I Am Not a Woman I’m a God



There was a mirror in the main hallway, the glass buckled and smudged with time. A piece of magic, because when we looked in it, when we noticed it every so often, going about our days of not noticing the things that formed our background, the mirror showed us very old people.

Look at that old person, we’d think. Look at that group of old codgers and curmudgeons. Those old cunts. Where did they come from? How’d they get in here?

And then the magic would turn dark, as it always did in the best stories, the ones that meant something. Because, oh dear, oh fuck, those old people. They were us.

▴ ▴ ▴

There was home, and there was the world outside, and why would you need to go outside? Nothing much good out there. Nothing but technology we didn’t understand, people we didn’t know, weather we didn’t recognize. We didn’t speak the language, not anymore.

But inside, in our building with six units, we knew everything. We knew each other, knew our stories, our needs, our sorrows. We were family, the truest kind, connected not by fickle and bruised blood but by time.

We could thrive inside, in our home. Even in our last years.

▴ ▴ ▴

There’s alone, I would often say when I was younger, and there’s lonely. Two very different things.

▴ ▴ ▴

Those who saw the house from the outside, people of the city spotting it as they walked or pedaled or motored or flew past, those people often didn’t believe their sight.

Because they would see a three­­–story condo building. They wouldn’t call it “condos” in their heads as language had moved on, real estate had shifted. Space so small and population so large, in this city and all cities. They would see this building and understand each floor housed two units; they would see big trees surrounding the blue building, and balconies with more greenery; they would see feral cats and squirrels and birds guarding the perimeter. Like something from barely remembered fables, or fantasy simulations.

They would see it all though, the people, the young people trying to live in this old, new world, this broken, hot place left to them by other people long dead. They’d see that impossible house and they’d wonder.

▴ ▴ ▴

And inside, we lived. For awhile, anyway. But that was all part of the deal, the dream.

In our thirties, and forties, and fifties, at hotel happy hours and house parties and sidewalk patios and weddings, at brunches and dinners, at weekend trips and winter cabins, we joked while not joking. Other friends, other family, they married and had children, let their other connections lapse, let their bloodline dictate their future. We, with troublesome families of birth, with no desire to have children, we clung tight to one another. And we promised.

The Castle, we said, laughing with needy eyes. All of us, far in the future, when old and wizened, wrinkly and dry, we’d come together. With a home we’d share.

With hot attendants, we’d joke. Shirtless chefs. Muscled cleaners. Busty nurses. Eye candy for all of us queer weirdos, even if our dicks and cunts were too old to respond anymore. Even if the hot young things were there to wipe our asses, do the things our bodies could no longer do.

With all our money, we’d say, getting more serious as we got older. Pooled funds that wouldn’t pass on to any kids. We could live well.

One place. Group protection. That’s what our future would hold.

▴ ▴ ▴

We lived our lives, and would occasionally notice age spots on our hands, slack skin under our jaws, puckering around our lips. Hair disappearing or fully losing color. Knees that ached in thunderstorms. Ears that didn’t register sound, eyes that didn’t see things meant to be seen.

We lived, and worked, because that’s what you do, and even as the world got weirder, climate stranger, youths smarter and dumber, we had our routines.

And then the time came, when work would no longer be our routine, when our homes no longer worked for our bodies. When we were ignored, overlooked. Invisible under old skin.

Time to decide.

▴ ▴ ▴

We didn’t do it fast enough. The first deaths took us by surprise. And a few others moved away, called to the corporate homes, filled with technology and the promise of vitality.

The diehards, the leftovers, we stayed. Seven of us. And we did it. We spent our final years together.

We just never thought too much about what would happen next.

▴ ▴ ▴

Because when you’re the last one, the last old one, the only one left in your dream communal home, the one who somehow lives longer than everyone, the one who watches them all die. What then?

I became the witch from the fairy tales. Impossibly old, haunting a big home filled with ghosts. Looking out on a modern world with my medieval memories. Deciding if I would use my witchery for good or bad, wondering if the distinction ever existed.

▴ ▴ ▴



On that morning, I was stiff, as I always am. Things popping and creaking as I headed downstairs to the kitchen. The body gets tired of the soul after so many years, starts slowly shutting down, hardening and breaking. By eighty-three, my body seemed surprised and frustrated each time I woke.

