(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Ghost and Flesh, Water and Dirt” is the story of Margy Emmons’s life as told by her; it is a sad but evocative and mysterious tale that centers on her relationships with two men: Raymon Emmons, the “ghost” of the title, whom Margy “lost” to “dirt,” and Nick Natowski, the “flesh,” whom she “lost” to “water.” Throughout the story, Margy sits in the Pass Time Club drinking beer, talking to a young woman, recalling the “fire” of her life, and sifting through the “ashes” of her memories. Margy is in her “time a tellin,” and she warns her companion to “run fast if you don wanna hear what I tell, cause I’m goin ta tell.” Margy speaks very briefly of the present, which for her is inextricably linked to the past and dominated by the ghost of Raymon Emmons, who comes to visit her virtually every night. She begins her story with an account of the first time she ever saw Raymon Emmons. Emmons was a thirty-year-old railroad man whom she met, fell in love with, pursued, and married when she was seventeen. Margy says almost nothing about their life together, but she talks at length about how she was devastated by his death. She did not feel that she could face life alone: “I cain’t stand a life of just me and our furniture in a room, who’s gonna be with me?” Margy went to the preacher for advice and counsel, but “he uz no earthly help.” She went to her friend, Fursta Evans, but Fursta’s wisdom did not satisfy her either, and so Margy dedicated herself to mourning the dead (her daughter, Chitta, died two weeks before her husband) and avoiding the life around her. She went from her house to the graveyard and back.

After a year, Margy’s miserable routine was interrupted by a visit from Fursta. Fursta came knocking on her door to assail Margy for her hypocrisy and self-pity: “Why are you so glued to Raymon Emmonses memry when you never cared a hoot bout him while he was on earth . . . ?” According to Fursta, Margy’s marriage was not a happy one; she was...

(The entire section is 825 words.)