REAL-TIME VIDEO OF DEAD PEOPLE YOU WANT TO HAVE COFFEE
WITH: A NOVELLA
(SERIALIZED AND BROKEN UP INTO SECTIONS FOR YOUR
READING PLEASURE, AS DENOTED BELOW)
Prologues and Stars:  
Ghostboy Dies in Tragic Mishap: 
TO BE CONTINUED IN DIAGRAM 5.1
Watching this, you have a good seat. Technically, I
am closer — just a wall away from what we've started calling the
ghost of William Stafford — but, as distance goes, geography is
What I can see, you can see.
Every time the outside camera switches
on, we — the three of us in the house, and you at home — see
the same thing. We see meteors. A dozen at a time. They flutter and spiral,
less like rocks than burning insects, a series of short-lived stars that
descend into the hills behind the house.
Something this beautiful should be
seen first hand. It should be fully experienced. We should be fending
off bugs, smelling cow shit, straining our necks — this should not
come without a cost.
But, tonight, we see the meteors on
a computer screen.
Light has been amplified, converted
into code, turned back into light.
Though we — Tito, Wellbutrin, and I — disagree
on the specific reasons for being in William Stafford's Kansas estate,
we agree about the basics. We buy houses that belonged to dead writers.
We set up cameras and broadcast video.
The three of us are off-camera in
a walk-in pantry. The space is small and hushed, surrounded by three tiers
of shelves and a history of emptiness. There is barely enough room for
us, the tech, and an emergency toilet Tito found on the internet.
Wellbutrin says it's been twenty years
since Stafford lived here. He wrote in the study upstairs. He made love
in the master bedroom. He kept canned peaches or tomatoes, where we are
hiding. He listened to the house at night, its structural complaints.
He must have heard its other noises too, cocking his head in the pink
light of a thunderstorm as the house resisted the wind.
When we bought it, we saw the property
records. Twenty years ago, when Stafford moved to California, he sold
the place to a family named Peterson. A few other families lived here
while Stafford was enjoying his best years as a poet, but the place was
empty by the time he died.
We do not use our real names. The others know I was
born Theresa but do not mention it. They know that I was Theresa years
ago, before my acting career, when my parents were alive. Though I am
not at peace with my new name, the others would never call me Theresa.
This is not our first famous house.
We have rules.
We stay off-camera so we won't alter
your experience of the estate. Any description — a single-story
three bedroom with good fixtures and bad plumbing —is interpretation,
even if it's true. Though the specifics of our reasons for doing this
differ, all three of us agree that we should let the houses speak for
themselves. This means not changing anything, not redecorating, not even
cleaning. Even if other people lived here in-between, the houses are fossils
and we leave them be.
The pantry is tiny. With every movement,
twenty years of dust moves with us. In the light of the computer, the
air is visible. With the smallest motion, I see millions of startled molecules.
Completely still for a fifth of a
century, this claustrophobic world will not stop moving: Tito has a knee
twitching, Wellbutrin chews his licorice, the dust swims like a tide.
It occurs to me that, contained in
the tiny box of our monitor, the outside world is exempt from the science
of cause and effect. I can see the falling stars, a hundred explosions
a minute, but nothing changes in here. In here, the outside is just information.
Though nothing is going on inside the house to rival
the meteor shower, the camera switches feeds to take a tour of Stafford's
empty rooms. When the outside comes back on, Wellbutrin sighs his appreciation.
Our monitor is the highest resolution Tito could get, but I still don't
like it. The video is jerky. The meteors bob as they fall, like clothes
pulled in on a windy line.
If I complain, Tito will swear the
tech is top shelf.
Best of the master's tools, he'll
I know that he has numbers and jargon,
but I don't trust computers. I don't think they are malicious or anything.
I just think they're holding something back, like a bad pinochle partner.
I trust a monitor less than a painted window.
If there were any other way to do
this, to you show you, I'd take it. As it is now, I chose to remain ignorant
of our tech. My ignorance turns the box into magic.
I've never been attracted to philosophy, but, during
our thirty-six hour broadcasts, abstraction is as natural as a travel
game in a cross-country station wagon.
In this half-lit space, there are
facts. I can touch my own face. Tito and Wellbutrin are bent together,
hard at work. I am behind them, with a hand on Tito's back, occasionally
leaning in to hear or see. When we speak it is in whispers, as if we were
just a few feet off stage, as if there were actors to throw off, or a
crowd to distract. As if we weren't a thousand miles away from you. As
if you were watching.
Right now everything — you,
the meteorological ghost of Stafford, China, sunlight — everything
outside this pantry exists in the same proximity to us, knowable only
through the mediums of the computer and faith.
It has only been twelve hours.
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