David Laster was not born, at least not in the conventional sense. Some would call Mr. Laster’s means of being “rebirth,” perhaps if they found themselves affiliated with a certain organized religion or regimented belief system. But no one could ever truly know. He wasn’t always David Laster, a political advisor to a left-wing parliamentary group, a seemingly average man in his early thirties humbly living in Dublin at the present day. At one point before this one David owned an entirely different body which occupied an entirely different life occurring in an entirely different location carrying out entirely different tasks and experiences. The logistics of the situation are still murky at best to him, although he understands he is not a human person and remembers the sensations he no longer has, like breaking a bone, breaking a heart, scraping his knuckles against concrete, painful breathlessness in times of panic. He’s quite human-like on paper. He breathes, he orgasms mysteriously and honest to god miraculously, he feels guilt and humiliation to a small degree. Yet, he isn’t an all around physical being. He doesn’t know for sure if he has blood in his veins, or if he can even get hurt. He hasn’t thus far. Whether he’s figured it out or not, David can’t die. He woke up in a bed that wasn’t his, in a life he knew he did not own, but maintained absolutely no memory of a former one. He suddenly had memories that laced together coherently, but he did not recognize them to be his. He couldn’t remember who he was or where he came from, and when he tried to pinch himself awake he felt no pain at all. It left no mark. Over time, Mr. Laster mysteriously pieced his reality together only the way a person in his circumstance possibly could considering its peculiarities. His experiences onward that should have felt human and visceral, simply were not; he couldn’t love to the extent he knew in his soul, which he did in fact still own, was possible. He couldn’t hate either. While he maintained access points to the human experience, none of it was whole. None of it vibrant. It was as if he continued occupying a space that needed to be occupied, but with a cognizance no one else seemingly had obtained. This prevented him from reaching the top or bottom of any emotion, but somehow he knew there was more than what was right in front of him, what he was capable of experiencing in the present. His “life” was a list of facts, information he could recite, never having actually lived it at all. He woke up one day being. David Laster was a ghost. 


This way of being was lonely. It was a secret that wasn’t merely kept by David, it was wholly unexplainable. He had his guesses, and was even correct! but how could he ever admit that to a person. He was near guaranteed never to be believed or taken seriously, and even shrugging it off as an attempted joke would be uncomfortable at best. So David committed to living as close to a human life as was possible, if “life” would even be an accurate term. While the folktales and lore would like to claim the existence of ghosts as magical and mystical, Mr. Laster would beg to differ. To the ghost himself, it’s mostly painful. To live alongside humans but, without your say or power, to be anything more than metaphorically transparent and misunderstood is not what the authors and the poets dreamt up. David, like you and me, woke up early in the morning, worked a job he hardly enjoyed, spent his lunch break at his cubicle, attended meetings and occasional weekend conferences, came home to an empty apartment, aimlessly watched the news, did his dishes, paid his rent, slept in a bed left unmade from the night before. He specifically thought it strange how being a ghost didn’t inherently alter something deep within him or give him any urge to haunt anybody, he was just a man with a unique glaze of gray draping the life he was paired to. Counter to the common man’s intuition, the gloom of being a ghost did in fact make the extraordinary parts of existing much more significant and spellbinding in David’s eyes. 