Leaving my rooms, I passed Keira’s, where her body still lay. I’d held her hand yesterday, long after she gently died, joining all the others. I would call Vic later, ask him to bring the shroud and shovel. We’d long agreed, all of us, that it made no sense to follow the rituals, pay the money, enter a church. We’d make our own burial ground, outside our Castle, in the back. We’d decided this when we all breathed and laughed, and it was a comfort and a horror that they were all back there now.

Keira’s doors were open. I left her door open. All the doors, to all the rooms, were open now. I had full reign of our Castle, could snoop anywhere I liked, dig in any drawers. I’d only find what I already knew was there: favorite vibrators and dildos we showed off proudly, old notes airing long-revealed drama, the odd horse-head mask and creepy crazy-eyed painting from an estate sale that we’d pass around at birthdays. But I did like to sleep in their beds. Stay in Eliot and Ben’s California king with built-in bookshelves, or Patti and Joan’s sleigh bed, or Marcus’s queen with the best pillows. Now I could add Keira’s thin mattress that reminded me of old futons, that terrible turn-of-the-century beast that thankfully died.

I took the elevator one floor down, to the Great Hall. And at the kitchen table, in the end chair, sat Keira.

“Huh,” she said.

I stood still, shocked but not surprised. She was the same woman I left dead in the other room, but had the color of health again. Instead of gray ash, her Black skin shone. Instead of meager tufts of hair, her thick crown was back. Instead of sticks of bone, her body had meat and heft. She looked twenty years younger, like blood still pumped thickly, wetly through her veins.

“Shannon,” she said. “I died?”

“You did,” I said. I cleared my throat and said it again, louder, reminding both of us.

“Do I get to stay here?”

I moved, walking stiffly to her chair. I touched her shoulder. There was substance, a physical thing with give, like the waterbed I had as a kid. But something was indeed there.

“I think I felt that,” she said as I eased down next to her.

“Me too.” I reached out, felt the coarse edges of her hair on my fingertips. She gave me that look, the one that told me I was the clueless white woman touching a Black woman’s hair without permission. We both smiled as I pulled away, laughed.

“Well shit,” she said. “This isn’t what we expected.”

▴ ▴ ▴

Months ago, Keira and I sat in the Great Hall. Six units in our building, and five occupied; we turned the last one into a giant open space, for eating, for drinking, for talking. We called our building the Castle, our rooms the Keep. Here was the Great Hall. As the years accumulated, we spent most of our time there, feeling the crush of momentum, the clock spinning faster, our bodies nearing expiration.

Keira and I, the last two. We’d just buried Joan, next to Patti, and in line with the others. The Hall echoed with the voices of those gone.

We talked over weak vodka tonics, grief tightening our throats.

I think it’s just sleep, Keira said.


Mm-hmm. She had a distance in her eyes, her vision on something far out of our Castle bounds.

What did Joan call it? “The deep”?

Capital letters, she said. The Deep. Like the sleeping curse in fairy tales.

Right, I said. I heard Joan’s voice, the way her laughter rolled around the room, caught us all in its wake. She was our mom, the one we’d all hoped for and never had, the one with loving arms and neverending baked goods, the one that loved cute knitted hats and cozy dogs on blankets just as much as a gory cult documentary and MLM leaders with big hair. Even when her cancer ate away some of her softness, her joy, she could still laugh with us, make us laugh, make us love.

I pictured her, on a baroque fainting couch, arms crossed, eyes gently closed. Cursed to sleep until her prince came. Except, no, she wouldn’t be cursed. It would be a choice. Joan would choose to sleep until Patti came, wake her with a kiss and a shove, and run off together into whatever the other side offered.

I don’t think it’s like the curse, Keira said. She sucked at her straw, her hands trembling lightly. Just a really restful, black sleep.

I nodded. We had all been raised with a Midwestern God and Jesus, with heaven and hell. But around the time we went to state college in the nineties, had our first sex, named ourselves for who we were, we left that behind. Our families of blood would remind us, threaten us, with what came after life. But we wanted to have one, to live more than they ever had.

