Somebody Else in the Room: An Excerpt from ‘All Roads Lead to Blood

Fiction by Bonnie Chau

There is a naked ghost man in her room. Sometimes he wanders, barefoot, into the rest of the house. The kitchen is small, so it doesn’t take him long to walk through it. There is a long hallway, between the bedroom and the kitchen, though — that takes a while. The intricate parquet floors are glossy, but also prone to splinters, especially along the sides closer to the walls. She doesn’t worry about the naked ghost man, he treads softly, each step a quick light pat.

Image: SFWP/2040 Books. (Purchase)

Sometimes the naked ghost man reads in the living room, but he only ever sits in the right corner of the couch. Sometimes he fries up a couple of eggs for breakfast, eaten with toast cut diagonally, and salsa. When she’s run out of salsa, he’ll use marinara sauce from some old jar in the back of the refrigerator.

Last night she came home from work, late, midnight, and the naked ghost man was sitting at the piano by the front window. He had his hands hovering over the keys, fingertips barely on the keys, his head slightly bent down and forward. She can’t ever really see him, the naked ghost man. The house is pretty shadowy, and she always misses it, the moment in which she might be able to see his face. Sometimes, she is close, she thinks. She sees it, peripherally, or senses the full-on frontal look, but when she turns, gone. She thinks she turns slowly, to give him a chance to turn away.

She didn’t have to work today, so she made herself a ham and swiss and tomato sandwich, and sat down on the couch to watch the movie Lust, Caution. The naked ghost man gets up from the piano bench and sits down on the couch next to her, in his usual corner. The version of the movie she finds in a dusty case on the shelf doesn’t have the English subtitles. She can’t understand enough of the Mandarin — and it switches to Shanghainese and Cantonese, which makes it even more impossible. She does understand, when in the scene on the double-decker bus that one night, the guy moves up front to sit by the girl and says thank you, and she says why, and they both smile, but more to themselves, since they can’t see each other — they are both facing forward on the bus, and after thanking her, he has moved back to two rows behind her. She understands that the girl’s not asking why. Her why ends with a period. She understands that much.

She doesn’t look as much, when she passes the Smith and 9th stop these days. She still listens to the announcement droning out the name. Smith and 9th Street. But it is smaller now, and shrinking still, a watery puddle evaporating to coin-sized, then a pinpoint. Not yet, but she can see it. If she doesn’t have to move too much, make too much of an effort, if she’s not distracted by a book she’s reading or her phone, she still looks out onto the platform. But only if she doesn’t have to twist around in her seat, or lean her head over way to one side. She still looks. Each person who glides by, who is not Jason the Mason, makes the sound of a thunk, a blip cutting up the panorama. Person, not him, empty space, person, not him, empty space, empty space, person, not him, empty space.

Oh, he sees me, she had thought. Someone finally sees her. Before Jason the Mason, she had only ever experienced sight as emanating from undesirable French dudes whose soul-probing pupils seemed intent upon turning her into a swollen wedge of triple crème Saint-André cheese.

On the Fourth of July, the last time she saw him, he had mentioned something about something being because she was a ghost. I’m not a ghost, she had said, laughing, because it was her habit to disagree with everything, and to laugh when confronted with something confusing.

Now, she doesn’t see him, nor is she seen any longer. Now, there is just this naked ghost man, drinking a beer at her kitchen table, or sitting on the couch next to her watching a movie.

BONNIE CHAU is from Southern California, where she formerly ran writing programs at the nonprofit 826LA. She received her MFA in fiction and translation from Columbia University. A Kundiman fellow, she works at an independent bookstore in Brooklyn and is assistant web editor at Poets & Writers.