On September 14th, a woman took an absent minded seat next to him on a park bench on the edge of Stephen’s Green. It was an early afternoon, approaching the end of a presumed citywide lunch break. He rarely left the office midday, but the sun was casting a seductive yellow across Dublin after drizzly clouds had swallowed up her shallow skyline for two whole weeks. The weather nudged David outdoors, a thoughtful act as these small pleasures were meaningfully tucked away in his perpetual cloudy, drizzly days. The woman had chocolatey ringlet curls poking out of a tightly wound linen scarf and the cardigan resting lazily yet correctly on her shoulders shed dark green fuzz across her black trousers. She had a hair thin gold hoop pierced through her nostril and identical tiny hoops through her earlobes. She was freckled and pale, approachable looking but not quite innocent, not at all frail. David didn’t tend to linger, he wasn’t the lingering type, but as he peered over at her unwrapping the paper of what appeared to be an above averagely soggy sandwich, which she ate unabashedly, he didn’t regret a bit of a linger that day. He didn’t stare either, rather he smiled with an amusement he often let cover his face with the stakes of his existence staying rather low day to day. The woman noticed his expression. “Wanna bite?” She said abruptly with a full mouth of oily sourdough, gesturing the wrappings his way with both of her hands. She tilted her head back and laughed a chortley laugh, despite the lack of clarity over whether or not David knew she was joking. “Please, I’m kidding. I’m enjoying myself too much.” With that, she took another bite. David chuckled then, a genuine sound, and they gazed back at each other. A few beats passed between them. David noted that it wasn’t uncomfortable. His cheeks felt warm, a sensation that took a breath from him. It was new, exciting, thrilling even. He interrupted the silence to say, “I’m David,” even though he wasn’t really David. “I’d shake your hand but-“ she held up the sandwich again and grinned. She offered up her name pointing with one greasy finger at her charming little face. “No one introduces themselves this way much anymore. I'll try anyway.” This made David smile too. They continued on sheepishly exchanging introductory information: what they did for a living, where they were from originally, what David’s office had to say about rent control in the city. David yearned for some kind of attachment to what he was telling the woman about the person he had to be. It felt almost imperative to be as true as possible to her, she set that kind of standard by doing it herself. She didn’t act like her life was assigned to her. It belonged to her, and it showed even in an hour of conversation. David leaned forward with real earnestness, resting his arm against the back of the bench and his chin against his palm, while she theatrically recounted the antics of her friend and cat, Maple. He glanced down at his watch eventually and said, “I’d very much like your cell phone number. For another chat like this one.” It was curiously easy to be bold. David was late to work and took his supervisor’s sarcastic scold with a grin and more warmth in his face. 


David and the woman fell in love quickly and stayed there comfortably for some time. They were helplessly compatible. She was always wanting to eat, she was unashamedly enthusiastic about evening television, and consistently sought out the frivolity around her. She didn’t just see birds, she noticed the green edges of their feathers. She asked strangers to dance with her at a club, even if she herself had never been there before. She loved aquariums. When she saw a deflated tire on a bike locked up next to hers, she commented that it made her sad to look at. The small things David derived the closest human feelings out of, the woman was compelled by them too. It had frustrated him before, how many people near him, on the train, at desks near his own, even on park benches before her, had wholly disregarded the batshit kind of splendor it takes for a heart to shove blood through veins, the miraculousness of a baby brain evolving from gelatin to a complete organ with the authority to command trillions of cells to do any little thing at all, the intricate privilege of owning a body and simultaneously a boundless mind. Perhaps envy was a feeling David had almost reached the top of. The woman, however, took her opportunity of living in its fullness without even trying. David had never met such a human person. She didn’t stir his envy. She made him proud and completed the human parts of him that he unspokenly lacked. While David did not disclose his ghostness to her, he on the contrary brought out the ghostly parts of her just as much. Completely rid of malice, he once asked her with a gentle genuine press, “Do you have trouble being around sad people?” While her zest and giddiness kept the warmth up in his cheeks, the woman needed David’s gray in equal parts. He ensured she went to bed at a decent hour before going to work her rather demanding-of-the-brain job as a civil engineer the following day. He helped her cry. Little did she know he was so accustomed to a dull sense of sadness more so because he was a ghost, not entirely on account of emotional literacy or self-knowledge. Nonetheless, David hadn’t felt less like a ghost and the woman hadn’t felt more alive than when they were with the other. 