You know what I want it to be?

Hmm, Keira said.

Like a library, I said. I want to die and be able to jump into different stories. Live other lives, watch other times.

Do you get to choose the book?

You get to choose all the books, I said. So, you know, you can skip the dystopias if you want and go straight to Charlotte Brontë.

And do you watch, or participate?

Both. Or whichever feels better.

I like that, Keira said. She leaned back into the thick rocker. It creaked as she rocked, loud in the room’s silence, the Castle’s echo.

I like that too.

But I think I prefer the sleep, she said.

▴ ▴ ▴

Keira, dead, seated next to me, talking to me. “Are the others here too?”

“I haven’t seen them.” I glanced out into the hall. Would I find them all in their rooms? Waiting like her?

“When did I die?”

“You don’t remember?”

She took a breath, or the illusion of one. “I remember being in my rooms, and you were sitting with me, and I had a sense of something moving, or not moving…like my body was turning off.”

“That was just last night, just a few hours ago.”

“It feels like,” she said, and stopped, forehead creased. “Actually, I don’t know what it feels like.”

I couldn’t help—I had slept the hours away. My sense of time lost, sped up, gone in an instant. Like the test state for death, perhaps.

“I don’t know what a minute feels like, or a year,” she said. “Did I ever?”

I put my hand on hers, felt the soft give. A foam mattress, kinetic sand. “Maybe it doesn’t matter.”

She touched her own arms, her legs. “Maybe it never did.”

▴ ▴ ▴

In the Great Hall, after Ben died. Keira, Joan, and myself, in a loose circle. The three of us, drinking a toast to the last man in our world.

What time is it, one of us asked, a robotic deadness to her voice.

The question an automatic jolt to my system, a quick hit of anxious energy. Was I late? Was I missing something? Had time run out for this wake? For the three of us? For the Castle?

Keira and Joan, glancing at the clock on the wall, the antiquated tool that still dictated what happened next.

We should eat, one of them said.

I’m not hungry, said the other.

Me, lost in the idea of timelessness. Is that what death was? Did Ben care about time now? Did he register it? I hoped that it held no sway over anything that remained of Ben, beautiful Ben, always pushing us to do new things, to fill the time we had left with experience, to explore all that the world held. No matter that the world outside the Castle was a threat, had long been one. In his old age, he had the most gentle of dementia, returning him to the days before, when he would offer up concerts and plays and art, pack his days with activities, when weather and people still allowed for that. I hoped that in death, he could see everything, be a part of everything. I hoped he would find Eliot. I hoped his molecules spread throughout what remained of nature, touched what remained of artists. I hoped I was breathing him in now. The others too.

My friends, my last friends, stared at the floor near their socked feet. I glanced out the floor-to-ceiling windows, my eyes seeking the small cemetery we’d been building. The Castle Kirk.

We could play a game, Joan said, the makings of a smile.

Don’t you fucking dare, I said, and they laughed. We finally got rid of that bastard pushing card games on us, I said, and now this?

The same joke we’d been telling for decades: Ben’s eagerness and playfulness, my curmudgeonly recalcitrance. The opposites we were, the joy of the mismatch. We laughed, and the laughs took over.

▴ ▴ ▴

Keira stood, walked around the kitchen on her dead feet.

“This isn’t bad,” she said. “Living here for eternity?”

“For sure,” I said. I felt the edges of excitement crowding my words, making them shake.

“I loved it here.”

“I do love it here.”

She nodded, watching her feet move. My forehead creased as I stared at her, trying to read the visual stimuli that she was, the code. I wanted this to be real. Needed her to be here.

“What?” she said.

“I didn’t want to be alone here,” I said. “When I knew your time was coming, I was so scared. I didn’t want to be the last one.”

“Alone,” she said.

“But I guess one of us had to be last. And I was the most used to being alone.”

“I remember…I felt alone before we moved here. I’d been left alone. Someone died, someone…”


“Oh,” she said with a gasp. “Stevie.”

The two of them, a unit as long as I’d known her. And then Stevie was taken from us, three decades ago, before the Castle. Keira had been alone since. A true alone, made by nature and the cruel god of colon cancer. Not like me, alone by the whims of the gods of avoidant attachment personality and poor role models and the autism spectrum.

