"Smoking with Ghosts in the Rain"
pastel by Jacob Browne
*artist statement & bio below*
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Ramblings of a Ghost
creative nonfiction by Michael Hendricks
My best friend spends his days rotting in a forest somewhere in Northern Ireland. “It’s home,” his husband says, rolling his eyes. He must do that a lot, or so I think. On occasion, I try to figure out why his husband repeats it with such distaste. Maybe it’s because Danny, the man I consider my older brother, passed up all of the amenities of being dead. No black casket with gold trim and padded interior. No intimate burial with family and friends before lowering his body into a rectangle hole, headed by a modest but appropriate tombstone.
I try not to imagine funerals but I have difficulty not imagining his. To my knowledge, he was prepared by a group of strangers who embalmed his body and buried it without much after thought. During his service, his husband was in rehab while anyone who considered him family was half a world away without an invite, myself included. I can’t help by feel like that’s what he wanted all along: a quiet place to sleep.
I bought his favorite book not too long ago. It’s about ghosts and their lives after being buried in a local graveyard. It’s incredibly on-brand with his morbid sense of humor. I even remember him saying death was the next step to paradise; a grin sneaking its way from ear to ear. Maybe it was his way of accepting the inevitability of his death.
Meanwhile, following in his footsteps is my way at maintaining a connection with the ghost of a former friend. In fact, it’s my way of learning more about his life which remained hidden even during late night conversation with a side of gin. Admittedly I was worried that if I read it, a part of him would be lost forever like removing the mask of your favorite villain or solving an old case. But Danny was never a villain to me. He was a confidant and brother at the best of times and a mentor at the worst.
It took weeks for me to gather the courage to read his book and after reading the first page, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I realized that Danny and my memories would never be more than an arm’s length away. You see, the first page holds his memory and his future as it opens with a ghost complaining about their own funeral.
I now no longer imagine the dark procession of strangers burying him in an unknown forest in Northern Ireland. I imagine him curled up against his favorite tree with his own copy, laughing about how they really did take him seriously when he said, “Bury me anywhere.”
Now his legacy as the leader of our collective of queer kids falls to me. And oddly, I’m not frightened about the prospect. You see, if there was anything Danny had ever taught me was, not to be worried about the future, but to learn to be happy in the present.
Michael Hendricks is a freelance author/editor based in the Midwest. They received a BA in Creative Writing from Western Michigan University and works as an editor for Butcher Papers. When they aren't editing, Michael can be found working on a collection of short stories or tripping over their own feet. They can be reached for business inquiries at email@example.com or @mike_henwrites on Twitter.
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Artist bio: From England, Jacob was born in Gravesend, Kent, attended Gravesend Grammar School and moved to St Mary’s Island, Chatham toward the end. Left after GCSE and attended various college and educational institutions but grew disillusioned with the system and decided to make his own way in life, gathering experience wherever he can. He currently volunteers at Rochester Cathedral.
Short description of the artwork "Smoking with Ghosts in the Rain" from the artist:
This work is an adapted experimental piece based on personal experiences. I prefer not to give any form of in-depth explanation of my artwork so not to affect the initial interpretation however if and when asked I may be willing to enter into discussion. This is a photograph of the piece which is made in soft pastel. It is an 'esoteric' piece. Although based on real events it is not 'literal' per se and its theme is memory fragmentation over time. Also the difference between 'reality' and what we ourselves choose to acknowledge. The dichotomy between peace and confusion with understanding being central and hopefully what the viewers' eye is drawn to.