Do ghosts mourn the living? Come peek inside and know what Perry Chaplin knows.
Do ghosts mourn the living? Perry Chaplin is in mourning for his life partner, Bobby - a time of stress, notwithstanding. The more he drifts, the more he becomes unhinged until he's one room short of a rubber one. "Get a grip, Perry." So he takes his chances on a blind date, which further plunges him along the nightmare highway. He gets an unsought lesson in life-after-death that turns his bereavement into a horrific adventure. Come peek through Perry Chaplin's mysterious window. See what there is to see. Enter Our Lady of Perpetual Grace, where the holy water boils and the confessionals whisper. What lurks in the rectory's attic? What lies beneath the surface of life and death? What comes in Bobby's - in Bobby's trace? Do ghosts mourn the living? Perry Chaplin knows. Will you?
Bobby’s eyes drew the world to his soul. No one could resist them. They winked and flirted with everyone he saw. He underscored this with a smile that blossomed to sunshine whenever he observed his fellow man, which he did often, cataloging them by size and weight and humor. Would they be interesting conversationalists? Would they feign glory and evict truth? Were they good in bed? No matter how those eyes scanned and measured, they enchanted wherever they glanced, an army falling game to Bobby’s peepers despite his too-short time.
Bobby’s eyes drew the world to his soul, so it was a double-fisted sadness when he died. Diminished first from symptoms — legions of purple lesions; marinating tongue fungus; dementia and incontinence. Blights that faded every vital part save Bobby’s eyes, but even they succumbed to the onslaught . . . in the end. Breath laden, Bobby joined the refuse of this earth as sure as destiny’s loam. His eyes became nothing more than memories, drawing a solitary recollection from the man who cared for him most — the only man who attended to his graveside — Perry Chaplin.
Bobby’s eyes may have drawn the world to his soul, but his death drew only Perry to his plot. Now we can speak the secrets.
“Did you see her?” came a whisper from the next cubicle.
Perry Chaplin looked up from his work, his eyes, red and puffy. He heard the voice, but, like the work he feigned, he scarcely noted it.
“I know that look,” continued Mary Hughes, who chartered the neighboring cubicle, the one with a better view of her — the boss. Mary popped her head over the stockade’s rim. “Did you hear me, Perry?”
Perry rolled his eyes, and then returned to his pile of notes. Deadlines. Lines of code to be scrawled and tested and he hadn’t programmed a single measure in over an hour.
“Well?” Mary persisted.
Perry shook his head. He sighed. “You know I can’t see her from here. I don’t want to see her. When she sees me, she’s gonna fry my ass, but I’ll tell you what. I don’t give a flying fuck.”
His pushed a stack of manila folders to the floor. In any other circumstance, they would have become a scattered pile of debris, but these were programming specs, directly from the best minds at Gamma Rex Software Development Studio LLC, so they just flopped on the gray carpeting and laid there — intact. Defiant. Mocking their assaulter.
“Perry,” Mary said. Her eyes scolded, yet pitied also. “You’re at it again? Don’t start now. She’s on the warpath. If she knew . . .”
Perry glanced up toward the picket line, where nothing south of Mary’s nose could be seen, “I told you, I don’t give a flying fuck.” He stooped and gathered up the folders, a careless effort meant more to keep his cubicle tidy than to pursue any schedule. As he righted the stack, he muttered: “I miss him.”
“Shhh,” Mary steamed. “Not so loud. She’ll hear you. They’ll all hear you!”
Perry wondered just how Mildred Wickersham, the boss-lady, could hear his whispering. Mary meant well, he guessed. She ran interference for him since his return, but this didn’t give her maternal rights. Perry’s mother had been in the grave since his fourth birthday, and since his father disappeared in a miasma of scotch and rye shortly thereafter, the only maternal rule he had experienced came from a paternal Aunt, whose reign over him was slight. No. The distaff side did not steer Perry Chaplin. No one did, unless he counted Bobby. That thought pushed out a tear, which fostered a sigh; then, another round of shhh’s from Mary.
