Ghosts and Lovers is a very short story by Jamie Samms, just 20 pages but it’s interesting and well crafted. The main character is suffering from a degenerative condition that erodes his eyesight over time while living in the family home full of ghosts. Each person in Tim’s life has died and he clings to their ghosts for something familiar. When Tim finally realizes that his neighbor Mark could be something more, he’s torn between the cold comfort of ghosts and letting go of the past to embrace an uncertain future.
Like all of Samms’ stories the plots are brief but textured and complicated. Here Tim is a mixture of hope, despair, want, and fear. He’s afraid of his sightless future so he clings to ghosts – even unfriendly ones – as a source of comfort. Tim is the main character and the only one truly explored, given the short space, but I really connected to him. Part of this is that a very good friend of mine is suffering from the same disease and I could easily relate to the slow slide into blindness and the resulting fears and emotions. Tim is genuine and far from perfect. He makes mistakes and missteps, angry at needing help yet fearful when left alone. For example this scene typifies Tim’s confusing emotions:
Tim yanked his hand away, or tried to, but Mark held on, and turned as Tim pulled, so that they were facing one another. “You can’t just walk in here and assume,” Tim began.
“I know.” Mark cut him off with a hand on the side of his face again, that softest of touches easily overcoming Tim’s protests. “I’m terribly pushy. How long have we been friends?”
“Since they built the coliseum?” This close, Tim could make out something of Mark’s expression, and the air around them changed. Tim reached up to touch the smile on Mark’s face.
“And I’ve been in love with you since before that, I think,” Mark said, not pulling back from his touch. “Or, at least since sometime in late middle school.”
“Mark, soon enough, the whole world is going to go black.”
“Not mine.” Mark kissed Tim’s fingertips. “The world is only as dark as you want it to be, and mine just got a whole lot brighter.”
“Do you think a cane, a guide dog, or someone to watch my life disintegrate is going to really change anything?”
The romance between Tim and Mark is lovely but rather anemic. Mark is there at the right moments to save Tim and help him realize that not all help is bad but he’s also the least explored. Tim almost has more chemistry with his naughty ghost friend than he does with Mark.
Mark is the human, living foil for the dead ghosts (both benevolent and violent) which gives him an advantage but I would have liked more to Mark than simply being a knight in shining armor to Tim’s problems.
Part of this is that the background feels vague and indistinct. I wanted more details about Tim’s family, his difficult father, his tragic artist sister, and how old Tim and Mark were. There is a vague feeling of college and classes but I didn’t know if Mark lived alone, lived with his family, if they’d always been neighbors or what the situation was. These and many other details would have added to a more full texture to the story instead of leaving questions dangling.
Overall, despite its problems, the short story is interesting and well written. The writing has a depth and complexity that elevate it from just another throwaway short story. The concept has more potential than the execution offers as there are many complicated twists and characters introduced but never fully explored, which makes me feel somewhat cheated by the length and quick ending. Yet, it’s worth reading and definitely stands out.