Last summer I fell in love with a ghost.
It happened on my Grandpa’s ranch, aptly named The Spirit Acres. I spent a month on the ranch that summer. I figured the time spent interacting with the animals there would help toward my degree in animal care. I would get practical exposure to grooming and nursing these animals and my Grandpa would get much needed help around the ranch.
Grandpa put me to work the day I arrived. Days were spent feeding and inspecting the cows, pigs, goats and donkeys, cleaning the stalls and chopping wood for fire. Evening were spent shooting the breeze with Grandpa. Nights were spent trying to beat the heat till I fell asleep.
Things pretty much started the way I expected. Except for the sweltering heat. I knew it would be hot but working in the sun at temperatures reaching a hundred is not something one can prepare for. Even at his age, close to 70, Grandpa was as active as ever and the heat didn’t seem to bother him. The heat sapped my drive to work in no time and on the third day I actually felt a little dizzy and had to rest for a bit before I could continue.
Nothing out of the ordinary took place for the first three days. On the third night I woke up to a knocking sound. When the sound persisted for a while I got out of bed to to investigate. My bedroom had a door that opened to a porch outside and the sound seemed to be coming from there. Still groggy I peeked out to the porch through the mesh of the screen door. What I saw made my eyes bulge in shock and terror. There was a rocking chair on the porch, facing out toward the back yard. The chair was rocking back and forth, making the knocking sound. The chair rocking back and forth, by itself would have been creepy, except there was someone sitting on it. I say someone. If there were some person sitting on it that would have been shocking. But it wasn’t just someone. It was something. A bluish, wispy thing that looked like a person. A translucent person. That was bone chilling scary.
In my fright I yelped and took a step back. My foot smacked against a side table. The glass bottle of water on top of the table toppled, fell on to the concrete floor and smashed. In the instant I looked down at the floor and then back out the screen door the thing on the rocking chair had vanished. The rocking chair was still rocking but there was no one on it. In a distance a dog barked. Nearby my Grandpa was in the hallway outside my bedroom door. “Allan, are you ok?” he asked. I opened the door to my bedroom and saw him in a knee length sleepshirt with a rifle in hand. His sight was so comical I forgot my fear and had to chuckle. “Sorry Grandpa. I got clumsy in the dark and broke a bottle. Go back to bed. I’ll clean up the mess.”
That night I lay awake till dawn. I was positive I hadn’t imagined it all. Next morning I caught up with Grandpa gardening, pruning his tomato plants. “Grandpa,” I said, “You told me you carried on the name of this place from before. Why was it called The Spirit Acres by the previous owners?”
He paused, as if trying to remember. “You know, boy, I don’t remember exactly. The couple that sold us told us some mumbo jumbo story of a spirit of a girl when we asked him about the name. He convinced your Grandma to keep the name. If it were up to me it would be The Shady Acres.”
That night again I couldn’t fall asleep, my head full of wild and crazy thoughts. And then I heard the knocking. I tiptoed to the screen door and there it was. On the rocking chair like the night before. It must have been an hour that we stayed that way. The blue wisp on the rocking chair and me crouching behind the screen door. Finally the thing got off the chair and stood up. I held my breath. I was looking at the profile of a woman. Her face, her eyes, her long flowing hair… they were all different shades of blue. Then she walked away, drifting into the distance. I don’t know how long I must have stayed crouched next to the door, my heart racing.
The entire day that followed, when I was not drifting off to sleep or actually sleeping in the shade of a tree somewhere, I kept thinking of what I saw the night before. Grandpa thought I looked pale and sick. “Farm work is tough, eh, Melon?”, he said. He sometimes did that. Called me Melon. When I was a child he would hold me on his lap and sing ‘Allan Melon Kiwi Pie/ Sitting on Grandpa’s thigh/ See him as he flies so high’. And then toss me up in the air.
The song repeated in my head that night. I was restless. Every few minutes I would sit up on my bed and look outside, waiting for her. Just as I was finally nodding off to sleep I heard the knocking. I got up and walked up to the door. She was seated on the rocking chair as before. I was frightened and excited. My heart was ready to leap out of my chest. “Hey,” I whispered through the door. She jumped in the chair, startled. Not the reaction I expected. She looked at me through cool blue eyes. For the first time I saw her from the front. She stood about half a foot shorter than me, which would put her around 5’8″. Her thin shape was in a flowy dress, which was a dark shade of blue. Her long hair came up to her waist. She had a high forehead, big eyes and a cute button nose. I was struck by how beautiful she looked.
