Phantoms Need Wear No Mask

Ricardo had lived in the Montparnasse Cemetery ever since he could remember. It was the most comfortable and inviting place he had ever known. Not that he had known many other places. He hadn’t managed to stick around very long to catch many other sights in gay Paris. He was one of the vulnerable—a young adult who thought he was immune to everything, and certainly immune to an as of yet unknown killer called the Spanish flu (granted, that would not be the thing to kill him). It was the end of October 1918, and official peace was less than a month away. “The war to end all wars” was over, yet this new strain of influenza had only just begun wreaking its havoc. That’s the thing about existence: it can never feel settled unless no one else is. 

Having evaded going into combat, Ricardo perhaps also felt a bit emboldened by a sense of “above everythingness” that only further contributed to the adolescent’s already inherent sense of immortality. As it were, Ricardo tended to meet his “femme” inside of the cemetery several days a week, where they would secret away to some abandoned corner and make out until Mathilde finally let him slip her panties down. He had such a smooth-talking way of getting her to relent, even though she vowed to remain chaste until he agreed to marry her. He would always say something like, “Come on, hasn’t the last four years taught you anything? Like the fact that there is no guarantee in this life? We could all die at any second. Be ripped from the ones we love based on a governmental whim.”

She rolled her eyes as she let him fondle her tit. “They promised this would be the last Great War.”

“How many times have they promised that, love? You really trust these government twits?”

“I have faith in humanity, Ricardo.”

At this, he only squeezes her tit all the more, causing her to writhe in pain. “Aïe! Why are you so damned annoying?”

“It’s why you’re so madly in love with me.”

Mathilde sighs, pushing him off her. So today will not be a day of sex, Ricardo is forced to process. He tries his best to veer her back toward a pleasant mood before it’s too late. 

“Shall we take a walk? Pick out our favorite names?”

She glares at him. “You’re so morbid. I must be some kind of fool to let you talk me into coming here for these pathetic trysts.” 

He tries to grab her arm, but she’s already and moving away from him. 

“Oh please, Mathilde. Don’t be so cold all the sudden. I can stand anything except your coldness.”

She scoffs. “You’re going to have to learn to stand it. Because I’m quite through with this. With you. The war is over, and now so are we.”

He pounces to his feet, desperate to touch her. “How can you say that? We’re made for each other.”

She sneers. “You believe that any vagina is made for that thing you call a penis.”

Suddenly, he’s overcome with nothing but contempt but for her. She’s just another priggish broad who only wants a ring and someone to provide for her. If she was just a pussy to him, then he was just a potential bank account to her. As he tries to lunge at her to express the full extent of his rage, she side-steps his grasp, causing him to miss his footing and smack his head right on the headstone of someone named Pierre Dupé. How utterly poetic. For yes, Ricardo felt nothing other than being duped by what he thought was “love” in that very instant that separated him between the realm of the living and the dead. 

On the other side, as the spectral presence of his phantom spirit (now the only “live” element left of him), he watched Mathilde suppress the urge to shriek, knowing that it would bring too much attention to her area. And she did not want to draw attention of any kind in this moment. Wanted only to fade away and never leave a trace of any association she might have had with Ricardo. It would have been a discredit to her reputation as a “good” girl, an “upstanding” girl. He’d like to turn her over right now and show her where she really “stood.” But he had no such power. It would take him another full century, he learned, to manifest the faculties his will had so long desired. 

***

With the seasons changed and the many decades eroded away, time inside the cemetery felt frozen. This sentiment was only compounded for Ricardo because the types of people who tended to visit Montparnasse were themselves a bit “Old World” (with the majority of the tourists preferring the “rock n’roll” cachet of Père Lachaise). Granted, there was quite an upswing in “movement” when the Second World War came around, and more bodies piled in. But by and large, the cemetery was a sanctuary. A way to feel as though he could “live” out his days as though nothing had happened. As though a tragic freak accident had ever befallen him. As though Mathilde didn’t break his heart into a thousand fragmented pieces when she turned to stone that day. And why? All because he had expressed his natural male carnality? Why did she have to be so goddamned uppity about it? 

As he muttered to himself about how he never would have gotten so far down the rabbit hole of loving her were it not for her sweet minge, something quite incredible happened. For the first time in the century since his spirit had initially been relegated to Montparnasse Cemetery, someone could see him. Genuinely see him. Not just intuit some eerie, frigid essence hovering nearby (which would inevitably result in them shivering and then turning to whoever they were with to say in a hushed tone, “Let’s get out of here, I’m getting the creeps.” The creep, of course, was Ricardo). Ah, but just Ricardo’s luck, that person was an overweight security guard yammering on about how he would slap Ricardo with a fine if he ever caught him in the cemetery without a mask again.

He supposed, now that he thought about it, he had noticed that everyone trickling into the space had been wearing masks of late. Just like the old days. Maybe he didn’t register it at first because some part of him was already used to seeing the gauze iteration of masks after the Academie de Médicine of Paris further pushed citywide use of them in early November of 1918 (of course, Ricardo was already dead by then, but that reality was not a negation of his ability to see what was happening around him—and that was a lot of family members, undertakers and groundskeepers wearing masks for the early period of his Montparnasse stint). So it was that the image became ingrained in his mind. Yet it never occurred to him to attempt “buying” (which would really entail stealing if he wanted to use his powers of invisibility for corrupt purposes) a mask of his own. What would be the point? No one could see him. He certainly couldn’t spread it. 

So one can surely imagine his shock when he was called out for not “following orders” on that day when the security guard first caught him sitting on a bench, lounging in peace and tranquility. Occasionally studying the few errant people who actually happened to pass by. The security guard was going to be a problem, Ricardo knew that right away. Sure, he could try his best to go the extra kilometer by treading lightly and avoiding him at all costs, but that would mean staying away from the best parts of the cemetery—and Ricardo simply could not do that. His form of existence was already so lonely and unbearable as it was, that to even dream of further isolating from humanity was unfathomable. He would have to take his chances in tangoing with the security guard. 

The opportunity came soon enough, when Old Fatso came lumbering by Charles Baudelaire’s grave. Ricardo felt personally targeted, as this sepulcher wasn’t exactly on the beaten path, even if it might be still rather popular with a certain sect (mainly pseudointellectual poseurs). It was genuinely as though Fatso wanted to find him, wanted to get into some kind of scuffle. Ricardo tried to scuttle away undetected from this man’s keen ghost vision, but to no avail. He spotted him, sans mask, and now he was on the hunt. “You there! I told you not to show your face here again without a mask!”

Fittingly, Fatso himself was not wearing one as he proceeded to laughably “run” toward Ricardo. If it weren’t so pathetic, Ricardo might have found the spectacle amusing. Yet something in his obsessive attempts to prove his value as a cemetery security guard kept Ricardo frozen, unable to move as he regarded Fatso get closer. It was almost transfixing to watch his belly bob up and down while he semi-jogged. At one point, it looked as though the paunch might bust open the clearly “at capacity” buttons as it slammed against the too-tight uniform shirt. 

When he finally reached Ricardo, he was wheezing and coughing something fierce—and all right in Ricardo’s face. As it turned out, you could give a phantom coronavirus, but a phantom couldn’t pass it back to anyone else. And so, in this way, Ricardo finally gained passage into the other realm, rather than being caught in between it any longer, lest he endure another one hundred-ish years in the cemetery before a new pandemic arose and he was met with increased “militant action” from what was sure to be an even more robust and comprehensive police state. Plus, he didn’t mind sharing a grave with Baudelaire. He’s a rather shrewd chap. It’s his fans that Ricardo can’t stand. 

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