A ghost returns to her boyfriend, but then must decide if she will stay with him.
|The morning sun streamed through the bedroom window, falling on the place next to Kerk where Marli used to lay. Before Marli moved in, Kerk had been the kind of person who sprawled out in his sleep. He had suggested they buy a queen or even a king-sized bed, but Marli liked the closeness of his old double bed. It had taken him a while, but Kerk had learned to share the bed without hitting Marli with a flopping arm or leg. Now she was gone, but he still left her spot open.
Kerk swung his feet around and sat on the edge of the bed. He knew he ought to go to work today. Kerk was an artist, not a bad artist, but not good enough to earn his living from it. So when his money or his inspiration ran low, he would work a few days for his buddy, Ernie. Ernie owned a yard service business. He understood Kerk's artistic ambitions and let him choose which days he showed up for work.
The funeral had been a week ago, but Kerk had neither painted nor worked for Ernie since Marli died. He was not ready to paint again, maybe he never would be. But it would do him good to get outside, to work with the plants. Or maybe he should give up this foolishness about being an artist and get a real job. His love had died. It might be time he let his dreams die, too.
He was leaning against the counter, eating a bowl of cereal, when Kerk heard the music. Or maybe, he was just remembering it. It was mandolin music coming from up on the roof. Marli had loved to get up early, go up to the roof and watch the sunrise. After that, she would often sit up there, playing her mandolin or another one of the half a dozen instruments she had mastered. Kerk had liked the mandolin best of all.
The music seemed to be more than a memory, but somehow less than a real sound. Kerk set his bowl down and went up the fire escape to the roof to find out what was happening. He knew she was not really there, but he could still see Marli in her favorite spot, sitting with her back against the chimney. She had on a peasant blouse and a long skirt, the kind she liked so much.
Kerk walked closer, expecting her to disappear any moment. When he got close, she looked up from her mandolin and smiled at him.
"Good morning, Kerk. You missed the sunrise again, sleepyhead."
He was not certain what he should do. This was an illusion, he knew that. But even if it was an illusion, Kerk felt that Marli was really with him.
"Marli, you're dead."
Kerk realized how dumb that sounded as soon as he said it, but he had never expected anything like this to happen. Marli just chuckled gently.
"I know that, silly."
"But, then how can you be here? Are you real or am I going crazy?"
"I'm not really sure how I got here. I could feel you missing me, wanting me, and somehow I came to you. I seem real enough to me, so if I'm not real, we're both crazy."
Kerk sat down beside her so he was looking at her eye level.
"Are you just here to tell me goodbye? To tell me to get on with my life and stop moping around."
Marli chuckled again, then leaned closer to him.
"Don't you want me to stay? You haven't found another girl already, have you?"
"No, there isn't anyone else and of course I want you to stay. I just didn't know if you could."
"Nobody's told me I can't. Nobody's told me anything. I haven't seen anybody since I died, except you. I don't even know how long I've been dead."
"Twelve days. Twelve horrible days."
"I'm sorry. It must've been awful for you. And my mom and dad and Mikey. How are they taking it?"
"I think they're still pretty numb. It was a complete shock. And the news people haven't helped either."
"So that's how I got my fifteen minutes of fame."
"How can you joke about it like that, Marli?"
"I'm not going to change what happened by being gloomy or depressed, sweety."
"No, but you seem to be accepting it a lot better than I am. And you've been on the news for a lot more than fifteen minutes."
Marli leaned back and chuckled.
"Yeah, I suppose so. But then I'm probably the only woman who actually was sawed in half by a magician. What about Howard?"
"He's in jail now. I hope they fry him."
"Don't be nasty, Kerk. I'm pretty sure they don't electrocute people anymore. They just give them an injection. Besides, they only execute them for really terrible things like hate crimes and serial killings."
"You don't think what Howard Dunn did to you is terrible?"
"Sure it was, but don't let it make you bitter or hateful. If you let what Howard did do that to you, it'll be worse than what happened to me."
"He sawed you in half! On stage, in front of a couple hundred people."
"He's a showman. He always did everything flashy."
"You can't be defending him."
"No! But, he isn't completely evil. He was jealous of us, Kerk. I didn't realize it until that night, but he had a big crush on me. You know what he said before he cut me in two? 'If I can't have you all for myself, we'll have to share you.' That's almost sweet, in twisted sort of way."
