by Josh Bell
Josh Bell teaches at Harvard University. He is the author of two poetry collections, No Planets Strike (Bison Books) and Alamo Theory (Copper Canyon Press). He's recently placed fiction in Black Telephone and Ninth Letter.
With your time and money, I’ll produce a clone of myself. Then said clone and I will watch TV as the weather guy sends it back to the anchorwoman. Back to you, Becky, the weather guy will say, but the camera will stay on him, apparently no one left in the newsroom, no one left in the castle. It’s the same with time machines. At some point, you're tempted to go back and kill early family members or trick better-looking people into mating with your early family members, so that instead of you being born it would be an angel who vaguely would have reminded people of you. One school of thought says the metaphor is the body of the ghost. I’m going to spend your grant money looking into this. My clone talks too much, so I'll also need to produce a second clone for the first clone to make love to, of course, and the second clone to go around town, denying it, for I fear the villagers, their quaint beliefs. Yet how I’d like to be invited to their homes! The potted plants. The window treatment. The family lens for spotting ghosts through. A third clone would defend me from the villagers, would be schooled in security, all manner of martial defense. What with his healthful body, I'll have to make sure the other clones don't fall in love with him. So I'll need to purchase cameras to keep track of what's going on in the bedrooms. Soon, though, the four of us will get bored, practicing karate on the lawn, no one to look at but each other. So if there's any money left over, I'd like to hire someone to bring me the brain of the television anchorwoman, kept alive in a glass jar. I'm just a scientist, I'll say to it. Won’t you teach me how to dance?
The Ghost of Tracy Valentic
She’d been a second-string cheerleader high on mini-thins and she’d been my babysitter and she’d also been (though no one knew except my father) going to motels with my father. When she walked she had a way of trailing her hands along, like she was touching at tall flowers or the heads of small invisible children who walked with her. On her ankle was the usual twenty-dollar butterfly. The suicide note was a letter she sent to my father, straight-forward in tone and factual and with no hand-wringing, an actual line in it that said, “I don’t think you know what’s right.”
When implicated in such a letter a father goes to California to start a new life, a mother sits out back all night at the fire pit, drinking pitcher cocktails and having arguments with opponents who aren’t really there. The father gets into real estate. The mother wins each argument. The age of consent in Indiana has been 16 since the year 1920.
The ghost of Tracy Valentic showed up one night, in my bed. The dream I was having was going to be my first wet dream, I could tell, and it was a dream where I was floating naked in a para-sailing rig—the view was of me looking down between my feet—over a brownish looking lake, the lake full of huge, lazy serpents with shiny skin colored in a pink-and-green camouflage pattern. In this dream of the serpents and the parasailing rig, I’d started to circle down toward the surface of the lake. I could tell what was going to happen and I didn’t want to have the rest of the dream. I felt like having the wet dream to completion would be like going through a door into a room where people were saying bad things about me. I’d been fearful of the serpents and I’d put my feet out, helplessly, to stop myself, which is when one of the serpents happened to break the surface of the lake. I pushed my feet off of the serpent’s pink and green back to stay airborne and I’d come in midair, feeling not like it was my doing but as if it had been pulled out of me, like a magician’s scarf, with the slime of the serpent greasy on the bottoms of my feet. I’d woken up with my feet cold and there was the ghost of Tracy Valentic, my former babysitter, looking at me, her eyes dark green instead of the brown that I’d remembered. “I sure missed you,” she said, four weeks dead.
“Who’s in your grave?” I asked the ghost of Tracy Valentic. I think I thought I was still in the dream, where such a question seemed appropriate.
“What’s the question again?” she asked.
“Who’s in your grave?” I said.
“Tracy Valentic is in my grave,” the ghost of Tracy Valentic answered.
I only saw her a few more times. Once when I was peeing, she slid back the shower curtain and said to me, “A woman doesn’t like to be buried,” and then I’d say about three months later she showed up while I was looking around the kitchen for a snack, the ghost of Tracy Valentic leaning against the refrigerator, finishing the thought she’d begun three months earlier. “A woman prefers to be raptured,” she said.
The last time I saw her was the nicest time I saw her. I’m in the bathroom. I’m not afraid of her anymore. I’m about to go to bed. I look down to wet the toothbrush and I look up into the mirror and there she is, this time standing right behind me. “While brushing your teeth,” she says, “remember to take your time. You could read a little from a magazine article,” she says, putting whatever her hand is made of on my shoulder, “you could take a stroll around the house. You could make a mental to-do list for the next morning. This ensures,” says the ghost of Tracy Valentic, “a sustained brushing of the teeth. This ensures you will have happy teeth for the rest of your life.”