Anna sees her husband’s ghost at the pool, sitting two stools over at the swim-up bar. He is drinking beer, something dark despite the heat. He skirts his thumb around the lip of the bottle, picks at its label between sips. Ben used to do that, Anna says to Molly, Ben used to do that all the time.

Molly is distracted by a numerologist. She signals the bartender for another round of tequila and pushes one Anna’s way. Anna doesn’t want to bother her sister with Ben, the way she sees pieces of him everywhere, in everyone. Try focusing on something else, Molly said halfway through their flight, maybe on someone else, too.

Anna stares at the ashtray on the bar, thinks about how she and Ben used to share cigarettes in bed, thinks about the way the smoke bungeed to the bottom of her lungs before trickling out like feathers.

She wonders what it feels like to have your breath taken from you all at once.

She looks at Ben’s ghost, the man two stools over. Thinks about how they used to sit lip-locked, their legs draped limb over limb. How they’d lie on the floor still touching when they couldn’t recycle their air any longer. It’s like we’re keeping each other alive, they’d laugh, it’s like I’d be dead without you.

It is terrible tequila, the kind one might expect to find at an all-inclusive, and it is their third shot. Molly pushes her empty glass across the bar, excuses herself to the restroom, and Anna finds herself sitting next to the numerologist. He asks if she’ll write her name and birthdate on a napkin.

Anna is unsure which name to use; if she is legally allowed to keep Ben’s surname now that he’s dead, or if she’ll be forced to revert to the name she bore as a child. I love my new signature, she thinks, I practiced that signature on our honeymoon, the swooping arc of the vowels, the roll of the r at the end. She doesn’t like the sound of her maiden name anymore. Its syllables feel forced, foreign in her mouth. She stumbles over their sounds while mumbling them under her breath and writes her married name on the napkin instead.

Where are you from? the numerologist asks. Anna isn’t sure what to say, doesn’t feel like she’s from anywhere any longer. I’m in between places, she says, running her finger around the edge of her shot glass, mirroring the ghost of Ben. Anna is fixated on his fingers—their knuckles, their lines. She’ll recount this to Molly tonight when she can’t sleep. She will close her eyes and trace Ben’s fingers on her pillow. She will pretend the folds in the sheets are the bend behind his knees, the length of his forearms, the dip in the small of his back.

Molly returns as the numerologist finishes scribbling on the napkin. She half-swims, half-slides onto the concrete stool submerged in the water, and watching this, Anna realizes the water feels like the air. The elements are the same temperature. Anna wonders how this sort of equilibrium happened unnoticed; if it’s an adjustment on her part or on the world’s part. She wonders if the same thing will happen with Ben—if his edges will even out until he’s no longer visible to her in other people. She wonders how much that final exhale will hurt.

The numerologist waits for another round of tequila before announcing Anna’s life path number is three: she is a creative soul, an expert communicator, a loyal lover.

Those are my things with Ben, Anna thinks, those things aren’t mine anymore.

The numerologist carries on, and Molly sucks down every one of his words, but Anna wonders how his words would differ if she’d given him her maiden name. She wonders what trajectory she’d be on. If she’d be drinking tequila with her sister and this numerologist, or if she’d be somewhere else. With someone else.

What do her numbers say, Molly asks, about moving on, about letting go?

Three’s, the numerologist says, three’s tend to stay hurt for a very long time.

Anna doesn’t like this conversation, doesn’t like Molly and the numerologist discussing her like she’s not there. She slides down the bar, sits next to the ghost of Ben, looks at his hands.

Do you always do that? she asks, motioning to his thumb, to the bottle.

The ghost of Ben eyes her up, sort of smiles. Yeah, he says, I guess I do.

Anna takes his bottle, runs her thumb around the lip, listens to the familiar hum of its whistle.

He holds out his hand, says, Hi, I’m

Shhhh, Anna says, taking his hand in hers. There is surprise on the man’s face, but he lets her hold his hand, lets her feel its weight, its skin.

Anna takes a sip of the man’s beer, thinks about where she’s seen Ben back home: on the train, walking up the front steps of the library, in the grocery store. His laugh, his gait, the way he smelled each orange. It’s as if Ben has split into tiny pieces and grafted himself to everyone around her.

Anna will try to explain this phenomenon to Molly tonight, when Molly asks her where she’s been. She will explain how she’s trying to move on, how difficult letting go is.  

I’ve been trying to collect pieces of Ben, she’ll say, and Molly will give her a knowing look.

He had his fingers, Anna will say. He had Ben’s fingers and I didn’t want to let them go.

Jennifer Todhunter’s stories have appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Necessary Fiction, CHEAP POP, and elsewhere. She was named to Wigleaf’s Top 50 Very Short Fictions 2018, and is the Editor-in-Chief of Pidgeonholes. Find her at or @JenTod_.  

© 2018 Jennifer Todhunter. Published by LITTLE FICTION | BIG TRUTHS, November 2018.

Images from The Noun Project (credits: Laymik).


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by Jennifer Todhunter
Anna gets her numbers read at a swim-up bar in Mexico