When Owen shows me the photograph of the ghost dog, I say, “That’s a toy,” but I don’t laugh at him.
I’m sitting in his desk chair in his room. He stands behind me, all his ghost photos laid out on top of his chemistry textbook. He has about fifteen of these photographs, and some of them, I will grant him, are ghostly—but they are not ghosts. It’s as though he’s never seen an old photograph before.
“No,” he says.
“It’s stiff as a board,” I say, and wait for him to say back, “light as a feather,” to use the language that keeps us tied to childhoods that, every day, feel further behind us than we want them to be. Next year: college.
He reaches over me and picks up the photograph, goes nearly nose-to-nose with this girl, so unlike me: plump and angry and rich. How long they must’ve asked her to hold still. So she shook the dog. Who wouldn’t?
“It’s the film,” I say. I explain how the developing process works, how light and negatives and f-stops and reflections are all possible explanations, but he tosses the photo back into the pile and crouches next to me. Lately, Owen has been avoiding the packs of neighborhood boys, loud and careless, that we’ve grown up with; something has been ruined between them. After school, he looks for me. We watch movies and go on what he calls hikes but what really are long walks through the parks in the northern part of the city. Sometimes, when we are alone, we make out, but the kissing—and that’s all it is, for now—is just a comfort, an easy place to slip in and out of in the darkening afternoons.
Who cares, I think, as Owen presses his forehead against mine, if he believes in ghosts? I still have my father’s hospital bracelets in a drawer, so who am I to say what is right to collect, to keep?
His brother, Adam, is one now, too. Twenty-three and he disappeared. For months, people have said they’ve seen him on the park peninsula, flat on his back on a bench, asleep, and then when he is not, wide-eyed and silent, his face smudged or clean or looking older, or younger. No one can decide. Dominic says, yes, he carries around an aluminum baseball bat; he must have found it near the batting cages. Kira says she saw him jogging, his knees dirty, his face flushed but focused. Reports of Adam with a drum, with a fifth of Crown, with a tiny white dog who sleeps curled behind his knees.
Owen says no, he is gone. That must be a ghost. He asks, are these not the places and things Adam loved? Baseball, that park, beats? That is what ghosts do, he explains. They return. They attempt life.
Danielle Lazarin is a 2015 Fellow in Fiction from the New York Foundation for the Arts. Her fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train, Boston Review, Five Chapters, Michigan Quarterly Review, and is forthcoming in Indiana Review. She lives in her native New York City, where she is at work on a collection of short stories and a novel. You can find her at www.daniellelazarin.com or on Twitter at @d_lazarin.