“But if this is death,” Keira said. “If I get to still be…where is Stevie?”

▴ ▴ ▴

After Eliot died, we took turns holding Ben. In the Great Hall, my arm around him as he shuddered and melted. Joan, holding his hand. Keira, crushing him to her chest.

I thought of Eliot watching this scene. A part of him would feel everything, his heart so big and wide. But the other part of him, the part like me, would cover that heart with snark. He’d remind us of the time Ben accidentally started a drunken dance floor fight with a lesbian, how Ben was terrible at gifts, how getting in a car with him behind the wheel was a dance with death.

I stepped away from the trio, went to the restroom. Shaky arms held the sink, and I heaved. When I cried, a rare phenomenon, my body always sounded the alarm. I pictured a cockpit with alarm bells, gauges spinning and whirling. My stomach tried to vomit, and my bowels tried to empty, and toes lost all feeling, and my cries ended up a gagging, dripping mess. I could usually hold it all in. But Eliot…

I wanted him to haunt me. I wanted the aneurysm that killed him to give him back, give him more time. I wanted to hear his cutting wit in my head, our wicked cackles joining over cocktails and gossip. I wanted to relive our superhero movie outings, with him complaining about a lack of shirtlessness. I wanted to hear his caricature of a southern Iowa accent. I wanted to see him drunk on Kim Crawford, taking his own shirt off, then passing out in a recliner, legs crossed like a lady.

But in death, I suspected his heart would lead him, make him take up residence in Ben’s heart. No need for jokes as defense mechanism, not when all defenses were obliterated.

Maybe love would win out after life, be pure and free of all the things we did to protect ourselves from it.

▴ ▴ ▴

“Stevie,” said Keira, leaning against the wall of her bedroom.

“Maybe they’re here,” I said. “You’re the first I’ve seen—maybe everyone is here. Maybe it’s just going in reverse, and Joan will pop up next, then Ben, then Eliot…”

“Yeah,” she said. She sounded so real, words floating on breath the way they do when our bodies breathe and talk at once. I wanted her to be real. But I also knew that I wanted this so badly, this state of not being alone, that I might be making this. This conversation, this vision, even the feelings of my fingers; my brain could be manufacturing it all. When my friends were living, I used jokes and jazz hands to deflect from emotion and attention and anything too real; now my brain had to create something new, big, remarkable to deflect and distract from the well of fear and grief climbing up my throat. Keira, this image of Keira, could be my new shield from wandering the Castle alone.

And that could all be true, and I didn’t care.

“Tell me,” I said. “Tell me what this feels like.”

“Like a shift,” she said after a moment. “A tiny slip. Like there’s gaps in the air. Little holes everywhere that we never see.”

I thought of the night sky, how it used to be black with tiny holes punched in the surface, letting in the long-dead light from other worlds. Gateways to other realities.

“That’s a good way to frame it,” she said.

It took us a moment.

“Wait,” I said as she turned to me, eyes wide. “You heard what I was thinking?”

“Oh fuck,” she said.

▴ ▴ ▴

We were still trying to make the wakes fun when Patti died. Five of us left, all gripping our glasses in the Great Hall, music playing, soft hugs instead of death grips.

Remember when, one of us would say, and the story was always a bit muddled, a bit fudged, key details missing and others stretched.

Joan sat in one of the armchairs, smiling and laughing with us, lapsing into quiet every so often. I told her we could swap rooms if she wanted, if she needed to be away from the home suffused with Patti. She declined, intent on curling up with their dogs and easing their grief. The animals had always loved Patti with a fervor, drawn to her quiet, her steadiness, her shy love. Joan was the boisterous one, fighting back the silence with stories and one-liners, offering love and friendship to all; Patti the brilliant prize found behind the curtain.

I took breaks from the wake, standing before the window facing the back. The Woods, we called it, the small piece of backyard with centuries-old trees, branches bent with the day’s wind advisory. The shed-sized greenhouses Patti had built to house June’s plants and garden. The covered patio Patti modified to allow us access on even the hottest days. I knew we’d let it fall into disuse after this, the weather too brutal to bother. I knew we’d probably let some of our units fall into disrepair, Patti not around to help. Our power-tool lesbian, happy to fit the stereotype for the good of the Castle.