Almost every work day for the better part of a year, the pair ate lunch together on the same park bench in Stephen’s Green. They spent many days together, they traveled together, they laughed and argued. They were a painstakingly normal couple. The two were never at risk of losing what they shared to some other lover, to fears of commitment or babies or heartbreak, to the bleeding out and strain of mediocrity. It wasn’t flashy or eccentric, sugarily romantic or even sexy. They simply loved the other in a complete enough way that didn’t need to be marketed or proven. The woman properly enjoyed Mr. Laster and he returned her delight all the same. David contemplated confessing his somber secret to the woman many times, but he was relieved all in all that she didn’t know the truth. To some level, David had a keen and eerie knowledge that the woman would have loved him in any presenting body. If she had met him as a female friend at the office, a child born to her sister, an elderly person she met on the same park bench, or a goddamn sparrow in a tree, she would have loved him. The woman did not fall in love with David Laster’s body, she fell in love with the soul trapped inside him. The thought coerced tears out of his hollow eyes, a sensation he felt simultaneously his most alive and subsequently most bereaved being party to. 


On December 4th after the woman had returned to work following lunch on their bench, she was perched on a coworker’s desk drinking from a chipping coffee mug when she began to feel queasy and light headed. “I don’t- I don’t feel well.” She fainted then, something that had never happened to her. She had been fighting off what she believed to be either a pettily persistent cold that wouldn’t fade completely, allergies, or even the beginning stages of pneumonia, as David theorized. She hadn’t been entirely well for a few weeks, but a fainting spell was seemingly more intense than any other impending symptom. After she awoke on the office floor, the owner of the desk in which she was leaning drove her to hospital. On the car ride over, the woman began to feel light headed a second time. She panicked for fear there was something happening to that human body of her’s, something off kilter, unnameable and threatening. She noted pains in her neck, and felt helpless in a body that was not sustaining her through whatever episode. She felt fickle, sick. She fainted a second time on the floor of the emergency room. “Get her moving.” A controlled emergency floor doctor commanded her attendants. The woman was wheeled away deeper into the hospital. She would not leave again. 


David sat at the woman’s bedside under blaring fluorescent lights, which he frequently requested be dimmed or turned off entirely but was denied, for eight days. He spilled many tears over the woman’s knuckles and down her forearms. They stained the side of her hospital gown. She had been placed in a medically induced coma the second day after a stream of tests had shown her lungs gathering unwanted fluid abruptly and her breathing became quick and desperate, as did her gaze toward David as they stretched the elastic of an oxygen mask over her contorted face. The woman lay in that bed, completely blank, her body performing its tasks silently, accompanied by the beeping of very unhuman machines about the room. The doctors discovered the woman’s organs were inflamed, under attack from an infection that lacked a name. On the fourth day, a male doctor in a green tie and white coat sat in a chair next to David and explained to him the woman had a disease inhabiting her body that resembled a severe case of arthritis. “Her immune system is crashing. The cause is illusive, but we’re trying to treat the outcomes as they show up.” David felt completely detached from the information the doctor was placing in his lap, disoriented and angry that such an alive person could hurt to this extent, that a body could fail its owner despite having beamed such goodness and beauty and wholeheartedness a matter of hours before. He felt guilty for his immunity to this kind of failure, but couldn’t escape the totality of a strange ghostly numbness like a warm wave washing across his being. More than anything, he was deafened by a low hum of grief, a dull sadness that engulfed any other feeling on the other side of the void inside him. He wanted to sob, he wanted to curse, he wanted to writhe. But he could only cry hot, slow, heavy tears over the woman, nearly expressionless. Her body was like a corpse, and without her palms turned up toward him begging him to dance, without her dark eyes sitting wide above her crooked endearing smile, her head tossed backward with an unapologetic laugh… David could not feel alive. He did not try any longer. He could not forget his ghostness, not for one moment looking at the woman so lifeless in front of him. 


