an excerpt from the novel Goners

We are up the street again, in front of the once empty house, waiting to see this ghost of a girl shine from its windows. It has been days since we last saw her burning, filling our hearts with ghostly bright. It has been days since we trailed a mummified cat through the bushes, collecting scraps of its shroud, attempting to unravel the mystery of its clunky limbs, the rain and sky visible between its head and neck. It has been days since the cat eluded us and we returned to that once empty house to find it bursting with light, as if the whole world was within its walls, beneath its seams, blinding us. It has been days since we felt that kind of warmth radiating.

We are standing astride our bicycles, the rain misting our faces but not yet soaking into our clothes, darkening the streets but not puddling. This morning, like so many others before it, the house is shy. There is no light. The curtains hang motionless. The lawn is wet and unkempt. We've stood here so many days now since the last glowing, since her features through the drapery, since we lost the cat in the shrubbery and returned to find her radiant explosion. We've stood here so many days now and all we've found is the call of early morning birds, the occasional slow of cars down damp streets, the wind through boughs or across eves, widow walks where abandoned women try to drown themselves. We want to see her body in the window. We want to feel that beaming light. We want the burden of falling in love. We wait. The mist turns to rain. The rain swells. Wind rushes over our arms. The rain goes sideways and we're drenched and the house still hasn't opened its eyes, hasn't bled any bright, hasn't exposed any of its ghosts. We kick off on our bicycles, the arcade not willing to wait any longer. If she isn't going to be an apparition for us this morning, then we need the temporary suture of the arcade more than ever.

The machines chime behind the sullied windows. We lean our bicycles against the building. The bell croons as we enter. We smudge free a circle in the grimy windows and set our lunch sacks on the sill. We listen to the rain on the roof. We put coin after coin into the machines, awakening each. We nuzzle against their electric balm. We shift joysticks, punch buttons. We pat each other's shoulders through the cold of our shirts. The arcade stints our hearts. We pretend living. We pretend boys being boys instead of pirates with no ship to apprentice, no captain to stake our claim. We play until our lunches are gone and our pockets emptied, our marbles returned to their leathern pouch, the sun faded outside and the sky darkening into dusk.

We slow our bicycles near her house again on the way home, the rain wetting our shirts again and the silhouette of a seagull or a bat showing on the clouds. We don't want to stop or stand still outside of that once empty house, but we ride slow enough to get a good look into each window, looking for her figure luminescing there. She isn't there. The dusk rushes forward, the sky blackens, and we ride home to Our Mother. If she hasn't gone ghostly yet, our supper will be waiting and rain will fall on the roof. We hang our jackets on the hooks near the door. We take off our shoes. We sit at the table spooning, not thinking of Our Father whose ship isn't back in the bay or of the rain accumulating into rivers, not thinking of Our Mother's translucent skin or the whir of her sewing machine. Tonight, we think only of the once empty house up the street, and how we're sure there is a ghost of a girl there livid with light, one we believe we could coax into our arms if we only knew her name. We finish supper with those thoughts heavy in our heads, the thoughts so dense we can't stop the words from our mouths: Do you know about the girl up the street, in that once empty house? Our Mother's eyes sparkle. We blush. Like all mothers, she knows how to cave a boy's heart. Rain falls.