“If it makes it easier, just think I’m not really here. Do you believe in ghosts?”
“I think I do.”
“It comes to me to imagine, then, that there are special ghosts in the world. Not ghosts of dead people. But ghosts of want and need, or I guess you might say desire.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Well, have you ever lain in bed late afternoons, late nights and dreamed something so much, awake, you felt your soul jump out of your body as if something had yanked a long, pure white sheet straight out the window? You want something so much, your soul leaps out and follows, my God, fast?”
“Why … yes. Yes!”
“Boys do that, men do that. When I was twelve I read Burroughs’ Mars novels. John Carter used to stand under the stars, hold up his arms to Mars, and ask to be taken.
And Mars grabbed his soul, yanked him like an aching tooth across space, and landed him in dead Martian seas. That’s boys, that’s men.”
“And girls, women?”
“They dream, yes. And their ghosts come out of their bodies. Living ghosts. Living wants. Living needs.”
“And go to stand on lawns in the middle of winter nights?”
“That’s about it.”
“Am I a ghost, then?”
“Yes, the ghost of wanting so much it kills but doesn’t kill you, shakes and almost breaks you.”
“I must be the answer-ghost.”
“The answer-ghost. What a funny name!”
“Yes. But you’ve asked and I know the answer.”
“All right, the answer is this, young girl, young woman. The time of waiting is almost over. Your time of despair will soon be through. Very soon, now, a voice will call and when you come out, both of you, your ghost of want and your body with it, there will be a man to go with the voice that calls.”
“Oh, please don’t tell me that if it isn’t true!” Her voice trembled. Tears flashed again in her eyes. She half raised her arms again in defense.
“I wouldn’t dream to hurt you. I only came to tell.” The town clock struck again in the deep morning. “It’s late,” she said.
“Very late. Get along, now.”
“Is that all you’re going to say?”
“You don’t need to know any more.” The last echoes of the great clock faded.
“How strange,” she murmured. “The ghost of a question, the ghost of an answer.”
“What better ghosts can there be?”
“None that I ever heard of. We’re twins.”
“Far nearer than you think.”
She took a step, looked down, and gasped with delight. “Look, oh, look. I can move!”
“What was it you said, boys walk all night, miles and miles?”
“I could go back in, but I can’t sleep now. I must walk, too.”
“Do that,” he said gently.
“But where shall I go?”
“Why,” he said, and he suddenly knew. He knew where to send her and was suddenly angry with himself for knowing, angry with her for asking. A burst of jealousy welled in him. He wanted to race down the street to a certain house where a certain young man lived in another year and break the window, burn the roof. And yet, oh, yet, if he did that!?
“Yes?” she said, for he had kept her waiting.
Now, he thought, you must tell her. There’s no escape.
For if you don’t tell her, angry fool, you yourself will never be born.
A wild laugh burst from his mouth, a laugh that accepted the entire night and time and all his crazed thinking.
“So you want to know where to go?” he said at last.
He nodded his head. “Up to that corner, four blocks to the right, one block to the left.”
She repeated it quickly. “And the final number?!”
“Eleven Green Park.”
“Oh, thank you, thank you!” She ran a few steps, then stopped, bewildered. Her hands were helpless at her throat. Her mouth trembled. “Silly. I hate to leave.”
“Why, because … I’m afraid I’ll never see you again!”
“You will. Three years from now.”
“Are you sure?”
“I won’t look quite the same. But it’ll be me. And you’ll know me forever.”