by Marilyn K. Martin
part 1 of 2
Tarivan folded her arms and leaned her shoulder against the lab’s large window frame, looking out. Unusual for the Colorado foothills in April, it was an un-spring. The snow was gone, but all the vegetation was just evergreen brittleness or still curled and dead from winter. Nothing was sprouting or blooming. Kind of like her life, she mused. An un-Spring for an un-Life.
Suddenly there was a crackle behind her, then a soft coldness on her back. Again. She kept staring out the window, but shook her head softly. “It’s been ten months, Johan,” she murmured, almost conversationally. “You are dead. You are buried. And I buried my heart with you.”
More snap-pop, then a wavering male voice behind her. “But we aren’t done, Tarivan...”
Tarivan turned with a tired sigh. A ghostly image of Johan — her best friend, her lover, her soul mate, her eternal love — shimmered mere meters away from where she stood. She felt a sharp pang in her chest, but took a quick breath to make it go away.
“What do you want, Johan?” she asked sharply. “You show up every month just to taunt me? Are you hoping one of my colleagues walks in and catches us? My peer review is coming up. Do you really want to cripple my career with a PR stamped ‘Talks to Ghosts — Clearly Unstable — Reassign Grant Money’?”
Johan’s shimmering expression looked momentarily pained. Then “I can’t move on until we... reach an understanding, Tarivan.”
Tarivan glanced around at the tiny plants in the Seedling Lab. Even the sprouts seemed to be struggling this spring, stunted and frail. She turned away, arms still folded tightly against her unflattering blue jumpsuit as she circled Johan’s image.
He was still dressed in his favorite attire while alive: worn jeans, rumpled sleeveless shirt and hiking boots. “Yes, I know,” she addressed him coolly. “You’ve said this a hundred times before. I have to quit blaming myself for your death.
“But I have moved on, Johan,” she continued, gesturing around the lab. “On days when my sadness is bearable, I still run experiments, still do research.”
“Oh really?” countered Johan. “Your graduate thesis singlehandedly changed the way we... they manage invasive wildlife. ‘Accommodation Balance’ had never occurred to anyone, before you stated it so eloquently in your graduate thesis.
“And yet, what have you really accomplished since I died?” continued Johan, now close over her right shoulder. “Some experiments and data. But no papers, no lectures. Do you have a death wish, Tarivan? I won’t lie; I wish you did...”
“Getting past your death has been agony,” Tarivan answered simply. “You should know that.” She looked sideways at Johan as she circled him again, out of the corner of her eye. He was tall and muscular, with an unaffected outdoor naturalness. And then there was that blast of uncombed blonde hair atop his head. Johan had always been months past due for a haircut, since he was too busy and preoccupied. And then there were those ice-blue eyes that seemed able to pierce a soul — any soul, not just hers.
He had shared her dry sense of humor about the ironies of life, and had possessed an effortless, almost childlike honesty. He was her Perfect Man: in short, brilliant and gorgeous. They’d met at a retreat for Ecological Balance graduate students six years ago, and had been together ever since.
Tarivan had secretly fallen hard for Johan the moment after he’d introduced himself at that retreat. Stunned, she was blushing and bumping into furniture after he’d moved on to meet others. Then an hour later, he’d walked up with a bemused expression, carrying a glass of unspectacular wine and twirling a toothpick with an inexpensive cheese flaking off.
Over raised eyebrows, he’d offered her that delicious crooked smile, and then a characteristic comment: “I declare this wine tasting an ecological disaster for my intestinal flora. How about joining me for a real dinner in town?”
Now Tarivan turned her back on Johan’s ghost to regain her composure. But, damn that Perfect Man, he kept talking. “Let’s talk about your experiments since I died,” Johan offered. “You never write any notes down anymore. You don’t even carry around your smartphone. Why is that?”
Johan had always been the clarifier with their shared research, standing solid with that slight frown, mentally sorting, pondering and analyzing while watching her rush around the room, gesturing and talking a mile a minute with unbridled enthusiasm, her startling new ideas pinging around the room.
“I... lost it, I guess,” she answered. “Or it was stolen. I decided to keep all my notes in my head. Some of the other researchers around here have always been jealous of my work anyway, you know that.”
“Did you report the theft?” pressed Johan. “And keeping your notes in your head hasn’t worked out so well, has it? You haven’t formulated one hypothesis, nor submitted one grant request since I died. Why is that?”
Pained, Tarivan turned away toward the open hallway door. “As usual, I don’t know what your point is, Johan,” she said over her shoulder. “And I’ve got work to do.”
