They didn’t even have the decency to look a little, well, less dead. The Kerr boys, for instance, showed up for the first time since 1917 purpling on the shore. The blemishes the ocean left on their bodies were brazen—rude even. Like you’d have liked to say to them boys, cover those hickies, son, we are in a polite society. But they were not polite, by any means. We’d heard tourists talk about the intruders, and how when asked for directions, the dead would just plug up their ears and open up their mouths like they’d like to scream. It turns out that the world is very loud to the dead. We’d clap our hands together as we walked home alone to ward off the things, the same way one tries to keep away bears.
I can’t say we got used to them. But people adapt, you know, to things like infant mortality and atomic bombs. Still, to great relief, there are marks. You’ve only got to watch the drink someone orders after a loved one passes away to know it. A Corona for a whiskey drinker has significance. Or how many times they pause between sips. I heard that Alyss Hebert, who had never cursed a day in her life, had one particular lurker that would surprise her in her windows or behind her car. For fucksake became a regular word in her vocabulary. And Mr. Bernard’s wife—who was barely dead to begin with—would stand in his yard all day swinging the gate back and forth. He refused to leave his house. But every day the caregivers would give him a nod that meant “yes, she is still out there.”
That’s the thing of it. Maybe we should have been appalled, or afraid, or grateful even about our dead coming back to us. But the truth is the dead were terribly inconvenient. They would jam up traffic in a place that never had traffic. They were known to pull apart fences. They stood dumbly all over town, ruining the view of the shore. Along the beach where teenagers were known to hang out and the girls would try to tan, the dead would sometimes show up. They’d stand there like accidental two-by-fours facing the water and the girls would groan, and roll over on their stomachs so as not to see them.
Of course we reached out for help. We called exorcists and ghost hunters like we were calling pest control.
“I have one in my yard. It’s been here for three days, can you get it out?”
“What is it doing?”
“Just sitting in my water fountain. The ground is soaked with water and has gone to shit. It doesn’t do anything else. Just sits there. It doesn’t eat. We already tried that.”
They had the tenacity of weeds and a penchant for returning to the same location. I know some folks that had a bit of pity for them and started treating them like strays. But even those bleeding hearts couldn’t provide nothing that made sense. The dead don’t eat. They don’t get cold at night. They certainly don’t have conversations. So we just carried on with them blocking our way. But then, like that, they just disappeared. It’d been almost a full third of a year with them, and then zip they were gone. The whole town woke up at once to notice it. How can I describe it? There is a story that on a night when Niagara Falls froze, the lack of sound woke up the entire town nearby. Like that. The town felt the lightness of losing the weight of their entire dead. And while there was relief, there was also gaping silence. Fences lowered. Teenagers on the beach complained that they were bored and went home early. People looked out of their windows and frowned. You know, we’d gotten so used to living with our dead that we plain didn’t know how to go on without them. Every now and then, though, you’d gallop towards the shore where a purpling light crouched at the horizon. But it’s always just a maneuver of the sun. And you stand there, useless as a board, sighing and sighing.