On the ninth morning the woman spent unknowingly in that bed, her heart stopped beating. Her body and her soul were separated by disease, completely vulnerable to death’s haphazard timing. What possessed David the most was how unspectacular her passing was. The beeping sounds slowed over time, her heart laboring and laboring to shoulder the failure of her other organs. She didn’t move, she didn’t gasp for air. This perpetuated David’s void. His tears continued to fall as he kissed her cold pale hand and stood up from his chair with a creak. He crossed his arms, hugging himself, the most overwhelming loneliness consuming him as he looked down at the woman, her curls pulled back pillowing her slender neck. David felt powerless to this force that captured the woman he loved for a year in just over a week, without any warning, without any defense against it. David had believed, whether he was aware of it or not, the woman to be untouchable, that she revered life so dearly that death couldn’t dare hover over her or snatch her breath the way it had. Disregarding what owning a body entailed, its utter impotence to nature and death, frightened David. He realized then how much more death he would obligatorily witness never escaping to it himself. Before the woman, he was unaware of the fullness a person could expansively embody the way she truly did, how content he was capable of having loved someone who got to live. After the woman, he became aware of how his ghostness did not just deny him his own life to live, but forced him to watch life escape a person’s lips like a wispy smoking barrel of a fired gun, without his say, without his interference, in spite of his wholeness or lack thereof. 


In the days and weeks and years to come, David did not regret keeping the truth of his being a ghost from the woman. She was the only person he had loved or would love so long as his soul inhabited that body. He began to sift through his own existence and how it would continue longing for the soul of the woman, how he wandered about more ghostlike than ever without her. Mr. Laster maintained the utmost peculiar hope that the woman’s soul was wandering at the very same time, feeling estranged from the body it now inhabited. What if, he very so often pondered, her soul would meet the same fate as he, that she would wake up in a body in its disheveled bed somewhere far from the life she was born into as an infant the way he had existed in some distant unknowable life as well. What if the woman was now a ghost herself. Gradual as could be, this thought sustained the yearning of David’s memories for the woman. He had come to accept that the way in which the woman loved David for his soul, and how he carried that knowingness around in his pocket all the time he loved her, he had loved the woman not for her body or her ability to live, but the soul that defined her just as she loved him. Not for her curls or freckles, not her sharp hip bones or blood pumping heart. David loved the woman’s innermost being, and he became content once more knowing her soul would not be stomped out by the creeping brutality of death, but that it would find another set of bones and skin to occupy. Her life was not bound by the body that held it captive, the way David finally was able to see his own. 


Through all his halfway living, David came to believe with albeit no exact proof or data but with pure gumption that there are more supernatural beings, ghosts or what-have-you, wandering around this tragic sparkling earth than one might assume. They share a peculiar quality that has been labeled one thing or another for thousands of years, be it mania or eccentrism, depression, moodiness, heightened sensitivity, or another myriad of ammeter diagnoses, the one thing these beings have in common is experience living more than a single “life.” David believed he could not possibly be the only one of his kind because he could not bear to be trapped in a world with no remnants of the woman he had loved having watched her body die. It gave him hope to believe such things. To his dissonance and occasional turmoil, he was unfortunately often entrapped by a fear that he would misdiagnose a person as a ghost like himself and be found out as what he truly was, only by someone who would not understand. For that reason among other unnameable reasons, Mr. Laster was content enough not entirely knowing but always believing that he may feel lost but alongside others, that the woman did not disintegrate into a cruel universe, and because of that possibility perhaps his ghostness was not wholly without purpose or at least rationale. He was right to be lonely, he was right to long for a body at times, but he was not without a hankering for meaning to any of it. To the naked eye, he was just David Laster, a solemn troubled man who had lost someone he loved to a mean disease. Regardless, being stuck right in the middle of heaven and hell scapes alike, yet never landing on one finite end as David Laster was so stuck, would reasonably leave a soul, for lack of a better term, a bit haunted. 

Submitted: July 14, 2022

© Copyright 2023 Hannah Odell. All rights reserved.

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