Perry sniffed. He didn’t bother to blot the tear. Let it rip. He was in a foul mood. Both employment and employer were low on his priorities today. He had been okay for the first few days back, but now every minute not absorbed with distractions, belonged to thoughts of his dear, dead Bobby. Vacations at Provincetown — kite flying and dune wrestling; and the prancing at the T-dance in the late afternoon, where even the gulls admired Bobby’s form and graceful moves. Such movements. Sunday walks in the park. Although Bobby was often distracted by the joggers, which amused Perry, because it meant to make him jealous. How jealous could he be of Bobby? A few more tears pushed over the lids. Perry still refused to blot. His sinuses filled. Head ached dully. If he had nerve, he would beat a trail into Mrs. Wickersham’s office and plead illness. Hell, I’d take off without pay. But how could he? Out for two weeks for Bobby’s last days and . . . the funeral, if one could call it that. Since Mrs. Wickersham wasn’t gay friendly, Perry’s mourning posed as a fantasized, once-in-a-lifetime vacation to Italy. That’s all Wickersham knew. That’s all anyone knew, except Mary Hughes, who was, after all, Perry’s closest friend; his only friend now that Bobby’s eyes shut.
Suddenly, Mrs. Wickersham appeared in his cubicle. He hastened to blot the tear and apply his fingers to the keyboard, although what spewed across the screen was in no computer language known to man.
“Perry,” she said. It was usual for Mildred Wickersham to greet each employee daily in this manner. Sometimes it was followed by the weather report or an inquiry into work progress. In this case, it was monosyllabic. Mute after that. Perry stared into her eyes. She was a comely woman of forty, or perhaps forty-five — hard to tell as she tended toward the plump. Her auburn hair was pulled into a bun. Black, owl-winged spectacles made her appear more bossly, but not managerial. In fact, she was a wizard of sorts — a cracker-jack programmer who inherited Gamma Rex Software Development Studio LLC from her late husband. This was by no means a lucky acquisition. Mildred helped pioneer this business from pocket-change investments to a few millions. Her employees frequently saw her auburn bun bobbing back and forth, pencil stuck in her earflap as she reviewed each account against the production schedules, the ritual that jump-started the globe on its daily orbit. That ritual complete, she launched into the rounds through the cubicles.
When Perry had decided that Mrs. Wickersham was either too stressed (Mary said she was on the warpath), or distracted by the morning statistical reports, he placed his hands to his sides, nodded, and then wished for her disappearance. Wish granted. He heard her quiet step proceed to the next cube.
“Mortimer,” she said. Perry heard Mortimer Johnson shuffle some papers and babble something sugarcoated and self-serving, his usual modus operandi, although Perry couldn’t clearly hear the words. Nor did he care.
Perry returned to his daydream. Sigh. He twirled a pencil between his palms, focusing on the point. If he had been more alert, he would have seen Mary poke her head over the top again, but he was finished working today. There was no reason for him to stay. He was just mustering the courage to face Mrs. Wickersham and ask for an afternoon off. Then he could escape into the fresh wintry air. Perhaps flee to the park. Sit on the lawn. Watch the joggers. His daydream recommenced. More tears, and then suddenly, the pencil snapped — clean in two. He hadn’t pressed it hard, but split it did, momentarily distracting him from his ever-present sadness.
“That’ll solve all your problems,” Mary said. He jumped. Where did she come from? She had slipped across his threshold and tucked herself into the corner. She held a wad of tissues in an outstretched hand. “Here,” she said with the fervor of a battlefield nurse. Perry robotically wiped. He didn’t want her here; although he knew that once she had invaded his space, she’d be worse than a bed bug. He liked her; perhaps even loved her. She was the closest thing he had to a fag-hag, although she sucked as a beard, being married and quite content with her hippie, professor spouse.
Mary hunkered down beside Perry (and she could hunker, no shrinking violet this). “When are you coming back to us? I miss you, snooks.”
Mortimer popped his head across Perry’s threshold. His eyes widened upon seeing Mrs. Hughes squatting at Mr. Chaplin’s side. Mortimer waggled his fingers, and then smiled. “Can I borrow your set-up disk, Perry?”
Mary stood, returning to her corner, while Perry rifled through his diskette box. He flipped disk after disk. “Where is it?” Finally, he dumped the box across his desk, diskettes spreading like a canasta deck. “Damn it. I had it the other day.” He slammed his fist on the empty box. “Didn’t you borrow it already?”
“If I borrowed it I wouldn’t be asking you?”
“You’ve lost things before, you know.”
Mary raised her hand. “Morty, do you really need that shit now?”
“If I didn’t, I wouldn’t ask, would I?”
Mortimer’s glee turned sour, no longer inquisitional. Mary grasped Mortimer about the shoulders ushering him toward her own cubicle. “I have a set-up disk too. Use mine.”
