by Shellie Zacharia
She has pictured his death so many times that when he walks in the restaurant she figures surely it must be a ghost, strutting in with those long legs and cowboy boots clomping all smooth and subtle, the way he walks cat-like and manly at the same time. But there he is, yes, she could pinch her arm, no, no, she isn’t dreaming, it really is him, or the ghost of him, maybe if he walks by real close she could stab a fork into his thigh. See if he screams.
“Oh, God,” her best friend Priya says. Priya’s god is different from her god. Priya’s got a whole pantheon of gods and goddesses, with lots of arms and jewels and flowers and stuff, but Amy thinks maybe Priya is now saying an oh god to any god, because this man in the faded blue jeans and tanned face who hasn’t seen Amy sitting at dinner with her family, all celebrating her birthday, is Amy’s ex-man, and she has cried plenty over that slinky walk and those long-fingered hands that now take a menu.
The death of this ex-man has not been cinematic in her head. It is more like off-stage work. There is no blood, no screech of a car, not anything like that, just a feeling of his disappearance. He’s gone, and that’s all she needs to know.
But he is not gone. He’s sitting at one of those intimate tables. He’s alone, and laughing with the waitress, a flat-assed stringy thing, and maybe he’s waiting for his date, maybe it’s the girl he found more to his liking, so much so that he said he couldn’t marry Amy even though it was just a month before their wedding day.
“Have a drink, more wine, more wine,” her mother hisses. “He’s dirt. Don’t look.”
“I’ll beat that smile off his face if you want,” her brother says. He’s drinking more wine now, too, and Priya is refilling her own glass, but Amy says, “No, no,” because she doesn’t want another scene with Mister Ghost, who said, “It’s not gonna happen, we aren’t getting married,” and he took his dusty boots and walked barefoot out the door.
It’s almost one year later, 345 days, she figures.
She has hated him, sent curses and wails, ripped old photos and drowned her wedding dress in the swimming pool. And now he’s staring out the window, a small smile on his face, and he is eating from the bread basket Miss Stringbean has placed before him. And then he is choking, coughing, his mouth an O, and Amy can’t help it, she isn’t really sure why the body does what it does, but she feels herself push back from the table, rise. It could be the noise of her chair against the wood floor, it seems louder than the clang of glasses, the clink of silverware, but at that moment, he looks up, watery eyes, fist at his heart.
He sees her.
Shellie Zacharia’s fiction has appeared in the Raleigh News & Observer’s Sunday Journal and is forthcoming in Washington Square, South Dakota Review, Dos Passos Review, The Powhatan Review, Parting Gifts, and Slow Trains Literary Journal.