With that she walked briskly out into the hallway. She could feel Johan following her as she marched down to the Eco-Physics Lab, offering subdued smiles to the co-workers she passed. No one had even tried to engage her in conversation after Johan had died. Either they had retreated from her expression of unbearable loss, or they’d deliberately left her alone to find her own way out of the labyrinth of her grief.
Minutes later, Tarivan was staring at the computer screen in the Eco-Physics Lab, reading the results of another one of her mini-experiments on why spring was so late this year. She was taking sample magnetic readings, via the array on this private laboratory’s roof, to see if there had been a significant change in the earth’s magnetic field. According to the daily data, there had not been enough of a change to explain the delayed spring.
“I have another question,” came Johan’s strong voice behind her.
Tarivan shook her head. Her Perfect Man, even as a ghost, was becoming a total nuisance! “So why are you following me around today, Johan?” she asked with a sigh. “Do you get points with God, or something?” she asked, gesturing at the ceiling. “For harassing your left-behind lover, who is trying hard to get on with her life?”
“No,” answered Johan bluntly behind her. “I’m following you around today, because there is more at stake than you could possibly imagine. There are crucial things you need to understand. And I seem to be the only one who can get through to you.” Tarivan straightened and turned, frowning. Before she could speak, he continued. “So tell me, my darling Tarivan: How did I die?”
Tarivan blinked. That was an odd question. She thought a moment, backtracking on her pain to that moment when her one true love had died. Something about... falling.
“You... you fell, Johan,” she answered softly. “We were hiking, I think. That’s... how you died,” she stopped, feeling a torrent of emotions inside. She turned and leaned over her computer again. “And now, if you don’t mind, I’ve got work to do.”
“You died too, Tarivan.”
Tarivan froze. What did he say? She straightened and again turned to face him. “So now you’re using lies and trickery, Johan?” she said angrily. “That’s totally out of character for you. You were never cruel.”
Johan’s ghostly face was set and stern. “It’s not cruelty, Tarivan. It’s the truth. You said it yourself once: ‘The truth takes proof. But only if the truth is in the proof’.”
Tarivan blinked, staring at her suddenly hard-assed Perfect Man. “Proof?” she half-laughed. “If I’m really dead, Johan, why am I still working in this laboratory? How could I even interact with this computer? I can still set up experiments, collating data every day. How could I make the computer do all that if I was dead?”
Johan, arms still locked to maintain his stern visage, allowed a half-smile. “It’s a telepathic program, Tarivan. They installed the software a month before we died. Don’t you remember? It was called the Ghost Interface Program. And it apparently works very well for... people like us.”
Tarivan felt light-headed, confused. “No! You’re wrong! I’ve been researching, running data for months—”
“Then type on the keys, Tarivan. Go ahead,” prompted Johan, in a quieter tone. He always could read her moods, softening his tone when he knew she was trying to sort things out.
Tarivan leaned over the keyboard and placed her curled fingers on the keys, just as she’d learned in Typing 101 in high school. Then, pressing down... her fingers — her whole hands — went through the keyboard. She bolted upright. No!
“Where do you go at night, Tarivan?” Johan prodded. “You’ve been seen going through walls and closed doors, to end up standing at the end of our... former bed. They had to tear down that bed and turn the room into storage, Tarivan, because you kept scaring the occupants. You’d just stand there and stare, they said. And occasionally, if the moon was bright enough, they said they could see tears running down your cheeks.”
She spun around. Johan was now beside the door leading to the outside, beside another large picture window looking out on a stunted spring. “Come open this door, Tarivan,” he gestured. “Turn the handle and open the door. We did it enough times, don’t you remember? Sneaked out after lunch, when our bellies were full and our pheromones were percolating more than our brain cells? That patch of shade and moss between the rocks where we made love is still up there. So take me there. Right now. Come on.”
Tarivan felt a chill. She couldn’t resist her lover’s invitation, even if he was dead. She walked over and reached for the door knob — and watched her hand go right through it. She tried again, and again, finally standing and staring hard at the door knob she couldn’t open. Her thoughts tumbled, ricocheting around in her head. Vague memories now of what she couldn’t do since... since Johan had died.
“You haven’t been out of this building for ten months, Tarivan,” said Johan softly at her side, cold wisps of his breath on her cheek. “You died with me in that fall. We were out hiking on that steep Butte Crest trail last Summer. Part of the trail had been washed away, and we were trying a rock-face bypass. But we didn’t have the proper equipment, and we both fell to our deaths. Please, tell me you remember now, Tarivan.”
She shook her head and turned, stepping back into the room, her back to the ghost of her true love and his startling accusation. “But... I’ve been working every day, Johan,” she said. “Never mind the Ghost Interface software. All my experimental data has been accepted and registered into the mainframe, based on my secret pass-code I entered before... before you died.”
Copyright © 2013 by Marilyn K. Martin