Bury Me with My Delicate Injustices by Alexis Jamilee Carter

The cemetery I’m touring is entirely out of my price range. Still, I let the realtor show me around. She’s a lovely woman. All her corners are polished clean, and her skin is pulled taunt against each sharp angle. Her name is Monica Hanson, and she’s introduced herself to me five times in the last hour. Monica’s smile is blindingly perfect.

We stand in front of a hole, three feet deep. Clumps of dirt give way when we stand too close to the edge. There’s already a name carved on the tombstone, but Monica assures me that roommates can’t be helped in this economy.

“Just look at this open floor plan,” she says. “And the view, you can’t forget about the view.”

The bright sunshine is making a mockery of what would otherwise be fantastically morose surroundings. Monica assures me that the weather is overcast normally. She tells me to picture the potential of the place, ignore the inconvenience of a little sun.

Potentially, it does have the prospect of gloom. We passed a willow tree on the way in that seemed to infuse the atmosphere with just the right amount of melancholy. Ivy grows rampant on every surface. The atmosphere could be fantastically morose. It’s the kind of place you imagine haunting for years to come. I don’t even mind sharing the plot. This is the city, after all. Privacy is an antiquated notion.

“The neighbors, how are they?” I ask.

“Quiet, for the most part. You’ll have such a restful time.”

Then she quotes a price.

Her nails click against the clipboard as she watches me. Her nails watch me too. On each one there’s an immaculate eye painted. Even they seem to realize that there’s no bank in the world that will loan me enough for something as whimsical as a comfortable afterlife. They swivel upward to ask God for patience in dealing with people who haven’t been pre-approved. That smile flashes.

“Why don’t I show you some more affordable options? There’s a charming little spot in a converted warehouse if you don’t mind your ashes getting mixed into concrete.”

She’s starting to wander off, but I don’t follow. I’m staring at the three-feet hole in the ground that I can’t afford. The tombstone has a name on it, but it’s nothing I would recognize. The only thing I can read is the ‘Dearly Beloved.’ I wonder if you can be beloved to yourself.

When I finally drag my eyes from what could have been my final resting place, if it wasn’t for something as damnable as my credit score, Monica is almost out of sight. She’s bobbing between tombstones. Her heels sink into the soft ground a little deeper with each step, and I can hear her talking from here. I’m certain she just introduced herself to the willow tree. It doesn’t seem impressed.

A skeleton burst from the plot one headstone over. Loose dirt and dust stain my cheek. I try to brush it away subtly, like I would if an older aunt accidentally spit on me. There’s no sense in being rude. These things happen.

“Touring or grieving?” the skeleton asks me. Their jaw clicks with each word. The grin they offer is garish without lips. They lean on their headstone, but it must be hard to look casual when the bare bones are all you have to work with.

I try to read the name before I answer, but the only thing engraved on the stone is a pair of hands, praying or pleading. It’s hard to tell the difference between the two. I don’t want to ask their name either, in the unfortunate case that they have forgotten the heavy syllables that used to weigh on their tongue during introductions.

“Both,” I say instead. “Any pest problems?”

“Rats, but only until the flesh is gone.”

That seems reasonable in the way that terrible things seem reasonable once they’ve become familiar. I try not to let the image of rodents burrowing into my organs invade my subconscious. The valiant effort for that is not rewarded.

When I turn back around, the skeleton has been joined by a corpse. She must’ve only been in her forties when she died. Whoever dressed her for her funeral stuck her in a mauve dressing gown that could only be described as a punishment from beyond the grave. She looks furious, and I think that I love her for that alone. From some invisible pocket, she produces a half-empty pack of cigarettes. I watch the one eye that she still has left bounce from the cigarettes to me. She doesn’t offer me one, and I don’t hold it against her. I think I prefer the dead ignoring me.

“They’ve started digging up bodies in the east end,” she rasps to the skeleton. “Bastards are just dumping them in the river.”

The skeleton turns their faceless skull to the sky. They drown themself in sunlight, and I wonder if they can feel the warmth. I hope they can.

“A change of scenery might be nice,” they say.

“For fucks sake, we deserve peace.”

“Do we?” the skeleton asks. “Sometimes, I think I remember guilt.”