"You aren't attracted to him, are you, Marli?"
"Howard? No way! We worked together for years and we'd kid around sometimes, but I never thought of him as anything more than a friend. I guess I was more to him than that. I wonder which half of me he wanted to keep."
"I'm a ghost, Kerk. I think I've got a right to be a little morbid."
"Well, even if you're a ghost, I can't describe how happy I am to be with you again."
Marli stood up and smiled.
"You don't have to describe it, Kerk, because I feel just as happy. But you don't want to spend all day just sitting up here, do you? What were you planning to do today?"
Kerk got up and started walking to the fire escape.
"I was thinking about working for Ernie, but I've changed my mind. I'm going to paint."
Marli followed Kerk.
"And what're you going to paint?"
"A ghost. I want to see if I can capture the way I can both see you and yet see you're not physically here."
Kerk held Marli's arm to help her onto the fire escape. He knew what he touched was an illusion, just like the sight and sound of her were, but he did not care. Her body might be gone, but he had no doubt her spirit was here and that, he decided, was the better half.
The next morning, Kerk was in the little bakery around the corner from their aparment building. Cold cereal had been enough when Marli was gone, but today he was hungry for something better.
"Here's your muffins, Kerk."
The elderly woman pushed the bag of muffins across the counter.
"Thanks, Mrs. Dowey."
"It's good to see you out again. It's a shame what happened to Marli, but you can't spend your whole life mourning it. Marli wouldn't have wanted that, you know."
"No, of course not."
Marli smiled at Kerk. "What do you want to bet she's going to go on and on about her husband now?"
"Now when Stanley was alive, he was always saying, 'Cupcake...' That's what he called me. 'Cupcake, when I'm gone, I don't want you crying and moaning all the time about how much you miss me. You got to keep living, even when I'm dead.' That's what I do, and that's what you've got to do...keep living."
"I'll remember that, Mrs. Dowey."
"Keep living. That's good advice. But I guess it's too late to do me any good, isn't it, snuggles?" Marli looked at the bins behind Mrs. Dowey that were filled with muffins. "Did you remember to get some date and walnut ones?"
Kerk shook his head. "I don't like dates."
"Maybe not yet, but you will, Kerk. It might seem hard to believe now, but the day'll come when you're interested in the young ladies again. Of course, I should talk. It's been five years that Stanley's been gone and I'm still not seeing other fellows. Oh, I'm too old for that sort of thing. But a nice young fellow like you...there'll be time for that again sometime."
Marli gave Kerk a playful jab with her elbow. "They aren't for you, silly. They're for me."
Kerk wanted to tell her buying muffins for a ghost sounded pretty silly to him, but he could not do that in front of Mrs. Dowey. She could not see or hear Marli and he did not want her to think he was crazy. It would probably be best just to get the muffins.
"Uh, could you give me a couple date and walnut ones, Mrs. Dowey?"
"Oh, certainly. Why don't you hand me the bag and I'll just add them to the rest."
There was a small park across the street from Mrs. Dowey's bakery. Kerk found a bench in the shade of a large tree and sat there with Marli beside him. He held up one of the date and walnut muffins from the bag and asked her, "Now, will you explain why I was supposed to buy these?"
"So I can eat them. What else would anybody do with muffins?"
"You're a ghost, Marli! Ghosts don't eat."
"We don't! Aw, that's too bad, because I'm really hungry." She chuckled, then grabbed the muffin out of Kerk's hand and started eating it.
It would be more accurate to say that Kerk saw and felt Marli grab the muffin away from him. What the people walking past him saw was a man sitting alone on the bench, still holding the muffin in his hand. Kerk knew what the other people saw. He saw and felt that too, but somehow it coexisted in his mind with a version of reality where Marli was sitting next to him, chewing her muffin.
"You know, Marli, the muffin's really still in my hand."
Marli finished the muffin and licked her fingers. "To me it looks empty. Either way, you probably should put your hand down because whether there's anything in it or not, you're going to look silly if you keep holding it up like that too long."
