Soledad is making out with my dead body on a bed of sand. Paper seagulls dangle from the ceiling. A video camera is set-up on a tripod but not yet recording. Soldad’s dark hair hangs to the side, and I can see that tears are fogging-up their oversized glasses. It’s my birthday.
The last time they pressed their pelvis into my alive pelvis, they came and came and came and we agreed the cochayuyo was wet and made it into ceviche. That’s not why I died. I don’t think. I’ve also come shooting through the Lincoln Tunnel.
When you’re an angel ghost, your memory is vapor or an implant or emerging. I treat my memory as apart from me. That way we can interact, and my memory keeps me company. I trust my memory mainly out of convenience or maybe complacency.
I didn’t know I was angel ghost until I saw my body on the sand. Oh! I’m dead, I realized.
Before this realization, I had a lot of questions about my identity and it was nice to have my memory to discuss them with. Gender was suddenly interesting without a body. How did I move when I wasn’t moving? Was I a jacaranda, the perfect tree? Maybe a curbside trash puddle in the Lower East Side. Maybe someone would say I was lovely. I never understood what that word meant. Sometimes I imagined the sensation of walking towards myself on the street. I perceived my gait; did I seem nice? Lovely?
Soledad and I met on New Year’s Eve at a sailor bar in the port city of Valparaíso. I don’t know how we started talking. My memory tells me a different story each time. But we were next to each other when the countdown began. My angel ghost stomach still becomes drunk candy imagining their face. Everyone in the bar said “one” to a new decade and our eyes saw that we had each other, and we kissed like slug gods granting the people silk ejaculate.
We spent that night in their sister’s bed. Their sister had gone to New York for New Year’s (where I was living at the time) and Soledad was puppy-sitting a white hairy thing that peed everywhere. Soledad wasn’t interested in going to New York. I’ve never been that into U.S. culture, they said. There were already many ways I adored Soledad that night but I didn’t want to overwhelm them. I did anyway. I quit my job and moved to their city. Their words would say one thing and their lips would make figurines of something else. That’s too gay, they would say to me. I want to be gay, I said. I like your attention, they would also say. But North Americans are all the same, they said, after I called the puppy dumb for biting me again. I knew it wasn’t nice to say, I knew I couldn’t take it back. That comes from your heart, Soledad said. They told me I could make it up to them if I sang, “There is a light that never goes out,” and of course, I did, rolling on the floor with the remote control as my microphone. They just watched me and when I finished pulled me on top of them. In their sister’s bed, they came and then cried, and I held them. I didn’t ask them to explain. I just held them. It was a shaking, silent cry, not the steady way they now cried over my dead body. In their sister’s bed, when the tears slowed, they faced me. I’ll miss you when you go back to New York, they said. My tongue found each of their tattoos. On their right forearm there were simple shapes and lines; their left forearm was oceanic blues and yellows and oranges swirling around a big whale. In our contradictions, my dark would hold their light and theirs, mine. They explained that they had dreamt they were a whale and woke up the next day healed from a particularly bad case of depression. How did you know in the dream that you were a whale? I knew, they said.
I notice the jester on my dead neck looks faded in the beige sand, but is still smiling. I saw Soledad in elegy beside me and I know I had been theirs. My memory rubs my back as I watch them, feeling both peaceful and yearning. I don’t know how I died. Or when. I had always been sure it would be a dump truck barreling down Broadway. But I look uninjured. I told my memory I didn’t want to know, and they have respected this request.
Friends arrive at my birthday with gifts wrapped in black. They hang fabric garland on the walls. Blowing bubbles pop on the paper seagulls, leaving ringworm-like stains. Everyone is dressed in black and wearing a mask of my face. I look great! They encircle my sand bed in seashells and birthday gifts. Soledad turns the camera on. A red light blinks and everyone is quiet. Ceremoniously, they undress me, first unzipping my canvass bomber jacket, relieving its teeth from their obligations. Soledad tenderly adjusts my eyebrow piercing. Everyone looks like me except we are different sizes and my body is naked. Someone with my face carries over mote con huesillos in a large, opaque bucket and pours the contents down my corpse. They all begin to caress the syrup up my thighs, etch swirls into my skin with the pits of the fruit. I mostly stop thinking, I feel sticky. Then I look over at my memory staring intently beside me. I wonder if my memory is getting turned on, too. If my memory can identify with my body. My friends are propping candles into my crevices and light them, but instead of singing “Happy Birthday,” a recording of my sex noises begins to play. First whimpers, laughing, something still withheld, not yet knowing the difference between begging and praying. The candles burn and I hear growls that originate at my clenched toes and carry all the way through to my throat.
The sounds of my own arousal excite me, but I feel stuck. Like when a person eats you out and it feels good but they are too far off your clit and you know you will never come this way but you don’t want to hurt their feelings or instill doubts in their creativity. You wonder: maybe if I wait, maybe it will happen, but then you ask yourself why be deprived of certainty? That is how I feel. I have no hands. I have no clit. I am the uncertainty before the first orgasm with a new partner.