She crushes her cigarette under her heel. The embers flare longer than I expected them to.

“And? I still deserve the sanctity of death.”

I don’t notice the guy behind me. Not until he slips his hand into mine. The coolness of his skin does not shock me, but I flinch anyway. I wrench my hand from his, politeness is never something I can fake for long. I take a step away from him then I take another. He watches me. There’s no recognition in his gaze, and I shiver. He does not blink. His eyes are brown.

The skeleton speaks to me softly.

“You know how it is. The freshly deceased take a while to acclimate.”

I take a couple more steps back, toward the gate and the willow tree and the crowds beyond on the busy streets that I can hear even now. It’s lovely here, but I’m not ready to stay.

“Don’t you have more questions for us? Don’t you want to pry and prod until your sick curiosity is sated? Don’t you want to know how the maggots fester?”

She lurches forward more with each word, until her nose is inches from mine. There’s a stench. It’s no use thinking about it, but the tilt of her chin makes me think she’s daring me to mention it.

“I think I’ve learned enough for today,” I say instead.

She grabs my coat, twists the material in her fist, and I pretend I can’t feel her bones.

I try to turn away, but her grip doesn’t loosen. I don’t like knowing the strength of the dead’s convictions.

“No, you wanted to hear from your prospective neighbors. Tell me, what is it you want to know? Let me tell you how it floods in the spring, how the coffins float to the surface. Your family will weep when they see your living conditions.”

The skeleton is pulling on her shoulder, but she’s not finished. They don’t have a homeowner’s association here yet, but I know she’d thrive in a position of obscure authority.

I try to turn away again, and the newly dead guy’s brown eyes are searching mine. I just know he’s going to try to hug me. There’s no escape and my optimism for mortality isn’t holding up well against their tirade.

My savior appears in the form of Monica, the realtor. She descends on the group, introducing herself with stiff handshakes and a barely superior tone. I’m not surprised that she can sense when a property’s value is in danger of plummeting. She’s offering business cards and a last cursory plot appraisal. And then we’re walking. 

“You’ll have to pardon the locals,” she says. “They do take some getting used to.”

I ask her for more options. Some place with a little more square-footage and a little less potential of wildlife absconding with a femur or two.

Monica sighs. It sounds like it comes from the very depths of her real estate agent soul.

“Look,” she says, drawing me closer and whispering like she’s known me for years, “These anti-social tendencies of yours are going to make finding you a final, peaceful resting place very difficult.”

I wish I could sigh with the same convention, agree with her assessment, and maybe try therapy. But Monica isn’t the type for daydreaming nonsense. She’s already taking long strides toward the gate, but she stops with only a quiet beseeching of patience from the cloudless sky and waits for me.

“Have you considered a nice, old-fashioned burial at sea?” she asks, almost entirely to herself.

She knows who’s in control of my death, and more importantly, she knows my price range. Monica grips my fate in her impeccably manicured hands.

I have no choice, but to bear my inescapable financial deficiencies and follow her to my next afterlife option.

Alexis Jamilee Carter is a software engineer in Denver, CO and holds an undergraduate degree in Computer Science with a minor in Medieval and Renaissance Studies. She wants to create, in every sense of the word and as much as possible, but writing has always been her home. Her work has also recently appeared in The Diamond Line and Runestone.

Lesson by Sophie Klahr and Corey Zeller

Your father teaches you to ride a bike by holding a handful of M&M’s and running ahead of you far down the long road beside the lake. If you catch him, you can have the M&M’s. It sets a precedent. One has to be hungry. How many syllables are there really in “Memory?” I believe it depends on how badly you want it. Don’t mis-take me: I am as afraid of ruining this as I have been of anything. I don’t know if I believe anymore that there are best words in their best order. There is only what one leaves behind.

Sophie Klahr and Corey Zeller are the co-authors of There Is Only One Ghost In The World (Fiction Collective 2, 2023), winner of the 2022 Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Contest. Their work also appears or is forthcoming in Tupelo Quarterly, Copper Nickel, Denver Quarterly, Alaska Quarterly Review, Puerto del Sol, Salamander, and elsewhere. Although they have been writing together for ten years, they have only met once.

