A Voice From Beyond

07 December
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“Why are you asking me to do this?” I asked Jackson.


“Because I saw how you cried at Ingrid’s funeral, Bennie.”

It’s true. I was devastated by Ingrid’s death. She was so young, only 38, and had so much promise. She was also Hollywood star beautiful. We were never lovers but the best of friends. I remembered how the two of us would meet my co-worker Jim and his friend Holly at the Kat Korner. Eventually Jim and Holly got all lovey-dovey and moved in together. After about six months, though, they began feeling a strain in their relations. Then they broke up and couldn’t stand the sight of each other after that.

I looked at Jackson and said, “What you’re talking about doesn’t seem possible.”

Jackson was another of Ingrid’s friends. He had some kind of computer company that worked with artificial intelligence. “It’s amazing what you can with AI these days,” he said. “It would almost be like having Ingrid back with us.”
I thought about Ingrid’s death two months before. She was coming home from work and a drunk driver ran through a red light and smashed into the side of her car. Jackson’s idea seemed grotesque to me. I thought of the Frankenstein monster or the thing that was slouching home in the story “The Monkey’s Paw.”

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I was freaked out by Jackson’s idea, but at the same time I was drawn by a morbid curiosity. I went to his shop, Digitally Yours, a couple of days later and let him download all the text messages that I had received from Ingrid over the years.

He explained how it was going to work. He was going to all of Ingrid’s friends and get text messages and pictures from them. Then he would go to social networks and get even more material. From that he would build a data base of things Ingrid had said. Then he would create a neural network that would have voice recognition and enable machine learning. Once it got online, it would be able to learn from things that people said to it. It would be able to repeat stories other friends had said to it. They could create a machine-generated voice that would sound so close to Ingrid’s real voice that it would be almost like Ingrid was actually talking to you.

I didn’t want to think about it. I went home and spent the next couple of months in a deep funk. I tried not to think about Ingrid, but I couldn’t stop it. Before the accident she and I would spend an hour or two on the phone rehashing the day’s events. Just about every Friday we went to the Kat Korner and stayed until the place closed. Rather than drive home afterwards, I stayed at her apartment, but I always slept on the couch.

I used to ask her advice about girl friends. She always thought they were not good enough for me. I never could keep up a long-term relationship with any of them. I know now it was because I always compared them to her and found them wanting.

Ingrid and I always kissed when we met, a chaste brother/sister kiss. One evening I had had a couple of drink, and I moved my hand up to cup her breast as we kissed. I moved right back and apologized, but she said, “No, it’s okay.”

I thought of Jim and Holly, how their friendship had been destroyed after it became sexual. I didn’t want to risk losing my friendship with Ingrid, so from that time on I didn’t try to touch her in a way that a brother wouldn’t.

After the accident, I avoided our friends. Instead of going to the Kat Korner on Friday nights, I stayed home and watched television. I had almost forgotten about Jackson’s project. Then I ran into another friend who told me that the project was finished. It was on the internet: RememberingIngrid.com. It had been up for a month or so.

“It’s just like Jackson said. You feel like Ingrid is right there talking to you,” he said.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to feel that. What would it be like seeing and hearing my best friend again? When I turned the computer off, would it be like losing her again?

After several days I logged onto RememberingIngrid.com. Her animated image appeared on the screen. I was overwhelmed. I almost logged out, not sure whether I could listen to her speak.

Then she began. I could tell that the words came from a text she had written to her sister Sharon. She said, “I feel so close to Bennie. I want to spend the rest of my life with him. We were meant to be together, but he doesn’t seem to be interested in me that way. It makes me feel so bad.”

A thousand thoughts rushed through my mind. If Ingrid and I had married, maybe she would not have been at that place when the car ran through a red light. I was such a fool.

I turned off the computer, unable to listen anymore.


Author: CARL PERRIN
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