Before she got sick, before the pneumonia that finally took her, I’d asked her to teach me things, show me how to be handy. I always hit my thumb with the hammer, or doused myself with the power washer, or messed up the clean lines of paint on trim. Probably because you’re bi, Patti’d say. That tiny bit of hetero dilutes my power, I’d agree.

Turning back to the room, I caught Joan’s eye and she read my thoughts. She smiled sadly.

▴ ▴ ▴

“Okay,” I said, rising from the table, touching the pad under my ear.

“Shannon, don’t leave,” Keira said.

The phone menu cycled in my ears and eyes, and I silently dictated a text to Vic. Keira’s gone. Please come.


“This isn’t real,” I said. “And I was okay with that for a second, but no. No. I want the real one. All of you. I don’t want imaginary you.”

“What’s Vic going to do?”

“He’s going to confirm that you’re either here or you’re not. And bury you out back.”

“Come on,” she said. “You’re not imagining this. You don’t believe in life after death, not really.”

I thought of the last months, as Keira’s heart slowed and stalled, and I realized what would happen next. My adage, the one I routinely pulled out to my family of birth, to nosy assholes, to well-meaning friends: there’s a difference between alone and lonely. I spent years single, living alone, mostly by choice. Believing that idea, knowing I felt most safe alone. But when I knew I would be the last one, the last old one in our Castle, the last to hold our memories, our stories, our filthy jokes, our instructions, our love…was it true? Did a line exist between the fact of existing alone and feeling the empty hollow of lonely?

And my choices. All of our choices, to not have children, to live fully without the burden of parenting, to defy our culture’s mandate to breed. We were all of us secure in that choice. We were happy to point to our Castle when people asked who would take care of us when we reached old age.

We forgot that we would not all die together, that there would be an order. And someone would be last.

It was entirely likely that as Keira died, my mind broke. That it wasn’t equipped to be the last. That it brought me imaginary vision as a comfort, a shield against the emptiness.

“I don’t believe in any of this,” I said.

“You felt me,” Keira said, her hand on mine. “I’m here.”

“Feeling isn’t always reality either.”

▴ ▴ ▴

The first wake. A shock, and a party like we hadn’t thrown in years. Marcus had made us promise, with his eerie knowledge of how this would play out.

We were drunk by mid-morning, just thirty minutes after watching Vic bury his first body. Another mean day, the humidity stopping up our sweat glands, making our water reserves and blood cells boil.

We stood around our Great Hall, stiff gin and tonics in hand, and shared stories of our most drunken times. The top, always and forever, Marcus’s fortieth birthday, when we rented a party bus and quickly lost our minds. Stripper poles and crying in bathrooms and blasting Belinda Carlisle through the open bus door, barfing and falling and cackling on the dance floor.

We felt Marcus with us still. We wanted to feel him with us. Just as we wanted to feel his husband, Peter, and Keira’s partner, Stevie, and all our friends who died before we made our Castle a reality. We wanted it, so we felt it. Was it real? Was Marcus there, drunk with us, laughing along with our filthiest stories about strange cock and cunt, sending us pics of dicks he’d received from apps, remembering our slut days with halcyon light, recalling the drunk bus, and back, farther back, looking at me and remembering our college days, the first days where we chose a family?

Maybe the others didn’t wonder such things. I did.

▴ ▴ ▴

I sat with ghost Keira until I heard the main entrance unlock, and Vic’s steps in the hall. I called to him to join me. I watched as he rounded the corner, walked into the kitchen. I watched his eyes, and they didn’t grasp onto anything except me.

Keira squeezed my hand.

“Hey, Auntie Shannon,” Vic said, his voice thick. Biologically, he was Marcus’s nephew; really, he was the group’s nephew. Some of us, including me, we had nieces and nephews from blood relatives, but they lived elsewhere, or loved elsewhere. They hadn’t grown up in our midst, surrounded by all us queer aunts and uncles, considering us all family. Vic’s mother, Marcus’s sister, had made sure he would.

