Flash Fiction: Half-Life by Areej Quraishi

My lover won’t disappear.

I’ve been seeing him since he died. I don’t know why, because he doesn’t speak. Or perhaps he can’t. He shows up behind me in the mirror while I’m brushing my teeth. I see him in my black laptop screen just before closing it when I’m done working. Sometimes while I cook, I know he’s there. I can hear him breathing into my ear, the cold mist condensing onto my cheek, mingling with the steam and smoke arising from the ceramic pots or pans. At night, I see him in my window from the bed we used to share. He looks forlorn as he stares at me, weighted down by all the words he can’t say.


The last time I’d seen him alive was two weeks before his death. He was quite the optimist that day.

“It’s just you and me as soon as I get back,” he’d pledged. “You’ll see. I meant everything I said. We’re going to have it all.” We had made love that morning, his idea. It had never been bad with him, but he’d performed impressively. I’d expected that. He meant for it to serve as a taster. A promise of things to come.

Of course, two weeks later a white Chevy Silverado swerved into his lane at 86mph and that put an end to all of his promises for good.


One of my childhood friends who claims clairvoyance once said something that I recall quite often now.

“Relationships,” she’d said with a flourish, “are what determine how a person passes on. Most of the spirits I come across tend to linger where they’ve left the most behind. They can’t cross over until they can let it go.”

But did “they” mean the spirit, or the person they left behind? Who had to let go first? What if one of them had let go long before the death even occurred?


Sometimes when I come home, I find my lover twined about the bannisters or hanging from the ceiling fan. No, not with a rope. His body just dangles from the blades. He stares at me vacantly when he does this. But while his face seems impassive, his eyes are not.

They plead. It’s as though he’s asking for something. When he crawls with his chest to lay his head across my feet, when he contorts his body into inconceivably tortuous positions, it’s as if he thinks he’s pleasing me somehow. As if he hopes that in seeing how hard he’s trying to, I’ll reciprocate.


Nobody looked my way at his funeral. Nobody tried to see if I was in tatters. No one insisted I say a few words. That part was probably for the best.

During the service, I sat through eulogy after eulogy praising him for his generosity, his work ethic, his sense of humor, his strong morals, his loyalty. His loyalty. Even at the office, where we first met, people carry on as usual. It’s as if he was never there.


I’ve woken up to my lover sitting on my chest. He feels lighter than he ever was.

I’ve woken up to my lover writhing on the ground and voicelessly wheezing as though something noxious in the air is choking him.

I’ve woken up to my lover shaving in the bathroom as though everything’s the same, but he isn’t fooling me, because I’ve never seen his hands less steady, yet every time he cuts himself, there isn’t a drop of blood.


I’ve taken to driving to a specific place ever since the funeral two months ago. I park along the curb and look into the house on the opposite site of the street.

The lights inside could be on or off. It’s random. They could be gathered at the dinner table, or they couldn’t. The nights they’re not, I drive past. But the nights they are, I’ve occasionally stayed for hours. The oldest is now a preteen, the twins fresh out of kindergarten. They all huddle together at the table, urging each other to eat, taking napkins to each other’s faces, laying heads on their mother’s shoulders, a family who once had it all.

Bile frequently surges into my throat, my fingernails slicing into the steering wheel I dig my forehead into. A few times I’ve dry-heaved, doubled over with revulsion, other times I’ve bitten down to keep from shrieking out all the dark, ugly truths I’ve trapped and sealed deep within myself. More than once, I’ve fantasized about getting out and knocking on the front door.


I come home from doing this for the seventh time, and my lover isn’t in the hallway. I go up to my room. He’s standing by the window. There they are again, his forlorn eyes, begging, entreating. I’ve never seen him anywhere else. He’s only ever been at my house, where he left me last. I decided something on my way back. I set down my things and face him.

“You’re a useless fucking shitstain,” I say. “And all you ever did was lie.”

At once, as if my words had punched it in there themselves, a gaping, perfectly circular hole appears in his stomach, right between his ribcage. Light streams through it from the window behind him and casts a bright spot on the carpeted floor. He shudders, then relaxes.

“You were never going to leave them. The fact that you even promised it makes you that much worse. You’re not here for me. You just want to make sure I’ll never tell.”

Over and over, holes like puncture wounds appear in his body, over his shoulder, his knee, his left eye so that it looks like the light took a chunk out of his head.

“Even if no one ever finds out. I’ll always know.”

Another hole crumbles away his mouth, so now he’s standing there, a half-formed man, almost teetering over, his mouth a mournful gap. I wonder if it had opened this way when he saw the Chevy coming. I don’t have to wonder if his last thought had been of me, sitting by the window day after day since he left, frantically wishing for his wellbeing right up until the day it happened.

“You might have gotten what you wanted. But I’ll always hate you for it.”

A hole burrows through his chest and he almost topples over. His hole-mouth now hangs fully open, as if in a gleeful leer. He spreads his arms out, silhouetted against the translucent beige curtains, and disintegrates, flakes of him floating off, up and beyond my window like in the movie. I watch him evaporate and I finally start to feel lighter, no longer weighted down by the words I didn’t say.

Areej Quraishi’s fiction appears or is forthcoming in Entropy, Indiana Review, Parentheses Journal, Identity Theory, Cola Literary Review (formerly Yemassee Journal), and Reservoir Road Literary Review. It has received accolades and finalist spots from Glimmer Train Press, CRAFT, Salamander Magazine, and New Millennium Writings. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Washington-Seattle and is a Black Mountain Institute fellow and PhD candidate at UNLV. She is the Editor of Witness Magazine.

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