“A Retreat is an End and a Beginning” by Monica Wang

During their first three days at the couples’ retreat, they looked for ghosts. All the other couples walked around hand in hand—as per the rules—so slowly they congested the lobby and the winding garden paths. On the third night a man offered to show her his skill with his mouth. She admired his baldness, having read it indicated high levels of testosterone, and later fell asleep next to him and the open window in damp, itching disappointment. In the morning she awoke to chickadees and pity for her husband. She invited him on a walk in the garden, where they didn’t hold hands. When, near the roses, she mistook a small dog for a ghost and kicked it (then crouched to examine it) he strolled nearly out of sight toward the hill without noticing he was alone. Up and up the hill they went until the way became a highway ending at a grand bridge. Hundreds stood single-file along one side of the highway; none stepped off the side into the grass. We’re waiting for the train, said the young man at the end of the line. The others, too, looked so happy and so young. Her husband said he’d never hitchhike, train or no train, so she followed him across the highway, through the weeds, and into the woods. The retreat sent men, dogs, birds, one after the other to coax them back all through the starless night. The dogs were gentlest, the birds most convincing. On their first night back at the retreat, she slipped out on her own, and alone she could walk faster. Faster now she moved through the garden, passing inhabited wells and possessed mirrors and deeper-than-possible rain puddles that pulled at her—so many ghosts, namely, that she had only time to speak to the woman buried under the hydrangeas. Beside the woman under the hydrangeas, as their black hair braided into each other, she began to dig.

Monica Wang (She/they)
Monica Wang has writing in Electric Lit, Southword, PULP Literature (forthcoming), and Augur Magazine (forthcoming). Born in Taichung, Taiwan, she grew up in Taipei and Vancouver, Canada, and spent the past four years in Germany and the Netherlands. She is now working on her first novel in the UK.