can enter the America’s Funniest Mom competition, you would crush that, says Roddy, who’s basically just a pair of sideburns in search of a face. You should have kids so you can get some fashion cred, cuz you know, kids are the perfect accessories, says the bleach–blond sunburnt Campbell. We should have kids so I can be a stay–at–home dad instead of just unemployable, says Raj, choking a little on his cig. If you had kids, you could get a sick reality TV show on public access cable, with your crazy family and shit, Roddy says. I realize that Raj put them up to this, he asked them to broach the idea of having kids, and this is the way they’ve chosen to go about it.

I just roll my eyes and walk away, heading down Bleecker towards the F. I’m not going to sit through the rest of the night waiting for Raj’s set after this shitshow. My ghost slouches on the other side of the street, loitering outside the CVS and the fetish boutique. She gives me a friendly wave and I ignore her.

She didn’t laugh once during my comedy set, but now my ghost looks at me, sees my angry tears, and laughs. Ruefully, which goes with the territory, I guess.

I forget the toolkit for once, and just stare at her. As if this time, there might be some clue. Just like always, my ghost looks exactly like me, except older. And dead. She has the tilde–shaped scar on her chin, that I got rock–climbing when I was 19 (and she had it before I did.) She’s gazing into the fetish shop, through the aluminum shutters.

2. Authority
Why is my own ghost haunting me, anyway? Do I die in the future, and decide that instead of going to whatever afterlife a shitty comedian, lapsed Evangelical, and unfulfilled techie goes to, I’d rather go back in time and haunt my own living self? Is this a curse? A punishment for some mistake I don’t know I’ve made, or maybe will make? Most of all, why is my ghost such a bitch?

I went to every stupid medium and spiritualist, and got a big goose egg. I went into therapy and my therapist just wanted to give me pills to make me stop seeing the ghost—but as soon as Dr. Jane reached for her prescription pad, my ghost went Full Poltergeist. She started in with the diplomas on the walls, and then got into the dolls and the office computer, and finally the antique furniture. Dr. Jane’s classy office turned into a tweaker’s love nest. Dr. Jane couldn’t stop hyperventilating, until I held her like a colicky baby for like ten minutes.

Whatever. I stopped worrying about the ghost, since she mostly minds her own business, and I’ve got a life to live. Trust the toolkit. Trust the toolkit.

Raj grovels for three days and I finally sort of forgive his ass. He’s the sweetest guy when we’re not around other comedians. Which, we’re both trying to break into comedy, so.

I get mad all over again when Raj gets invited to be in a fancy comedy showcase the following week and I’m somehow skipped over. But Raj gives me a dozen foot–rubs and cleans the bathroom, and offers to help me shop for a wedding present for my mom. What do you get your mom when she’s marrying a woman the exact same age as you? (Seriously, what?)

But. I notice that when I find out about being left out of the big comedy show, which is headlined by a B–list comedian whose set is basically listing Star Wars toys he used to own, my ghost seems to get a little less transparent. I can make out the tiny lines on her/my face more clearly. She’s perched on the wooden stool by the kitchen–counter of the teeny one–bedroom that Raj and I share in Green Point, and she’s holding a mug of chai that smells of cinnamon and seaweed. I notice she’s got her ears double–pierced, whereas mine are just single–pierced.

Raj notices I’m staring into space and asks what’s up. He’s got big friendly eyes and a wide pouty mouth, and hair like a single blue flame. He touches my left palm with his right index finger and I kind of melt. I tell him nothing’s up, I’m just thinking about the big presentation at work which, since we’re both living off my income, is kind of a thing. He kisses me—hot butterflies!—and tells me to knock ‘em dead.

My ghost has a seat in the back of the conference room for my presentation, where I yak about some of the challenges in our next code push. I mostly love being a project manager, except my company keeps changing its business model. This month, we’re making an app to help people use their Spotify playlists to get laid, I am not even kidding. It’s called Remixr. I’m doing a pretty solid job of talking through the workflow issues we’ve been having. Except one of the coders named Mickey keeps engaging in microaggresions: spreading his legs real wide in his chair, throwing paper balls at the trash right next to where I’m standing (his aim sucks), and yawn–laughing while I’m talking. Everyone else is just bored, probably playing Candy Crush under the chrome table.