“Hi, love,” I said. I cocked my head, then my thumb, pointing at the woman who sat next to me. He just shook his head.

“I’m so sorry.” He was in his forties, the same age we were when he was born. Thinning hair on top, bristly beard, and hairy limbs. Despite our best efforts, he’d married straight, and he and Bess had two young boys. The bravery of it, declaring and committing love, generating new humans from that love, in our hot, ugly world.

“Me too.”

“Where is she?”

I widened my eyes, tried again to point to the being sitting next to me, to get his eyes to catch on her shape, her solidity. The Keira-sized being with a shoulder touching mine.


I sighed. “In her bed.”

“Okay.” He pulled me up gently, folded me into a hug. He had a large chest, one I could lean on and not feel a burden, a weight. “I’ll take care of her,” he said to the top of my head.

“Thank you,” I said. I felt Keira join our hug from behind me.

“Do you want…” The question he’d begun to pose as our herd thinned. Do you want to invite other people? To the wake, to the Castle, to our lives? Always, it was just us.

“Just the burial. That’s all.”

“I can stay over tonight if you like, Auntie.” The last word showing his worry, his care, his unstated fear of what would happen to me alone.

“You know I’ll be fine,” I said, pulling away.

He kissed me on the cheek, then slipped out, down the hall to my dead friend.

“It doesn’t mean I’m not real,” Keira said. “Just because he didn’t see me.”

“I think it might.”

▴ ▴ ▴

In the Hall, all seven of us. Still a few years out from the wakes. Seated around Vic.

Technically, it’s not legal, he said, his big hands splayed.

We looked to Marcus, who shrugged. That’s true, he said. But we’re beyond that now.

Uncle Marcus, I can do this, Vic said. I can help bury you out back. All of you. But wouldn’t you rather have a service? Be buried next to Peter?

Marcus put his hand on his nephew’s. I loved Peter’s body when he was in it, he said. But he’s gone, so it doesn’t matter where his bones are.

Okay, Vic said, rubbing his eyes. But you really want to do a joint will? All seven of you?

We all agreed, Marcus said, skimming his eyes over the full couches and chairs. Patti and Joan, Ben and Eliot, Keira, me.

Okay, Vic said.

Any remaining money, it goes to you, Marcus said. To keep this place, keep it for you and your future after we’re gone.

You have other family, Vic said, looking around the seats at all of us. Are you sure?

I thought of my brother, surrounded every holiday by his three kids and eight grandkids. I was always the weird aunt, the aloof one, the lady who lived alone, the pitied one. They never saw how blood family can fail you, how the wounds of poorly equipped parents can sting, long into life. A gift for them, and a lack of vision.

All of us in the Hall, my chosen family, we all nodded.

Vic readied his tab for each of our signatures. He passed it first to Marcus. As we took turns, he caught my eye.

Auntie Shannon, he said, draping an arm around my shoulders.

This is important, I said, what you’re doing. Thank you.

Of course. You know, he said after a moment, I wasn’t sure about this place when Uncle Marcus first showed me.


Yeah. Felt like it could be full of ghosts.

My laugh had turned reedy, strung out, but I gave it to him anyway.

Seriously, he said. These old buildings. They used to house so many people, and who knows what terrible things happened here, and— He stopped himself.

Look at you, I said. Believing in that old-timer stuff.

I’m sorry, that was rude. This is your home, and I’m shitting on it.

Not at all. But if you go that route, use that logic, every place has ghosts.

Maybe they do, he said.

Wouldn’t be too bad, I said. Getting to haunt people, get the last word.

Right? He laughed. And who knows, maybe there are other surprises in store too.

These old cunts always called me a witch, I said, pointing to my friends. Wouldn’t that be the shit if it turned out true as I get nearer death?

We called you lesbian-ish and witchy, said Marcus, joining in. So maybe at the end you go full lez and full witch?

Now that would be something, I said.

▴ ▴ ▴

I heard Vic down the hall, picking up the bones and flesh that used to be Keira. Next to me, Keira’s ghost, or essence, or soul; my imaginary friend.

“I feel real,” she said. “If I was your imagination, would I feel real?”

“I don’t know,” I said, suddenly deeply tired.

“You didn’t want to be alone, Shannon. And now you aren’t. Isn’t that a blessing?”

“Didn’t we outlaw that fucking word?”

“Well, if you made me up, that came from your fucked-up brain.”

I smiled.

▴ ▴ ▴

The first day. Move-in day. We let the young men grunt and sweat as they brought our things inside the building; the seven of us sat in the Great Hall, sipping rosé. Our eyes roamed over each other, over the room, up to the ceiling and down to the floor. Bright with fire that we’d worried might be quenched. We trembled with excitement rather than our years.

We fucking did it, one of us said, and the rest erupted into cheers.

I looked around the room, at my friends. Marcus, Patti, Eliot, Ben, Joan, and Keira. My family. How lonely I’d been. How I’d lied: alone and lonely didn’t always differ. I was seventy-one, and I felt home for the first time, at home, in home.

Outside the windows, black rain swirled. Outside the boundaries of our land, machinery hummed, and invisible wires watched and listened, and the weight of living in the dying world hurt. Here, though. We didn’t have to leave. Drones would deliver everything physical we would need. Everything else, the attention and company, the memories of our lives, the joy, we could provide.

In the Hall, Eliot put on some music, Mariah and Salt-N-Pepa and En Vogue. I made them listen to a few punk songs, as I always did. Marcus added some Reba McEntire, Patti some Tina Turner. Joan brought out cookies, and Eliot hung a framed picture of Superman, and Ben artfully posed some books on the Hall’s shelves, and Patti organized a cupboard, and Keira knitted, and Marcus brought out another bottle, and we talked about a routine, a regular communal cocktail hour, followed by dinner, trading off among those of us who liked to cook, and a Friday movie night, and a Wednesday show-and-tell night, and I smiled and smiled and smiled.

The young men came in, told us they were done, and we gazed on them with exaggerated lust. Marcus and Ben and Eliot turned on their nineties homo voice, telling the men at the start of their lives to flex, honey, to take off their shirts, to smile, and the men, they laughed at these harmless old codgers, these ridiculously old leches, these silly sexless sluts waggling their tongues.

They left, and we laughed and laughed, told each other what we’d do to those men if only we could get our dicks up, our pussies wet, our backs straight, stretching out our real and imagined ailments getting in the way of our hedonism.

And we drank, and leaned on each other, and that was the start.

▴ ▴ ▴

I joined Vic outside as he finished the burial. Keira’s body the sixth in a line behind the garden greenhouse. No headstones—not worth the money, we decided. We would just join the earth again, and mingle together in the dirt, and that was that.

My mask itched, my rubber glasses pinched, the hooded coverall too snug in my crotch. But I’d wanted to come out, feel the reality of the world that was waiting for Keira and for me.

Through his own mask, Vic mumbled some words. I couldn’t hear and didn’t care. To my right, Keira whispered in my ear.

“I wish we’d chosen cremation. This is so sad out here now.”

“And a row of urns wouldn’t be?”

“We could have burned each of us, then mingled our ashes together somewhere,” Keira said. “You wouldn’t have to look out the window and see all of us here.”

“Apparently, I’m going to anyway,” I said.

“What’d you say, Aunt Shannon?”

“Nothing, hon.”

“Ready to go back in?”

“You go on, Vic. I’ll be in a minute.”

He squeezed my hand, patted down the dirt once more, and slipped away.

I stood at the end of Keira’s grave, and she stood next to me.

“Remember all the times you showed your tits?” I said.

The ghost laughed. “I stand by it.”

“Remember when you passed out in my bathtub on my forty-second birthday?”

“It was actually the floor. Marcus got the tub.”

“Remember when I had to help you pee at your wedding?”

“You got to see the glory of my snatch.”


“I remember it all,” Keira said. “Because you do.”

The wind picked up, pushed at me.

“You should get back in,” she said.

“I’m the only one,” I whispered.

“But you’re not alone,” Keira said, her bare hand on my plastic shoulder.

“I’m the last one that remembers our stories,” I said. “All the things we did, the jokes we told. I’m holding them all now.”

Silence. Only the wind’s hot howl.

“Are they heavy?”

I felt only the push of nature, the slight pressure of her hand, the tears pricking at my eyes, followed by the nausea and gut roil. “No,” I said.

“Good,” she said. “Keep them, hold on to them, as long as you can.”

“I feel like I’m the queen of the Castle,” I said, “but also the invading army. The knights, and the attacking dragon.”


“My body holds it all,” I said. “The entire kingdom and the means to destroy it.”

“Easy with the poetics, you show-off.”

“What I mean—I’m holding all of us in my body. But my body is breaking down, and will die. And it won’t just be me dying. It will be all of us.”

“We’re already dead,” she said.

▴ ▴ ▴

With the realtor guiding us through our pads, her android voice in our ears, and amenities scrolling over our eyes, we all walked through the building as a group, then broke off into pairs and individuals to suss out our curiosities. Keira and I wandered into the unit that would become the Great Hall. I ran my fingers over the shelves, the walls, the fixtures.

This could actually work, Keira said.

I’m so sorry we didn’t do this sooner, I said. Before Stevie got sick.

I know. She twisted her wedding ring. But I think they was happy to stay in our home. To die there.

Are you sure you want to do this? Leave your house?

Without them there, she said, it’s a haunted house. This will be so much better.

Good, I said. I don’t want to do this without you.

It would suck without me, she said.

It really would.

You’d be so bored.

So fucking bored.

And get so tired of talking about dicks and buttholes with the guys.

Let’s not talk crazy.

She slung her arm around my shoulders, her arm as weightless as a bird. We’re going to have to help each other pee at some point, you know.

We’ve done it before.

There’s no one else I want to wipe my ass for me, my dear.

I know exactly what you mean, I said.

▴ ▴ ▴

Back in the Castle, I finally convinced Vic I was fine, that he could leave, that being the lone inhabitant would not turn me crazy so quickly as one night. He acquiesced with a hug and kiss on the cheek, as Keira the ghost watched.

“We’ll talk more about what’s next soon, Auntie Shannon.”

I nodded as he waved and walked out of the main entry.

“Maybe he’s right,” Keira said. “Maybe it’s not good for you to be here alone.”

“I’m already talking to dead people,” I said. “How much worse could it be?”

“Good lord, have you learned nothing from horror movies? Way to tempt fate.”

I called the elevator, and we rode up to the third floor. I thought about the gears sticking, the elevator stalling, locking in place. Who would come to get me? I thought about the hallways, the floors in the units, the stairs, my feet slipping, ankle twisting, hip cracking on a fall. Who would hear me yell? Choking on popcorn or chips, expiring without notice.

“It’s a valid concern,” Keira said.

“Where else am I going to go? There’s nowhere else.”

“Vic could help you find a place. Maybe even have you stay with him.”

“Jesus, no way,” I said. “What an asshole I’d be.”

The elevator doors opened, and we entered the hall between our two units.

“What happens now?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

“I mean, do you sleep? Or are you just going to watch me all night?”

“Being dead doesn’t make me a perv. Or into you.”

“Easy,” I said, smiling.

“I think while you sleep, I’m going to explore,” she said. “See if I can find the others. And Stevie.”

“Do you want help? I can stay up for a bit.”

“You’re dead on your feet, Shannon.”

“But I’m still alive.”

“Go to bed. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“What if…” I said. I pictured it, the next morning, waking in my bed, whipping open my door, looking for Keira, for any of them. And only seeing emptiness.

“It won’t be like that,” she said. “Promise.”

I decided to believe her. I hugged her, felt her body like a squeeze toy, kissed her on the cheek.

And then I went to bed and hoped I’d wake.

Amy Lee Lillard is the author of Exile in Guyville, winner of the 2022 BOA Editions Short Fiction Prize; A Grotesque Animal from University of Iowa Press; and Dig Me Out from Atelier26 Books. Her fiction and nonfiction appear in Vox, LitHub, Barrelhouse, Foglifter, Epiphany, Off Assignment, Autostraddle, and more. She is the co-creator of Broads and Books Productions, home of the Fuzzy Memories podcast, the Wyrd Woman audio drama, and more coming soon.