Perry stared after them, and then glanced at the array of diskettes that dominoed across his desk. His hand shook. He swept the desk clean, the diskettes making a perfect fifty-two pick up. The folders went again along with everything else caught beneath Perry’s palm.
Mary appeared, this time blocking the cubicle from Mortimer’s view. Once he past, she assaulted the carpet, gathering clips and post-its, diskettes and folders. “This has got to stop, Perry.”
“He’s gone.” Perry wept.
“He’s back in his cube.”
“No. Bobby’s gone.”
“Shhh. Lower. Not so loud.” Mary plopped the diskettes beside the keyboard. “I know he’s gone. You shouldn’t have a tear left to shed. Where you’re finding all that liquid, beats me.”
Another head popped into the cubicle. It was the pimply technician who was installing a network printer. “Is everything okay here?” Mary got to her feet, brushing herself off. Perry looked away. The technician’s face flushed. “Soda anyone?”
“No, Ben,” Mary said. “We’re getting it together. Thanks for the offer. Unless, Perry, do you feel like something to drink?” Perry ignored her. “Thanks Ben. Maybe . . . a little privacy. We’ll keep it down.”
Ben shrugged, and then sauntered back to his installation.
“It’s hard,” Perry burbled. “I see and hear Bobby in everything.”
Mary appeared to be gathering her thoughts; platitudes that friends are expected to blurt when other friends are hurting to their heart-soul. “All right, snooks,” she finally said. “It’s time for your dear Mary to swoop in and set you straight.” She giggled. “Forgive me. You’ll never be straight.”
Mary sighed. “If you’re seeing Bobby everywhere . . . clear all his stuff out; all the unhappy reminders. You can’t continue like this. You’ve missed work to the point of . . . well, she’s on the warpath. Your production’s down. Your work’s shit. You haven’t written a line of code that I haven’t had to debug. It’s crap. Do you hear me? It’s crap.”
“I know,” Perry said. He gazed into her soft brown eyes. “You’ve been wonderful, dear. I’m sorry if I’ve been such a shit. I’d be over Bobby if he just dumped me. I’ve been dumped before. But he’s gone. He’s never coming back. I’ll never . . .”
She gripped his wrist. “I know the feeling. I lost my Aunt Sylvia last year.”
“Not the same. Time was when love and I walked hand in hand.”
“Are you quoting opera again?” He bit his lip. “That’s a good sign.”
“Well, there’s hope now if you’re speaking in Gilbert & Sullivan. I’ll take it as a step toward recovery.” She released him. “Maybe now I can get back to work. She’s on the warpath.”
“So you’ve said.” Perry pulled her back.
She gave him a hug. “Are you sure you don’t want a soda?” He shrugged. She reached down, retrieving a pencil. “Here, you’ll need this.”
Perry blinked. He glanced across the desk for the broken pencil, but unless it rolled beneath the desk, it was gone, or . . . it couldn’t be this one. This one was whole — complete; yet he recalled only one pencil on the desk today. The rest were all clustered in a chipped coffee mug far back behind the monitor. He caressed the pencil. Magically mended? One more delusion brought on by his mourning, no doubt.
“So,” Mary asked, “what brought on this new weepy wave?”
Perry rolled the pencil between his palms pondering the new wave — a tidal wave to be sure. “This morning I sensed him sleeping beside me.”
“That’s natural, Perry.”
“It was so real. I could actually hear him breathing. I felt him reaching for me . . . in the dark, but when I turned to caress him. Nothing. An empty bed.” He pouted, and the tears stood in his eyes again.
“There, there,” Mary said. She hugged him again. “I’m worried you’ll lose this job.”
“And a good job too,” Perry quoted between sniffs.
“There you go.” She released him, and then eased back toward the threshold. She paused, turning like a runway model, raising her hands: “Why don’t you get out tonight? Go to a movie. Go bowling.”
“You’ll go with me?”
“Wish I could, snooks, but I’m booked. Maybe the weekend. Actually, why don’t you go to a bar and . . .”
“Pick someone up?” He puffed. “Not on your life.”
“Go to the Mall then . . .”
“What, and pick someone up there? How’s that different? Next you have me cruising ShopRite.”
Mary’s face brightened. “You know, a friend of a friend of Charlie’s knows this dude.”
“A blind date?” Perry shook his head. “I know there’s lots of fish in the sea, but I’m not ready for them.”