Over by the window, my ghost is staring out at the Shake Shack across the street, as if she could really go for an extra–large chocolate shake and fries right now. She’s wearing sweatpants in a professional office setting. Her expression plainly says that being a ghost has certain perks and giving zero fucks about stupid product meetings is one of them.

I breathe and look away from the ghost, but I keep snagging her in my peripheral vision. The thought that’s always in the back of my mind surges forward: You’re going to lose your mind, it’s in the cards. The corner of my eye has become my whole field of vision, putting my ghost front and center. I start mumbling and repeating myself until the bun–haired VP of product, Marcia, thanks me for my efforts and says we should move on.

In my dreams, I’m a semi–famous turbo–geek who rocks the comedy scene every night. I have this fantasy of going to some city to give a TEDx talk, where I somehow make everybody laugh and rethink their whole way of looking at everything, and then since I’m already in town, I might as well just go perform at the local comedy spot that’s been begging me to show up. I actually enjoy the whole process of making things happen, helping code come together, and putting out products that enrich people’s lives. (Even when it’s something like Remixr.) I like the problem–solving, and I feel like I’m good at making smart people pull their heads out of their butts. Usually.

A few hours after the big presentation, I stumble into one of the 100 company chatrooms and notice a couple of the C–level execs talking about the upcoming workforce reduction—and then they notice that I’m lurking, and immediately bail and delete their own conversation. I look up from the screen, where the words “possible strategic layoffs” are fading to white, and see my ghost. She’s closer to me than ever—just peering over my cubicle wall—and I can hardly see through her at all.

3. Family
My mom and her new bride take me to brunch at a Moroccan diner, and I’m scared Mom is going to ask me to give her away. Cassie, my soon–to–be stepmom, is pale and skinny with random tufts of platinum hair coming out of her shaved head. Glam Tank Girl. Her skin is amazing, like she must just have microdermabrasion all over her entire body once a day or something. My ghost is sitting at the next table in a sundress, drinking a mimosa. My mom is telling me how she and Cassie are going to be married by a gay Buddhist who turns your sexual guilt into a stuffed animal as part of the ceremony.

I grew up in a really strict religious household, in a plantation house whose dark wood foundations were being slowly devoured by termites. My mom was raised Presbyterian in Mexico City, and she married this WASPy charismatic preacher who is just a grabby pair of callused hands and a red face in my memories. Before he met my mom, I heard my dad might’ve done snake–handling, which I wish I’d gotten to see, because fuck yeah snakes. The one time I made the mistake of telling my dad I thought I saw a ghost, he and a few of his deacons prayed over me for a full twelve hours, not letting me sleep. One of the deacons had breath that smelled like sour milk and I started to lose my mind. My mom’s family might at least have accepted a ghost as normal and just told me to visit some graveyards, pay some respect.

My parents were neo–Calvinists, which means they believed in predestination, kinda sorta, and the idea that your fate after death is sealed while you’re still alive. My mother used to tuck me in every night and tell me that she was afraid my soul was already damned. Now, Mom’s telling me that she and Cassie have written their own vows, and there’s a lot of stuff about giving yourself permission to love without expectations. My mom’s family is not coming to the wedding, except for Crazy Aunt Letitia, who was cut off before I was even born. My mom has kind of a butch haircut that makes her face look a lot squarer, and she’s wearing suspenders over a T–shirt. She looks really good. She looks younger than I feel. She keeps laughing, which is a sound I never even heard until a few years ago. Gloria, she tells me, I really want this day to be special for you as well as us, I want you to feel free.

When I was a teenager, sneaking out after curfew, going to smoke in the woods with the other dead–end kids, my ghost egged me on. My parents locked me in, my ghost let me out. My parents yelled at me, my ghost stood in the corner, arms folded, and glared at them. Jesus has a plan for you, you need to surrender, my mother pleaded, while my ghost studied her hands. Back then, I didn’t even recognize myself in her — I just thought she was some random ghost, haunting this old South Carolina house. That place was a natural ghost habitat, with so many gloomy corners and moldy back rooms full of barbed rust.