Daddy Issues by Aileen O’Dowd

My dad is a ghost, but he’s not dead.

On my twenty-third birthday, he appears.

I consult with an exorcist. She does not understand. She tells me it is not possible to be both spirit and body, and suggests I’m making it up. “For attention,” she says. “Common behavior in women with daddy issues.”

I consult with a therapist. His specialty is Daddy Issues. He holds a notepad and a pen. “How does this ghost make you feel?” he asks.

“Scared?” I say.

“Of abandonment,” the therapist says. He writes abandonment over and over again, across the page.

“Actually, abandonment is the goal,” I say.

The therapist tells me to come twice a week.

Dad’s translucent body trails behind me.

* * *

At the salon, Dad calls me a harlot.

“It’s just highlights,” I say.

He hovers over my chair with a disapproving face.

Later, he spills wine on my date in an unfortunate location.

I go home.

Dad watches The Addams Family on TV. Drinks beer on my couch. It seeps through his ghost body onto the cushion.

Dad and I used to watch The Addams Family every Friday. Before he disappeared. And left our family for a new one.

* * *

“How did that make you feel?” the therapist says.

“Embarrassed,” I say, “by the cliché.”

The therapist waits for more.

Dad sticks his head through a diagnostic textbook, pretending not to hear.

* * *

At my tiny kitchen table, we eat Salisbury steak dinners.

Dad inhales his uncut beef, like a dog. “Shrinks blame fathers for everything,” he says.

I push my fork through powdery potatoes.

“Why are you here?” I say.

Dad levitates a spoonful of corn into his mouth.

Kernels float across his skinless chest, blinking over his heart, like stars. A yellow Ursa Major descends into Dad’s bowels before shooting onto the floor.

“Excuse me for wanting to spend time with you,” he says. “You complain I wasn’t around. Now I’m here, and you want me gone.” Dad shakes his head.

His words collect in my stomach beside the undigested meat.

He takes a sip of milk. “You know, I did my best.”

Milk drips through him like tears.

* * *

“I cannot watch The Addams Family without crying,” I say to the therapist.

“This is not surprising,” the therapist says. “It reminds you of your childhood—when you watched it with your father.”

“No,” I say. “That’s not it.”

The therapist writes this down. “Gomez and Morticia Addams were a father and mother in love,” he says. “Gomez never tired of Morticia. In fact, his love grew stronger every day. Gomez loved his children, Pugsley and Wednesday, very much. He was active in their lives. It makes you sad to see what you did not have.”

“No,” I say. “That’s not correct, either.”

“You feel like Lurch, the Addams family butler,” the therapist says. “He was like Frankenstein’s monster, unable to fit in. Trapped in a house with a family he did not really belong to. He kept his words bottled up inside of him until they escaped as unintelligible groans. I can see how this plays out in your life, through your emotional constipation.”

“I have never had an issue with my digestive faculties,” I say. “And I would not consider myself a monster.”

I hear Dad laughing in the corner behind me.

“We’re at the end of our session,” the therapist says. He writes DENIAL in red block letters on a post-it note. “Next week, we’ll talk about Uncle Fester.”

“What about Thing?” I say.

The therapist taps his watch.

* * *

Dad stuffs himself with ice cream. I watch mint chip roll through his body, then onto the rug. He snaps along to the beat of the opening credits. Lurch plays the piano and Wednesday frowns, her tiny braids falling down her shoulders, like snakes.

And there it is, the disembodied hand, the Addams family handservant—Thing. The lump returns to my throat, but I swallow it. I do not want to give in. It’s just special effects, I tell myself. Thing pours Morticia a cup of tea from the center of the breakfast table. It’s not real. But my sadness does not care. I am flooded with the same intrusive thoughts every time I see it.

Dad looks at me from the side of his eye. “What’s the matter with you?”

“Nothing.” I wipe my face, casually, with my sleeve. “I just hate that Thing,” I say. And I do. How terrible it would be to be a Thing. A hand without a body. No anchor to ground it. No heart to warm it. No stomach to feed and nourish it. Just a random, dismembered appendage. No one to love it.


Aileen O’Dowd lives in Toronto. Her writing has appeared in Peach Mag, Maudlin House, Rejection Letters, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere.