I push in 4 quarters and a picture of Lindsey. The machine is like a vending machine that drops cola and stale chips, or one of those picture cubicles that spits out a rectangle of photos.
I understand why Orpheus looked back in the Underworld.
“Please, stop doing this. It doesn’t help, you come back sadder and worse than before.” My roommate begs me before and after, every time I go. “They’re just a cheap imitation, it’s not her!”
Cheap imitations aren’t always bad. The rip-off candy bars from the rundown university store are my favorite things. You know, Smirks instead of Snickers, that sort of thing. Lindsey scratches at the bridge of her nose, and smiles. She pulls the plaid shirt’s sleeve over her hand and then tucks it under her thigh.
“Hi.” I want to reach out and cradle her face, or something like that.
Lindsey looks over her shoulder and starts laughing. At what? The machine makes them look so human and she has the same smile she did in her photo, her front teeth too big and crooked. The machines are advertised as a way to say your final goodbye. One time and then done. But everytime I come there’s the woman with a glass bead necklace and squinting eyes, as well as another teenager always wearing some type of overalls.
Lindsey always wore plaid, like she is now, like she was in the photo.
“Do you… remember when you slept in my room and stole my blanket?” Talking with fake ghosts is not as satisfying as it’s made out to be. Lindsey’s adjusting the cut off edge of her shorts now, tugging them down her thighs.
“I miss you, and so does Mom. We miss popcorn too.” Lindsey ate popcorn by the handfuls, always having a metal bowl of the microwaved, fake butter smothered popcorn at her hip.
I wish I had more things to say to her. I wish I hadn’t been so goddamn selfish. The 5 minute warning comes from a speakerphone in the corner. More than 10 minutes with a fake ghost, you might go crazy. I might go crazy. I grab her hand like I always do. When did we hold hands when she was living? Did I ever grab her hand from the popcorn bowl? From her book, or her phone? Take her hand out of Jacob’s and place it in mine? No, I don’t think so.
Lindsey gives me the programmed exasperated look like she always does. Like the image always does. Does the program give all 13 year old girls this look? Is it universal, across all middle school girls? Or can it sense all the times she ever made this look, behind Mom’s back, when I was hogging the bathroom, with a phone pressed to her ear? I hunch over like a rejected lover.
“Look, this has to be my last time, ok?” She’s nodding but looking off my shoulder.
“I can’t keep saying goodbye. I love you to the moon and back and I never told you that because you were alive and so was I, I thought we’d become close when we were older, like everybody says, remember?”
1 minute left, announces a voice smooth as a spider’s web.
“Please, please, I’m so sorry, I wish we were like the movies, I wish I.. I...I’m so sorry, ok? I’m so sorry. Remember Little Women? And I was Amy and you were Meg? Remember when you said I should be a nurse? I’m in the nursing program now ok? I’m so sorry, I’m-”