Cassie is saying she wants us to be friends, something she’s said before, and holding my mother’s hand across the table in front of me. She’s got movie–star blue eyes and she really seems to be crazy about Mom.

They are waiting for me to say something. Something like, I feel super lucky that we have this second chance as a family. Something like, I’m so happy for the two of you. Those are things I absolutely do feel, though I can tell without looking that my ghost is annoyed by all this hippie–dippie nonsense. My ghost is not okay with this midlife reinvention on the part of the woman who spent so many years telling me I had no choices.

I look at the fried eggs and hummus on my plate, breathe, and say the best thing I can think of: I’m glad you finally figured out your deal. Wish you could have found yourself sooner, but maybe you guys can have a new baby with a turkey baster and give it the perfect childhood, with Montessori and organic candy and no judgment, it’s never too late, amirite? When I look up, I see that my comments did not land the way I hoped—my mom looks crushed, actually weeping for fuck’s sake, and Cassie is comforting her. My ghost, though, has scooted her chair closer, and is practically part of our party.

4. Therapy
Dr. Jane can kind of tell from my gaze that my ghost is standing right behind her chair. She keeps twitching, as if her office furnishings will fly through the air any minute. She’s a frumpy fifty–something lady in a giant cat sweater, and I think I respond to her partly because she’s so unlike my mother. She smiles in a distant but nurturing way and asks me what the week brought me. Like the week is a hunting dog that drops rabbits at my feet, or something.

I’m freaking out, I say. The toolkit broke.

What broke the toolkit? she asks.

Everything. Everything broke the toolkit. My ghost is 100 percent not ignorable any longer. My ghost is right up in my business. All of the coping mechanisms are kaput because the ghost jams them up. All that stuff about connecting with Dia de los Muertos and remembering that the dead are part of life, it didn’t work. You try telling jokes with your own ghost sitting right there with a dead grimace on her face. You try leading a meeting. You try having an honest–to–god processing conversation with your adorable boyfriend, who keeps trying to claim he’s a feminist because he’s letting you support him financially. Just try it.

Your ghost only has the power you give it, says Dr. Jane. She doesn’t believe that any more than I do—she’s the one who had to invest in all new office furniture—but she probably thinks that’s a good therapist–y thing to say. Goddamn positive thinking. She’s the only one but me who’s ever seen my ghost in action and the only one I’ve told since I was a kid.

You’re doing so well, Dr. Jane says. You’ve gotten a promotion at work. You’re in a position of authority over people. You’ve been getting better comedy bookings, at bigger venues. You’ve got a boyfriend whom you adore. You’ve been rebuilding your relationship with your mother. Just think how much better your life is than when you were first coming to see me.

I don’t know, I say. I don’t know if any of that is true.

That’s how it sounds to me, from the outside looking in. It sounds like you’re being a successful grown–up, which is pretty much never fun for anybody, says Dr. Jane. And your ghost? Your ghost was really useful when you were a teenager trying to break out of a bad situation, but now she’s just in your way.

I glance up at my ghost, who is looking at my therapist’s hand puppets on the shelf, apparently not listening to any of this. I can never tell how much language she understands—like, does everything just sound garbled and weird to her? I’ve asked her yes–or–no questions, point blank, and she never nodded or shook her head or anything.

I don’t feel like my ghost is helpful or unhelpful, I say. I feel like she’s waiting. I feel like, every time I fail at something, she gets stronger. Every setback, I see her more clearly. Like, she’s getting power from my screw–ups. Or like I’m getting closer to turning into her.

Maybe—and here, Dr. Jane looks nervous, because she’s afraid the ghost will start trashing her office again—maybe it’s partly just in your mind. Maybe you just think the ghost is getting closer and more solid. I can’t see what you see, so I can’t tell for myself.

I don’t know. I have a strong sense that my ghost is feeding off my self–destruction. I need a new toolkit.

There’s no new toolkit. Dr. Jane scrunches her big brow. There’s just the coping mechanisms I already taught you. Don’t try to figure out what your ghost’s agenda is, or what your ghost wants. Try to figure out what you really want. What do you actually care about?

Pffft. As if I could possibly know that.