Kerk put the muffin back in the bag. "Maybe this is some kind of weird quantum uncertainty thing. Like that cat that's supposed to be both dead and alive at the same time. We might be caught between two alternate universes. You died in one of them and the muffin's back in the bag, but in the other you're still alive and the muffin's been eaten."
"Hmmm...that's an interesting idea, smarty, but I don't think it's right. If it were true, the me in the universe where I was alive wouldn't remember dying, but I definitely remember that. Nope, I'm just a ghost and you've got to accept that."
"Then why didn't you just go and take the muffins you wanted yourself, instead of making me pay for them? You're a ghost, so Mrs. Dowey wouldn't have seen you."
"How can you suggest that? I wouldn't think of stealing from that nice, old lady."
Kerk swung up the arm that was holding the muffin bag. "It wouldn't be stealing, Marli. She'd still have the muffins."
Marli gently pushed his arm back down. "Take it easy, sweety. You don't want to draw attention when you're talking to a girl who isn't there. And I think I would've taken something. You know, maybe the spirit of the muffins."
A darkhaired woman in a blue suit walked by. She stopped, looked toward the bench for several moments, then turned and hurried away.
"She saw me, Kerk. I know she did."
"She probably was wondering why I was talking to myself. Maybe I should start holding a cell phone while we're talking."
"No, she looked right at me. We made eye contact."
"Maybe you should've said something to her, seen if she could hear you."
Marli slid over and leaned against Kerk. "I don't think I'd want to talk to her. She made me nervous, a little afraid."
Kerk realised it would look strange to anyone who went by, but he wrapped his arm around Marli. "I wouldn't worry about it. We'll probably never see her again."
While he was shaving the next morning, Kerk heard a ghostly knock on the bathroom door.
"You almost done, slowpoke?"
"Hurry up. I've got to go."
Kerk stopped shaving and gave his reflection a questioning look. "I've never heard of ghosts having to go to the bathroom."
"You didn't think ghosts ate anything either. If it goes in, it's got to come out. Please, Kerk, I've got to go really bad."
Kerk opened the door and Marli rushed in.
"Close the door on your way out, sweety, please."
While he was waiting for Marli to finish, Kerk hear another knock. This time, it was a real knock on their apartment door. Kerk opened it and was surprised to see the darkhaired woman from the park.
"Good morning. I am Evangelica Morgan and I have come to help you."
"Thanks, but I don't think I need any help."
"You may deny it, but your need remains. Are aware you have a spirit attached to you?"
"Uh, you must be mistaken. There aren't any spirits here, so I guess you might as well go now."
Kerk heard a ghostly flushing sound and from the surprised expression on Evangelica's face, he knew she heard it, too.
Marli came out of the bathroom. "Sorry, for that, sugarboy, but I couldn't..." She noticed the woman standing outside the door and backed away a few steps. "What's she doing here?"
"I know you are troubled, but I am here to help you."
"Tell her to go away, Kerk."
"You heard what she said. Stop bothering us."
"Please, allow me a few minutes to explain why I have come and I am certain you will not regret it."
"I suppose it wouldn't hurt just to hear what she has to say, Marli."
"Well, okay, if she leaves us alone after that."
"Thank you." Evangelica walked past Kerk into their apartment. "As you can tell, I have the ability to perceive spirits of the departed. This is a rare gift and with it comes the responsibility to help those spirits make the Crossing."
Marli looked at Evangelica suspiciously. "What's the crossing?"
"I sense you do not trust me, Marli."
"You don't know me that well. Call me Marlene."
"As you wish, Marlene. You must understand that the state in which you are now trapped is not the one you are destined for by nature. The Crossing refers to your transformation to your proper state of being."
"Actually, I'm pretty happy just the way I am. It'd be nice to still be alive instead of dead, but I think I'm doing a good job of dealing with it."
Kerk moved over to stand beside Marli. "If she says she's happy, why don't you just go and find some ghosts who aren't and help them."
"You only think you are happy, Marlene, because you can not comprehend the ecstasy that awaits you. But to achieve that, you must stop denying your death."
"What do mean? I'm not denying anything. I know I died. I know I'm a ghost. I was cut in half by a mad magician. That's pretty hard to forget."
"You may know it, but you do not accept it. You are a spirit. You have no body and yet you cling to the actions that once sustained it, even though now they are no more than empty rituals."
