By Clara Zane
She wandered into the empty field and let out a harsh breath at its stark emptiness. Her life all but ended here, and only dirt and weeds remained. Tears, ones she didn't think she still had, stung her eyes. What did this prove? He was gone. He was gone and would never be back. She couldn't do anything to change that.
But she couldn't leave. Not yet.
She wore thick boots, but the ground felt ice cold as she crossed the field. She shivered, but pushed past it and continued towards the middle, towards the spot. She couldn't help but notice the grass hadn't grown back. Would it ever?
Any sign of his demise had been dashed away with the carnival. She stopped and closed her eyes, letting the past wash over her. The memories, the sensations, the smells, and the sounds bathed her. Unseen crowds pushed around her; the scent of popcorn, fried dough, and grilled meats wafted through the air; the excited screams and laughs coming from the rides and games erupted through the field. It all seemed so real that her eyes flickered open, and she fully expected to find herself in the middle of the busy carnival, just as it had been last summer. But of course that didn't happen; it existed only in her mind, her memories.
A shimmer blossomed from the dead grass where the carousel had sat, where David had died, a victim of an unfortunate slip from too much beer sloshing in his gut. She stared at the spot and watched as the rainbow-colored circular contraption, packed full of plaster zoo animals, solidified in front of her. She blinked a half-dozen times, rubbed her eyes, but found it still standing in front of her.
The recorded music, like an old music box, sounded on the breath of a breeze. The colorful horses, zebras, camels, and all the rest began their constant undulation. She stared, transfixed. Nothing else in the empty field moved. She wasn't sure if she wanted to step forward to check if the carousel really was solid, or stand still and believe it was only a part of her imagination, her grief.
And then she saw the hippopotamus David had fallen off of. It bounced around the edge of the carousel, empty as all the others. She kept her eye on it until it disappeared around the back. When it appeared again, she gasped and crumpled to her knees. David sat on its back, waving at her, just as he'd done that fateful evening. When he floated around the back, already starting to slip, she wasn't sure if she wanted him to continue around or not. He'd fall this time. She'd see it all again, and she wasn't sure she could handle it.
She didn't have to. When the hippopotamus emerged from the back, he wasn't there. She choked back a sob, and whispered his name. The slight breeze returned, and this time his voice tickled her ear. A moan left her lips, and then she saw him, standing where he'd fallen. He looked just as she remembered him. She couldn't fight her first instinct, which was to rush at him. He opened his arms, and she knew she'd pass right through him, as he was nothing but a memory, a figment of her overactive imagination, hyped up by this setting.
But she didn't. He was as solid as ever. And he still had his wonderful scent of menthol cigarettes and Aqua Velva. She tried to say something, anything, but no words would come. He, too, uttered nothing. All she could do was silently sob in his arms for days, hours, minutes, seconds. She had no idea which, but however long it was, it wasn't enough.
She had no idea what would happen next. Would he disappear? Would he remain here with here forever? Could she go with him wherever he was headed? She looked up into his face and saw his phantom tears, but also a smile. He tilted his head, and gave her a crooked smile she knew well. It spoke of a coming adventure, and if she wanted to join him. She tried to scream "Yes!" but again she couldn't get a sound out. He would have no problem understanding her emphatic nod.
She felt light-headed for a few seconds, and then the carnival, more grand than she remembered, rose around her. David, no longer a ghost, at least not to her, still held her in his arms. "I missed you," he said.
She found her words at last. "I missed you, too. What happened?"
"I don't know. But you're here with me now."
She smiled. "I am. I'm never leaving you, and you have to promise me you'll say the same."
He kissed her forehead, said, "I have no problem with that," and then moved his lips to hers.
They dimmed away with the carnival, leaving only her mortal coil behind. She didn't miss it.