5. Arrowheads
At the karaoke bar, I foolishly put myself down for a Shakira song—some people say I look like Shakira, but nobody ever says I sound like her. And my ghost is at one of the spit–catching tables up front, nursing a margarita. Wearing a dress with a million ruffles.

The screen with the lyrics might as well be Swahili writing, beamed into the void. Raj is up front dancing, cheering me on and clapping, but all I can see is the ghost’s face, which isn’t even looking at me at all. (She’s never looking at me whenever I look right at her, I realize for the first time.) She stares at Raj, like she remembers loving him, way back when. Sadness, resignation, on her face. Like she remembers this time, when her life was almost good.

I topple forward off the stage and fall on my knees on the grungy floor, at my ghost’s feet. I can’t breathe, much less sing. The crowd is still not sure if I’m doing a dramatic dance move or having a medical situation. I can’t even hear the music with my ears pounding. Raj comes to me and asks if I’m okay, and I say, Like you care. The song is over. I go home.

My ghost stands between me and the whiteboard in a meeting at work. I’m sitting and watching Marcia talk about the drop–dead deadline for the Remixr launch, but I can’t even read the words she’s pointing to. My ghost keeps shaking her head in syncopation with Marcia’s droning. Today my ghost is wearing a bikini, revealing a tattoo on her stomach that I cannot read at any cost to my eyesight.

I hate her so much. She’s going to fuck up everything for me, one way or the other. She’s fucking smug, is what she is. She’s already lived all this shit and she’s over it, and she won’t let me just live it for myself.

Marcia is asking me a question. I stare past my ghost, and say something about security audits that I think is probably relevant to what she was talking about the last time I paid attention. Security is for version 2.0, Marcia says. We need to launch this thing.

Raj and I are at the mall, shopping for a wedding present for Mom, and we’re on the escalator behind three kids who are reading an internet tutorial on how to shoplift. Raj is excited: This mall has three different shops for just socks, socks are the best! Did you know that in the 1970s nobody wore socks? It caused this thing called stagflation, what would happen if you actually blew up a stag party? Raj runs off the escalator, and nearly gets away from me. My ghost is right there at my elbow, though.

My ghost sits near my bed at night, watching Raj sleep. My ghost watches Raj perform at the comedy showcase—his big break!—and laughs without making a sound. When I sit in the toilet stall, eavesdropping as Marcia and Sandra from Accounting wash their hands and whisper about the upcoming Rationalization, my ghost is out there next to them, also washing her hands in ghost water.

It’s like arrowheads are embedded in my back, on either side of my neck, so that even raising my head or lifting my arms causes excruciating pain. I chewed through too many mouthguards, until I gave up on guarding my mouth. I feel like a bomb that’s lost its detonator, like I will just go critical forever, without ever getting to explode.

At dinner, my ghost sits in Raj’s lap as he tries to talk to me about our relationship.

6. Wedding
Hey, Raj says. I know this is a weird thing for you. Your mom, turning into a lesbian cougar. I wanna tell you that I’m here, and I get it, and I’m on your team.

Raj is touching my hand, leaning over, talking in my ear. We’re right up front at the wedding, surrounded by young queer people in incredible fashions. I always thought a tux was a tux, but it turns out that tuxedos have personalities. The sound of Raj’s voice is making me feel grounded, like I have a core after all. And what he’s saying makes a certain amount of sense. This is a weird thing for me, after so many years of defining myself in opposition to my parents. It’s like I don’t know who I am.

I don’t even see my ghost anywhere. I don’t, like, scan the entire room looking for her—I just take the win. Maybe she’s hanging back and letting me have this day to myself. Or maybe, I’ve been working on having a more positive attitude, and that makes it harder for her to intrude her ass in there. I try to set up a virtuous circle, where I feel more centered, which means I don’t see the ghost, and that in turn helps me be even more centered. It could work, right?

I ought to recognize how cool this is, I tell Raj. All of this. Getting to be true to yourself, and make your own family, and throw the stupid rules out the window. I don’t want to wait until I’m my mom’s age before I let myself open up my heart.

Raj squeezes my thumb like he gets it, and he feels that way too, and this feels like the start of a whole conversation that we’ll have to have later.

