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Excused: A Hymn of love to a half-ghost in a half-ghost town by Tara Williams

Between what we once knew and what we can’t recall is a town the size of Indiana. Your laughter, two octaves lower than what it should sound like, rings church bells there, and I am rewinding Ben-Hur again because it is all that I am allowed to watch; Ben-Hur’s face fades into itself, into pixilation, the way television programs blur the faces of people who refuse to sign releases. I am six. The word sexy escapes my mouth as I eye his frame driving that chariot. Soap washes my mouth clean before dinner. After the meal, after every meal at my best friend’s house, to be excused, I must finish a glass of whole milk and then say may I be excused. I don’t leave the table because my tongue is a pocket-sized Bible, and I cannot find a verse that fills my silence. So I sit there, staring mutely out the window, watching my family being baptized in the river. Their heads look like old leather basketballs, and their bodies, submerged under water, are fading from flesh to phantom.
     Every past moment, you see, contains in it an eternity of confusion, of lost, disappearing, or misplaced details. And each detail is a ticking time bomb situation, the kind that heroes must be called in to save. My favorite eternity smells like mandevilla, the vague trace of it still alive on a voice I once loved. The path out of this memory is a path back in, and it leads to dried-up sea in the town the size of Indiana. Though my mouth is a spade, it cannot unearth the true pitch of your laughter from that bed of limestone. But the church bells keep ringing.
     Which version of a memory to hold, to keep, to believe, to tell, I never know: paralysis accompanies choice. Like hands pounding a skinless drum, the sound of Internet disconnecting is how I think of you now. You have left, taken your silent drum beats and your worn hands and pain and your memories of my silent drum beats and my worn hands and pain with you and your phantom heart to the town the size of Indiana. I am no hero, but I am well versed in begging the mayor of the town for maps to phantoms. Your heart is marked with an X inside my childhood voice, the one that finally asks to be excused.

Tara Williams has an MFA in nonfiction from George Mason University, and her work has appeared in Quarterly West and Seeding the Snow. She lives in George, South Africa.