Before I knew I was dead, I was very manic. I didn’t know how to affect anything without a body. I was in a state of constant surprise. I couldn’t sleep. Once I knew I was dead, I suddenly felt very tired. Is this forever? I’d take a nap, dream about Soledad. Déjà vu? Through dream logic, I deduce what I need. A little more death.
I feel the flash of anguish that maybe I will never come again, so I try to meditate: estoy sentade en el borde de las rocas, donde la niebla se convierte en aire. la mar va y viene, despacio, el color que dices es verde y yo, azul. el cabello del océano se balancea y pienso en las noches cuando tu voz se vuelve maleable y en esos momentos eres tú misme, y también soy yo misme. The aromatics of the huesillos bring me back, the ratio of huesillos to mote inverted to cover up the smell of my dead body.
The chorus of my yes’s is peaking, and I sense I don’t have much time left to die. Surely, there won’t be a resurrection for my birthday next year. This is the last declaration of my agency. A performance art piece for a gallery. I hadn’t expected I would get to see it too! Please don’t stop, I say, but also realize, for them to not stop is for me to stop. I am still thinking words, which means I am far from dying! Help! I call to my memory. My memory shrugs. I start to sound like a dog barking at fireworks. Ah! So much pressure! Can’t I just enjoy a climax? I want the good feeling. How do you make light come?
In death, time dilates. You can do your laundry, make friendship bracelets for all of your friends (and extras for future friends), walk from NYC to Valpo. I read my tarot. Sip on coffee that I’ve microdosed with shrooms. Write in a journal. All honest words are poetry, I write to no one. I would go to a cemetery but that seems too obvious. We don’t have family traditions around death. After my brother died, we pretended mourning was an errand that you check off your list.
I bike from NYC to Valpo to find the mosaic staircase where Soledad told me my smile was more beautiful than an avocado. They watched the sunset on the sea, while I watched it in their eyes. A motorcycle beeped for its life and pigeons flashed across our periphery. The equilibrium shifted from blended pastels to the soft pixelation of incandescent street lamps. I took their hand from where it was creeping under my shirt. Our hands didn’t exactly fit, theirs was wide and short, and mine was thin and long, but we rocked them together until the valleys between our fingers dug in. We caused earthquakes. During my first earthquake, I sprinted out of a library in Mexico City, clearly a tourist. A stray dog approaches us and wants a sandwich, not a piece of bread. Soledad finds the satchel of kibble they keep in their backpack. The dog eats and then sits a few steps below us and takes in the same breeze. It’s like the clouds make everything shrink, I remember the dog saying. Soledad and I find a way to touch each other, a circuit of energy that emits seagulls. I see the sea blush and I decide, reluctantly, that I should find out how I had died.
So, who was it? I ask my memory. It was the moon, my memory says, and then hands me a paper with a poem on it. You wrote this, my memory says. I read the poem.
I turned down the street and there she was. Draped in sheer, amber cloud. Stop following me, the moon said, as she threw herself up my nose and burrowed through my brain to the back of my skull. In agony, I dug at my scalp until I reached bone, tried to drag her out without leaving any remnants of her presence, as though she were a guinea worm. Finally, I believed her and she relented. She began to glow from inside every apartment window, a thousand windows, and then I knew she had made me opposite. The opposite of me took a path that had not existed before or perhaps existed forever. The moon continued to haunt me and I became insane of her and in the opposite that is okay. The opposite of me is healthy. The opposite of me is dead. They are violent. Unlike me, I am a good person. Which of my names do you seek? My first fear was adolescence. Adolescent me has smooth skin and a vital mouth. Another me is suicidal in the winter. They cry to the moon and their tears freeze and flake off. Is your memory of me my opposite? The opposite of me has that painting of the moon on their wall. Does not have that painting of the moon on their wall? The opposite of me addresses a you that knows whether it is me or her or the wall that has changed. In the opposite I make her come a thousand times. Until every window in the city is shattered.
Why is everything I write about orgasms, I say. My memory ignores me and continues with the story of my death. You read the poem to the moon and she didn’t like it. She thought it was mean and she gave the earth a little nudge until flu germs slipped up your nose. Like in the poem, my memory says. The flu?! It happens, my memory responds. Well, I don’t think this will help me. I beg my memory what to do. Maybe you should go speak to the moon, apologize. Fine.
In the night, I see the moon is waning, but I can wait for her return. There is enough time when you’re dead, unless you want to die die. In the meantime, I finish reading Pedro Páramo —they were all ghosts. And then the moon emerges full, and I approach her. She is a horizon of secrets. In her gaze and with the love of my friends and my memory’s stories of orgasms past, I feel quite tender. Well, I hadn’t meant to kill you, she says. I was on my period and sensitive and it just really hurt my feelings what you said. There was a lot of other stuff going on, too, she adds vaguely, avoiding eye contact. We both end up apologizing.
The candles are all wick and no wax. My noises hone in. I can tell by the way Soledad twirls my armpit hair in their fingers that they still adore me and our ways to be free. I want and don’t want. A wave glides toward destiny.
Juniper (they/them) moved from Brooklyn to Valparaíso, where they are now studying to be a clown.