But then the ceremony starts, and everyone is whooping with joy and the officiant, who has a U–shaped beard and no mustache or hair, pronounces my mom and Cassie wife and wife. My mother looks like some whole other person, unrecognizable even as the butch dyke I had just started getting used to. She’s wearing makeup, and a puffy white dress with a black bow on the front that looks like a bow tie. My mom holds Cassie with all her considerable arm strength, and then she beckons me to get in there. My mother poses, sandwiched between two women in their mid–twenties, and Mom looks more alive than I can remember. She whispers in my ear that I’m beautiful and she’s so proud of me, which feels like something I ought to be telling her instead.

The Veterans Hall is a celebration of walnut, from the recessed–box pattern on the ceiling to the long, tall panels on the walls. Even the plaque about those who gave their lives appears to be walnut. I concentrate on dodging the bouquet, but then Raj catches it. He giggles and we make out, right in front of everyone. More cheers.

I spot my ghost at last, but she’s just another face in the crowd, over by the hors d’oeuvres table.

The bouquet has one dead bud in it. In among the posies, morning glories, pink roses and the obligatory babies’ breath, there’s this little gnarled fist, clutched around a gray mouth that never opened. Blighted. The inward–facing petals look like an overcooked crepe. I stare into its dark heart, and then Raj is talking in my ear about taking a trip, just the two of us, to Big Sur, California, where every five yards there’s a rock that Henry Miller had kinky sex on top of. Yeah, I say, let’s be Henry Miller sex tourists. We laugh and kiss, and all the young lesbians are cheering my mom, whom they all love like a den mother.

I’m dancing with Raj to the zydeco band. He’s busting out these ridiculous knee–bending moves and he eggs me on to dance as funny as him. I dance even worse, all neck and ankles. People are cheering. A young genderqueer person shoots me a thumbs–up and my mom waves from the cake stand. Cassie has her arm around my mom’s waist and the love is radiating outward from them, suffusing the entire room. I feel warm and exhausted and inexhaustible.

And then my ghost is right there, dancing right next to us. She doesn’t dance, exactly—more like sway, so her bony wrists wave back and forth. She smiles at Raj, in a nostalgic way. These good times were good, her smile says, and then, well, you know. We all died.

I stop dancing and Raj is so startled he nearly elbows me in the face. I can’t even remember why I was happy a moment ago, and I can’t imagine why I would ever feel happy again. The ghost is so close I can see the pearly embroidery on her white dress.

Someone comes with a tray of champagne glasses, and Raj and I take them because there’s going to be a big toast or something. My ghost has a flute of champagne in her hand too, and she’s actually crying—her ghost tears land on her cheeks like the dew that catches the last of the moonlight. She’s just watching my mother and Cassie, and I have this moment of How dare you? That is not her mother, it’s mine, and this is my life, and I want it back. I want to care about things, without my ghost always throwing shade. My too–tight scalloped blue dress constricts my breathing. I glare at my ghost, but she’s staring at my mother.

So maybe it’s time I took something of hers.

I reach out and seize the glass of champagne from her loose fingers. It’s made of some kind of ghost material, ecto–whatever, but the stem is solid in my hand. I raise it to my face and toss it back. It tastes like… bitterness, I guess. It tastes a bit like pukey backwash, stomach acid, but also a bit like Cold Duck, that weird “sparkling wine” the grocery store used to sell for $2 a bottle. It has an aftertaste of fermented dirt, bubbly regret.

Before I even swallow, it hits me: Way past drunkenness, something like a head rush mixed with hypoglycemia and extreme sleep deprivation. Everything looks as though I’m seeing it from a great vast distance, through a pinhole, and maybe that’s what ghost vision looks like. The ghost glass is plucked from my hand before I can let it fall on the floor. I can just barely see my ghost looking around in a mad panic, like the worst possible thing has just happened.

Raj rushes over to me as I sway–crash to the walnut floor. I feel like I’m having an aneurmotherfuckingysm. I feel my legs twitching, my hands flailing. Raj is holding my head in a hand and his fingertips are so gentle and my head at least is supported is overloaded with ghost juice is supported, my ghost vanishes like she can’t afford to get caught here with me. The music stops, to be replaced by the crowd freaking out, I’m drunk in a way I’ve never known was even possible.

