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What We Are Left With

 Mary Ann Chastain/AP File Photo
Mary Ann Chastain//AP File Photo

For Round Five of our contest, we asked you to send us original works of fiction that began with the line, "Some people swore that the house was haunted," and ended with the line, "Nothing was ever the same again after that."

Some people swore that the house was haunted. Our neighbors, the Coomers
and Stewarts, told us, but we didn't believe them. Back then, we didn't believe in such silly things. Your theory was that they were saying it to scare us away. We were gay. This was the late 80's. The beginning of AIDS.

We'd moved to North Carolina so I could teach at UNC. You didn't want to leave Miami, but said you would. You were a doctor, so you could travel anywhere and get a job. Not me. I was a poet, fat and hairy. A look that only appeals to other poets or English majors or fans of Jerry Garcia. But still, somehow, you loved me. You would hold me on the couch as we watched John Hughes movies, even though we were both in our early 30's by then. You would eat the meals I cooked — chicken piccatta and steak marsala — and tell me how much you loved them, loved me. You would tell me about your patients, how John or Jim or Sara was getting better, but Fred wasn't going to make it.

I should have noticed something was wrong. The gradual slipping away. I should have realized you were staying late at work almost every night, but I didn't. I was busy with my new job, new friends, revising poems, not to mention the fact that I'd made a new friend, an aspiring poet, named Mike. While nothing ever happened between us, we went to movies and I even stomached a UNC-Clemson football game just for the chance to sit next to him for three hours.

When you asked me to go with you to that medical conference in New York, I said no. You asked again and again, but still I wouldn't. There were those poems I needed to revise and papers to grade. I was just too busy. What I didn't tell you was I had plans that Saturday to go to a football game.

On Sunday, you called and said you were not coming back. You were returning to Florida and I could have everything in the house. On the phone, I didn't ask why, just said okay. I never heard from you again. Then, four years later, your new lover, Roger, sent me your obituary. You did not acquire the virus the way most of us do, but from a needle stick from one of your patients.

It's only now that I see what they meant when they said this house is haunted. In every room I hear your voice. Your silly laughter. I still smell your fruity cologne and from time to time I will turn a corner and see you there, if only for a moment, in the hall leading to the stairs, your stethoscope hanging from your beautiful neck. Sometimes at night, I will feel the sheets move, will feel your soft hands on me. And I will close my eyes and let you take me again and again to those places we'd been.

Last week, I was eating toast and scrambled eggs. Still tired after three cups of coffee and not a single poem written, I looked up and saw you smiling back at me. I reached across the table, but you weren't there. That was it. Nothing was ever the same again after that.