"I'm the one who's a ghost. I think I'd know better than you what I need to do."
"You may believe they are necessary, but the truth is they are not."
"I still think you're wrong, but let's say I accept it the way you think I should. Then what happens?"
Evangelica smiled slightly. "Until now, you have existed from one moment to the next and your past has been nothing more than a fading memory. As a spirit, you can transcend time. You shall experience your whole life in its completeness, like seeing a grand mosaic when before you have only seen its tiles one by one."
Evangelica held out her arms toward Marli, with her palms up. "But, that is only the beginning, Marlene. The boundaries which you believe define your self are only barriers that limit your consciousness. Reject those barriers as the lies that they are and your consciousness shall expand to include all those whose lives you have touched. Their experiences shall become part of you. Only then will you truly know the role you have played in this world."
She raised her arms to her sides and continued. "You have affected many people, but all of those people have affected an even greater number. You shall follow the chain of relationships that binds one person to another until your existence encompasses all of humanity."
"That sounds like a big job. Do you really think I could do that?"
"You only need to accept the truth, Marlene. Cross into the Light, and the rest will come to you."
"Somehow that going into the light business always makes me think of a bug zapper. You know, ghosts see the light, they go into it and...bahzap...nobody ever sees them again. Maybe that's just a way somebody came up with to get rid of us."
"Marlene, it is only your ignorance that makes you skeptical. Behold the Light and accept it."
Marli was about to make some reply to this, when her expression suddenly changed to awe and she just stood there silently.
Kerk was very concerned. "What happened? What are you looking at?"
"She sees the Light that is truth itself. You can not see it. No living person can."
"It isn't a trick, Kerk. She was telling the truth. Everything she's said, about denial and time and consciousness, it's all true. I know that now."
Evangelica smiled broadly. "It is your time, Marlene. Cross into the light."
"No, I'm staying here."
Evangelica's smile was quickly replaced with an angry frown. "What! You have seen the truth. Why do you refuse to make the Crossing? If you are concerned for your lover, remember he will join you in his own time and you will be united more fully than you can now imagine."
"I do love Kerk and its his love that pulled me back to him, but I'm not staying because of him. This is what I want. I know it's only an illusion of life, but I'd rather have that than get lost in some collective mind."
Kerk hugged Marli even though he knew it was only the sensation of feeling her in his arms that kept them from passing through her. "You're really going to stay?"
"I sure am, snuggles."
Evangelica's hands curled into fists. "Kerk, the dead must draw energy from the living to manifest themselves as she does. She is feeding upon you like a parasite. You must drive her out now, while you still can, before her hold on you becomes too strong. Drive her out so she must either cross into the Light or fade into the Darkness."
"No way. She can stay with me as long as she wants to."
"You are fools, both of you!"
Marli grasped Kerk's hands with her own. "We know what the choices are now, and this is what we've chosen. Maybe we're fools, but if we are, that's our business, not yours."
"You are wrong again. As I said, Marlene, you depend upon Kerk to exist in your current state, but one day, he will die as well. Will you be willing to discard your illusions then or will the two of you seek another host. You will be stronger then and will not require a host as willing as Kerk has been. Imagine what would happen if others refused to make the Crossing as well. Imagine the spirits of generation after generation amassing until they become a crushing burden upon the living. It is my duty to see that never happens...again."
Evangelica glared at Marli with grim determination and pointed at the Light. Marli wondered how she knew exactly where it was, even though she claimed she could not see it.
"Marlene, I command you to cross into the Light...now!"
"No! You can't force me into the Light. You can't threaten me or trick me into it. It only works if I want to go into it...and I don't want to."
In a threateningly calm voice, Kerk said, "We've heard enough from you, Evangelica. I think it's time you got out of our home."
Without another word, the darkhaired woman turned and left. Kirk went over to the door to close and lock it.
"This isn't the end of it, is it, sweety?"
"No, Marli, it isn't."
The man and the ghost looked at each other and saw all the reassurance they needed.
"I don't know about you, sugarboy, but I think it's way past time for breakfast.I could really go for some waffles."
"Sure thing. What'd you like on them?"
"Some dates would be nice."
"Then dates it is."
The story of Kerk and Marli is continued in "Two Shall Become One"