As I finally zero out, I feel the cold invade my veins, my bones, my lungs. Petrified, and then dead to the world.

7. Drunk
A ghost wedding is a funeral, only with dancing, and a cake instead of a casket. What do you give the newlyweds at a ghost wedding? Bone china. Ghost vows are much the same as the regular kind, except you vow to stay together for as long as death holds you. I can still just barely glimpse the wedding party of the living (Raj and my mother and Cassie, all freaking) but now I’m among the dead wedding guests. These people are skeletons, except as I move around them, their translucent skin comes into focus and they have faces made of gray mist. The whole dead wedding party is swaying and passing around plates of wormy moldy cake, clinking glasses like the one I chugged from. What do you write on the rear bumper of the honeymoon car at a ghost wedding? Just Buried. The band is still playing zydeco, but the beats keep slowing down and speeding up, and the accordion wheezes with rheumatism. There is a buffet full of eyeballs and tongues, still looking around and trying to talk inside their metal trays over cold candles. What kind of wedding crashers go to a ghost wedding? Dig–up artists. I keep laughing, only I am not per se breathing and every “hee” is slowed way down to the slowest pace of the zydeco drummer and I spin my whole body to keep pace with the spinning of the room, happen if I spin fast enough the room will stand still. I want to vomit but cannot.

The ghosts at the guest wedding, I mean guests at the ghost wedding, are random dead people plus some that I knew when they lived, like my mom’s parents and even my great–grandma Julia and my great aunt Danielle, and that chain–smoking piano–playing raconteur my parents used to have over when I was little, whose name was Ed or Fred. They see me looking at them and raise their glasses to me, and I salute back. What do you call the congregation at a ghost wedding? Deadly beloved.

I’ve spun halfway across the room from where I drank the champagne. I look back at the spot where I collapsed, and I’m still there, on the ground. Except it’s not me, it’s my ghost. She has shorter hair and an older face, and she’s wearing a white dress instead of a blue dress. My ghost is talking to Raj, and he can actually hear her, and whatever she is saying, he is nodding very seriously. I can’t hear what she’s telling him, and I can only see it through the end of a long hazy reverse telescope. Drunk tunnel vision. I want to get closer to them, but no matter how I stumble and twist my angle and sweep my arms for balance, I can’t get going in the right direction.

As my ghost talks to Raj, he nods and nods and oh shit now he is crying and still nodding, and I have never yet made him cry in all the months we have dated. He’s never given me the look he’s giving my ghost. What the fuck is she telling him? Now at last I vomit but it comes out from my eyes instead of my mouth. The ghosts around me are all gossiping too loud for me to hear a damned thing. Raj’s glasses dark frames big brown eyes—which, serious Raj looks like a totally different person, older and more physically present. I try to get Raj’s attention by shouting and flailing but he’s only looking at ghost me.

The gossiping of the ghosts around me gets louder and more shrill, and it’s all: Look at her in her shiny dress and her pristine flesh and her red lips, she thinks she’s all that just because she’s alive, look at that blue–haired man over there, he probably thinks he invented breathing. The ghosts are getting louder and crankier, and I see them more clearly while Raj and my mother and Cassie are like chalk outlines. Zydeco band salutes me and starts a dirge and I am so blitzed that walking is dancing is falling. I gotta sober up right now or I am lost in the land of the dead forever and maybe my ghost takes my place.

The doorway to the Veterans Hall is open and the caterers are coming in through a ribbon of darkness, bearing weird canapes made of pure decay and fake crab, plus oblivion–in–a–blanket. They keep shoving the trays in my face and trying to make me take a bite, as the ghosts grow more and more vivid and everything else fades. The ghosts urge me: take one, just try it, don’t be ungrateful, don’t you know what this wedding cost? You think you’re too good to eat with us.

