Jeremy’s hands dance, data flooding into his ears. “But you weren’t told by Ylwa’s group,” he says, “and you’ve never known any of the Ghost parents.”
Seeing Jeremy’s confusion, Virginia walks forward slowly, looking into Leslie’s eyes as she asks, “And when the proclamation came? When I shared the existence of Ghosts with the world?”
“I already knew,” says Leslie. The crowd and the Cloud erupt with questions. Virginia pulls Leslie, and Bethany with her, toward the wall, away from the seething mass. “What did you see?” asks Virginia, knowing the Cloud will have nothing to say.
“I met a Ghost,” says Leslie, her thoughts distracted by chatter. “I met a Ghost on the street. I…I helped him. It was only after that I realized what he was.”
“Leslie, when was this?”
“Eight years ago.”
If before was an eruption, what follows is an utter explosion. It seems like everyone, everywhere is screaming. Instantly, the full recordings of everything Leslie did during that period are being torn into, analyzed, recut and shared. And there it is. Leslie stopping on a deserted street, bending down and speaking to the air as if there was someone there.
Her fingers digging into Leslie’s shoulder, Bethany begins to cry softly, her eyes hidden from the noise. Leslie turns to the crowd and waves a hand commandingly, demanding silence. “I knew!” she proclaims. “I knew there were Ghosts, but I didn’t tell.”
“Why?” demands humanity.
“Because I was scared!” Jeremy, embroiled in the chatter, is pulled back. Leslie continues. “I didn’t understand and I was afraid no one would believe. So, even though I knew there were people out there who weren’t recorded in the Cloud, I just moved on. I lived my life, I did my job, and I slept as soundly as anyone.”
“But why?” asks Jeremy, reaching out but staying in the crowd. “Why keep the secret for so long? You had no reason to care about the Ghosts. You could’ve told us any time.”
Leslie, unable to hold her eyes still, replies haltingly. “There was, I thought there was no place for unverifiable people. I thought there was no place, for someone who knew about them.”
Moving behind her, Virginia silently slips around Leslie and takes up Bethany’s other arm on her shoulder. Leslie looks over at her and Virginia just looks back. The load is heavy, but at least now it is shared. They both look back to the crowd and Virginia speaks. “There is nothing for us to be afraid of. We, as humans, can adapt, can survive. The Cloud does not define the world. Leslie knew that, knew that alone, but the truth didn’t drive her mad, rendering her incapable of going on. No truth ever should.”
“One woman,” begins Jeremy, but he stops as a young man steps forward from the crowd. He glances about himself nervously, knowing that suddenly a great many people are dumping his bio. As he stands hesitantly, four others step forward as well. They look at one another, all surprised yet seeming to sense a connection. Together they speak:
“I knew too, but I didn’t tell anyone.”
Virginia almost collapses under Bethany’s weight. Before she can react, before the world even has time to breathe, the Cloud is filled with two words, “I knew,” repeated over and over, but each time spoken anew, honestly. A hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, millions, all saying the same thing:
* * *
Otis swishes the towel back and forth, hands moving rhythmically over Milada’s head. Once her hair is dry, he drags the towel down over her neck, drying her shoulders and then her arms down to her legs. He gently turns her around, her moist feet squeaking on the tiles, and sees to her front. She is unresponsive under his touch, even when he comes to her face. With a corner of the towel he delicately dries her cheeks and the last locks of hair. When he lowers his hands, she is watching him. Since it happened, Milada has been quiet, distant. This is the third time he has helped her bathe, each time at her request, but this time she dresses herself easily. When she is clothed again she moves close to him, looking up with those beautiful eyes. He doesn’t see her hand move, but he feels her fingers against his arm. “Thanks for trying.”
Otis follows her out of the bathroom. The apartment has been cleaned back to its natural state of organization. They sit at the kitchen table and a warm snack slides out for each of them. Otis didn’t order them, and he knows they are being watched by people all over the world, but he ignores them all. Milada is all that matters now, all that ever mattered.
Virginia Crossroad-Marcus: We weren’t ignorant of the Ghosts, only of each other. We’ve already accepted them.