Hi, she said. Well, not really said. Because no words escaped her lips. Yet I knew what she had said. And she smiled. The most genuine of smiles that made me feel at ease. Yet I stood behind the screen door, somehow feeling safer there.
“Who are you?” I finally asked after we stood there staring at each other for a long time. I didn’t speak this time. I just formed the thought in my head but I knew she understood because she responded.
“Jinny. And you?”
I was a little embarrassed. “Was I loud?”
She nodded and laughed, showing a perfect set of translucent blue teeth.
“It’s something my Grandpa used to call me.”
“My Grandpa used to call me Jinny the Poo.”
It was my turn to smile.
We heard the dogs barking at something. “Coyotes,” she said, looking out into the distance. I tried to follow her vision but all I saw was darkness.
“You sure?” I blurted.
“Of course, silly. I grew up here. You look like a city boy. What brings you to these parts?”
I told her I was in school and studying animal care and I told her why I thought it was a good idea to come here to visit Grandpa and learn some farm knowledge from him.
“Now you know it was an even better idea to come here to meet me,” she said. “And I will teach you all there is to know about farm animals.”
“You have my full attention. What are we going to start with? The mating pleasures of the alpha donkey with a harem?”
“Hah. Sure. But later. I have to leave now.”
“Will I see you tomorrow?” I asked.
“Yes, of course.” And with that she drifted off into the darkness. I whispered a muffled wait. There were so many questions in me.
I asked Grandpa the next day if he knew anyone named Jinny.
“Isn’t that Derek’s daughter?” he asked.
“No, that’s Cindy.”
He had never heard of Jinny. I never brought it up again.
She was back the next night and every single night after but I never did ask her all my questions. Every night we chatted a little bit more than the night before but I never asked her her full name. We spoke and spoke through the nights but I never asked her about her family or her life growing up. Our conversations went from the most mundane to the most philosophical. We could look at stars in the sky and imagine them to be cute kittens or talk about life on distant universes. We could tell each other how cute we thought the other person looked when they smiled or debate the entire concept of beauty. For all that we talked, surprisingly, I never asked her her story on how she became what she was. Maybe a part of me was scared to find out all the answers and maybe a part of me was happy with what she was.
Night after night I stayed awake talking to her and spent a great deal of the day sleeping. Grandpa shook his head in disapproval but didn’t complain. He figured I was not cut out for life in the country and he let me be.
The romance between Jinny and me nurtured at a rapid clip. The second night after I had met her I stepped out the screen door and onto the porch. I turned the rocking chair and myself sat on a chair facing it. A couple nights later she touched me for the first time. She said the dimple on my cheek when I smiled was cute and she touched my cheek. The touch felt like cool raindrops on my face.
On one of the nights I said, “I love talking to you. I love being here with you.” She came up to me and kissed me on my lips. It felt like being enveloped by a cool breeze and my lips felt as if cold water were poured after chewing on mint.
“I love you. But you and I can’t be,” she said.
She spread her arms wide. “Can’t you see through me?” she asked.
It was the first time either of us had alluded to what she was. “I don’t care,” I said flatly. “What’s important to me is the happiness, the smiles, you bring to my life.”
It was also the last time either of us alluded to what she was.
And that’s how it went. I was in love with a ghost. The month at the ranch went by fast. The day I had to leave crept up on me. On us. The last night was heart wrenching. We held hands through the night. I promised her I would be gone for just six months and then be back. She smiled wryly and said that was ok.
When I left, Grandpa thought I was genuinely sad with wishing him goodbye.
The first two weeks without Jinny were misery. I cried and stayed up at nights. On several occasions I felt like catching a bus and returning to The Spirit Acres. But time passed and my aches soothed. After a few weeks I even dated a cute cashier from a nearby hobby store.
A few weeks after that I got the news that Grandpa was in poor health. And then a few days later I got to know Grandpa was going to sell the ranch because he could no longer tend to it. My heart sank. Not only were there going to be new owners but they were apparently going to demolish the home and build it anew. How could this happen? I was supposed to return there. Return to her.
I buried myself in my studies to distract myself. When I was not studying I surrounded myself with people. I tried not to be alone or idle. I tried to avoid the outdoors late at night. The slightest sounds of knocking made me jump.
It has been a year since my stay at The Spirit Acres. I have not told anyone what happened there. And I am pretty sure they wouldn’t believe me in any case. I think I have come to terms with that and with the fact that I won’t see Jinny again. But I will never forget her. Sometimes I lie awake at night and think about her. I wonder if she too has met someone else or whether she is still waiting for me. Sometimes when a cool breeze blows I look around, wondering if it was her. Wishing it was her. Wishing for one more drop of water on mint kissed lips.