I look over at Raj, still talking to my ghost, and I feel a pure sour anger—why can’t he tell that’s not me? This proves he never really cared!—and I’m so pissed that I almost want to open my mouth and let the other ghosts push pieces of the dead wedding feast into my throat. Why the fuck not? And then I stop, and see Raj again, his face just a wall of tears. Whatever is going on with him and my ghost, from his perspective, he sees that I’m hurting and he is desperate to make it right. I look at Raj’s face and I see love, like actual honest–to–god, walk–naked–on–broken–glass love, and my mom is there too, weeping over the ghost and squeezing the ghost’s bony hand.

And I feel sorry for my ghost, because she doesn’t know how to cope with the two of them caring about her that much. She looks flustered and scared. I see my poor ghost, looking from Raj to my mom and back again, like she’s trapped with their love. I barely notice the spectres from the ghost wedding now, I’m so fixated on the two of them and my ill–equipped ghost. I am overcome by a mixture of pity and gratitude, two emotions I did not know could be mixed up. The feelings are too big to wrap my mind around, the longer I look at the three of them, and I feel like I am going to fly apart in a million pieces. Soul and mind, intermixing like matter and anti–matter. Unthinkable, terrible, amazing.

And then, I am vomiting ghost champagne from my eyes, in huge salty gouts.

I look up. Raj and my mother are looking down at me and I am laying on the floor. I laugh but it becomes a cough. Oh shit, I say, I’m back. I think I ate drank something that didn’t agree. My mom says an ambulance is coming, and I tell her that I’m sorry I jacked up her special day, but I don’t think anything could really ruin what she and Cassie have going. Because you guys are awesome and I’m proud of you, I say. My mom cries harder than ever, on Cassie’s shoulder, and Raj is supporting my head. I tell Raj that I love him—words I have never spoken—and I’m glad he’s Team Me. He says he loves me, but I get the impression he already told my ghost that.

I don’t see my ghost anywhere. She doesn’t show up at the hospital at all, where they find a tiny brain infarct thingy. Nor do I see her hanging around, after they finally send my ass home.

Raj looks at me funny when I try to ask him what my ghost said to him. Not that I phrase it like that—I just demand to know what I said after I collapsed at the wedding. He’s kind of embarrassed, like maybe it’s bad form to remind me of my drunken brain–attack rambling.

But I beg and cajole and emotionally blackmail, and he finally says: You told me you felt cursed, and that you blamed yourself, and that you were going to keep hating yourself more and more until you died, and then it would be too late to try and make peace with your past, because your past wouldn’t let you in. Honestly, it didn’t make a lot of sense to me, and the gist of it is that you need to try a different shrink, and maybe no more regression therapy or whatever. But I’m just a layperson, right?

I agree that regression therapy sucks and that Raj is indeed a person that I want to lay. I climb on top of him, even though he protests that my head is still like a Faberge egg, and I grind into him while telling him that if he’s going to be a kept man, he’d better put out the goods. Dry humping, we are alone together for maybe the first time. I laugh between kisses.

Thanks to Kelly Link, Oscar Bermeo, Liz Henry and Caitlin Gill for all the advice!

(Editors’ Note: C. S. E. Cooney reads “Ghost Champagne” in the Uncanny Magazine Podcast Episode 5B.)


Charlie Jane Anders

Charlie Jane Anders is the author of the Unstoppable trilogy: the first two books, Victories Greater Than Death and Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak, are out now, and the final book, Promises Stronger Than Darkness, comes out April 11, 2023. She’s also the author of the short story collection Even Greater Mistakes, and Never Say You Can’t Survive (August 2021), a book about how to use creative writing to get through hard times. Her other books include The City in the Middle of the Night and All the Birds in the Sky. She’s won the Hugo, Nebula, Sturgeon, Lambda Literary, Crawford, and Locus Awards. She co-created Escapade, a trans superhero, for Marvel Comics and wrote her into the long-running New Mutants comic. And she’s currently the science fiction and fantasy book reviewer for the Washington Post. Her TED Talk, “Go Ahead, Dream About the Future” got 700,000 views in its first week. With Annalee Newitz, she co-hosts the podcast Our Opinions Are Correct.

Photo Credit: Tristan Crane

7 Responses to “Ghost Champagne”

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    […] Jane Anders’ “Ghost Champagne” is another remarkable piece from this author, combining her humor and warmth of perspective […]

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