“You’re ready for the nut house, snooks. If you keep this up and lose your job, the poor house. We have deadlines, you know.”
Perry shrugged. “I don’t think Bobby would approve.”
Mary frowned. Her face contorted. “He’s dead, Perry.”
Perry lost it. He wept untrammeled as if this was the point where denial died. It brought Mary back to his side.
“Be strong, dear. Stronger. It ain’t like a cold you can take a pill to cure, and the symptoms linger . . . linger. They linger, but it’s the truth.” She wiped his tears, this time with raw fingers. “I think you should consider the friend of the friend of Charlie’s. If you want, I’ll get you his number.”
Perry peered at the pencil. He started. It was broken again — split into two ragged halves. He sprang up, pushing his roll chair back to the wall, then escaped Mary Hughes’ good intentions. He headed for the lunchroom.
"Perry suffers unending grief at the untimely loss of his lover, who isn't quite as gone away as Perry believes.
Bobby's gone: bright, sparkly, creative, lovable, never-miss-a-trick Bobby, and Perry, Bobby's survivor, cannot cope. He's not sure whether the odd experiences he's encountering, which constantly remind him of his loss, are positive or negative. He just knows the grieving won't end.
Some experiences aren't accountable for by the natural laws of physics, and while those around Perry scoff and attribute them to troublemakers, deep down Perry knows better. His beloved is still reaching out to him in love. However, the living seem able to still anger the dead, and a deceased spirit can wreak job havoc for a computer programmer. Poor Perry: trapped between the unyielding, unforgiving rock of grief and the hard place of exorcism of a spirit whom he loved in life.
A subtle and wry humor never detracts from the intensity of the characterizations, which rather unfold like the peeling of an onion to reveal unexpected layers and depths. The characters belong in the category of "more here than meets the eye at first" and indeed, so does this story, which left me happy I had chosen to read it. I was also left with a quote that quite blew my mind and provoked thought:
"The fiction is never gone when you're in the closet." What an encouragement to do as Socrates recommended and be true to ourselves!"
M. Night Shyamalan Beware
By Timothy Mulder (Los Angeles, CA)
Grief is a terribly destructive thing.
Grieving while being haunted by your dead lover... who won't let you get laid, or even date... well that's just no fun.
Bobby's Trace is a hauntingly beautiful exposition of one man's failing sanity in the face of prolonged grief. Touching and terribly heart wrenching.
Added to the mix is a mysterious ghostly twist... I don't want to give the plot away... making this trip through pain a psychologically straining thriller that M Night Shyamalan would be proud of.
Re-read it twice to more fully appreciate the subtleties.
This Book's a Keeper
By Esmerelda Luv (Seattle, WA)
Once again Patterson proves to be a master when it comes to bringing out the emotional side of the characters, the subject matter, and the overall feel of the story.
Perry is emotionally distraught over the passing of his beloved Bobby. Bobby is still 'present' and is reaching out to communicate with Perry. Perry makes an attempt to get on with his life and goes on his first date since the funeral. Bobby tags along...and there is no putting this book down until the last page is reached.
Patterson has a way of including the reader in every thought, emotion and experience the characters have. At times it was hard to determine which emotion had priority, laugh hysterically or cry uncontrollably. When I finished the book, I was tempted to re-read it just to experience it all over again. This was a great book, a joy to read, and one I'll want to visit again.
Perry Chaplin is a programmer who is having a hard time. His life partner, Bobby, has passed from AIDS, as anyone who loved someone who's passed, it hurts the living to see them go.
But, author Edward C. Patterson has written what if those crossed over mourn the loved ones left behind in the world of the living?
Friends decide it's time for Perry to join the living instead of hurting from Bobby's death and sets him up with someone. As Perry finally goes on a 'blind date', Bobby's presence starts to be seen. You see, Bobby's not too happy that Perry is getting back to his lifestyle and he's starting to make himself known. Bobby's just as mournful as Perry is - each can no longer touch the other, and it's frustrating for Bobby seeing his partner on a date!
Bobby's Trace or presence certainly is a force in this book. It also deals with church policy and the human heart, as well as the metaphysical aspect.
Mr. Patterson writes with fluid elegance. You can put any person in the situation Perry's in, and Bobby too, male or female, and the premise still is a strong one.
A sensitive read. A look at love that transcends love and relationships, regardless of gender.
ellen george, reviewer