Revenants in the Digital Age

Because now, the ghosts can talk back

Our heritage rose bush. Photo by author.

Jon could hear their voices before he got to the kitchen, so he knew what to expect. As he entered the room, he saw his wife standing at the counter, wiping her hands on her apron, while his father sat on the kitchen table.

“There’s my boy!” boomed his father’s voice. It was loud enough in the enclosed space to be slightly unpleasant, but yes, that was his father’s voice, indeed. His father hopped off the table without disturbing any of the chairs, stretching his arms wide as if anticipating an embrace, while blocking, as it happened, the path to the garage.

“Honey, I’m going out back to weed,” Jon announced to his wife, ignoring his father entirely. He proceeded at a normal pace to the door to the garage. As he was about to collide with his father’s presence, he closed his eyes momentarily. Although he knew there was nothing to feel, he always thought there was a slight whisper on his skin, like a comb with a static charge held just close enough to make his hairs stand up. Others on the Internet had remarked on the same feeling, but most scoffed. Hologram individuals were purely visual. Well, plus auditory illusions that makes voices seem real. And other sounds — his father’s hologram liked to fart as much as the original had, an optional trait he had argued about with his wife. (“But he’s so cute when he did it! He always looked like a little kid who got caught.” Sigh. “Yes, dear.”)

His father’s image squawked, as it always did, and Jon opened the door through him and proceeded into the garage. He gathered his work gloves and garden tools, stuffing his clippers in his pocket. The roses were finally starting to bloom, after a late spring; maybe one would be far enough along to clip and bring in. One of the pink ones, he hoped; the red ones were prettier and lasted longer, but they had no smell to speak of, and his wife loved to breathe in the scent, even if she knew she would have nothing but petals in a day.

He trudged into the back yard and inspected the “garden,” the strip just in back of the retirement villa, sporting three rose bushes, some just-planted pansies, and not much else. The red roses were doing splendidly, of course; but ah, yes, there was one proud pink rose, just starting to open in the sunlight. He leaned over to smell it. It was all the best of a rose fragrance that anyone could ask for. He was always amazed when it came back to life after the winter. They had brought it from their old place when they moved to St. Anthony’s Retirement Village; Jon was fairly sure that just digging up a rose bush and carting it along wouldn’t be successful, but his wife had talked him into it, and of course she was right. Again.

“Are you going to cut that?” his wife said from behind him. “It looks wonderful! Does it smell?”

“Smells like heaven!” he informed her over his shoulder.

“I’m sorry about Dad,” she said apologetically. “I just like talking to him. I miss him. I know you don’t.”

“You had him programmed with all those extra pounds he had at our wedding. He probably wouldn’t appreciate that!”

“That’s how I remember him at his best. That’s the age when he was the most fun. And hey,” she said, patting her midriff, “look who’s talking!”

“You always look perfect to me, honey!” Jon said with total sincerity.

“You wouldn’t want me a couple sizes smaller? It wouldn’t be hard.”

“You are the you that is you, and I would not have you any other way. You are my perfect wife, and I am not going to change you.” This was a recurring discussion, but Jon never tired of it, and certainly his wife did not.

Jon knelt down, pulled out his clippers, and cut the rose stem about four inches down from the base of the flower. He delicately trimmed the leaves off. It would now be the perfect size for his wife’s favorite bud vase. He stood up and started back into the house.

“I thought you were going to weed?” asked his wife, following him close behind.

“This needs to get into water. Won’t take but a minute.”

“Thank you, honey. You spoil me.”

“Thank you for letting me spoil you!” He opened the door for her and followed her inside. The bud vase was in the cabinet next to the sink, right where his wife had left it, after she washed it following the last rose of fall just a few months ago. A dash of water, and the rose went in. He placed it on the sill on the window next to the kitchen sink.

“It’s beautiful, honey.” His wife stared wistfully. “I wish I could smell it.”

“It’s okay, I can smell it for both of us.” They gazed at the rose together for a second, then he turned and leaned over to kiss her. He closed his eyes.

She gave a quick murmur of protest. As he moved forward, he swore he could feel a slight whisper on his skin, like a comb with a static charge held just close enough to make his hairs stand up.

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