THROUGH THE DOOR
This is a story I wrote for Halloween, but I understand the Victorians liked ghost stories at Christmas. So recent circumstances have made me wish to share. It takes time to say good bye to the ghosts…
Title inspired by the Victorian ghost stories, but story written before seeing ‘The Cold Embrace’ at Trinity Theatre, although the idea of doors and a passage from past to future came from that evening of Victorian ghost stories at Trinity, in October 2014.
Through the door
by Carolyn Gray
She carries her ghost around with her all the time. Sitting on her shoulder, watching her daily. Every aspect of her day is governed by him. It is the arm she wears her watch on, the songs she sings in her head, the brand of coffee she drinks first thing, the book she reads while eating breakfast.
She has got up early on a dark winter morning because today, finally, she wants to lose him. He’s been there for twenty years now, but she isn’t at all sure how she can make him go away. So, for a start she is going to the place where he last breathed.
So, as she wonders which jacket to choose, while saying a little prayer, she leaves behind the leather jacket like his, and puts on her, very old, duffel coat. She catches the early train to London, and then walks to Golden Square. The tall buildings surround them, it’s early, still dark, and looking like it will rain. She sits on a bench, and talks to him.
“Please can you stay here? There are so many people here, especially on a sunny day. You can sit with them on the grass and sing to them. I can come and see you, but you won’t need to be at my side all the time. I don’t really know if I’m looking after you now, or if you are still looking after me.”
He sings back: “I want to be your lover, But your friend is all I’ve stayed, I’m only halfway to paradise, So near, yet so far away.”
She finds that comment deeply unhelpful. She sits for a while, but she can feel him there, and he is starting to weigh down her eyes.
They go to Wardour Street for coffee, just as the heavens open, rain bouncing off the road, lightning flashing in the sky, and thunder growling above the traffic. The café is playing a mix of 1980s music. “That helps.” she thinks. Although when she thinks, she is never sure if she is actually speaking out loud. Every song now takes her to a moment twenty years ago and things they did, the parties they went to, the pubs they drank in. Since then her work, and her ghost, have been enough, but now, as the peak of middle-age is in sight, she wants to reclaim her own life.
They walk on down, past St Anne’s Churchyard Yards. “I don’t suppose you want to stay there?” she asks; she feels it unlikely. The streets are starting to get busy. They walk along Shaftesbury Avenue, and they think how much it has changed, and by the time they have idled their way to Covent Garden the pubs are open, she is soaking wet.
She goes in for a whisky. He comes along too for a pint. No-one wants to talk to her, and she settles in a corner. She reflects on the changes that have happened since 1989. Some how she didn’t count her whiskies. They almost magically refilled themselves, as her purse magically emptied itself. Half full, half empty.
She goes out the door and wanders into the street, a little unsteady. Despite wishing to lose her ghost, she still looks behind her, a feeling the real person of himself may have appeared to keep her company. She turns, then she is spinning, and she is on the road, and people gather around her, pick her up, and take her to the side of the pavement. A motorbike has stopped further up the road, now the rider is getting off, taking off his helmet, walking towards the crowd. People talk around her, and then an ambulance has come, a police car. People still talk, and finally she can hear them.
Yes, she feels OK, a bit shaken, no pain, no, her feet are OK, yes, she’ll try and stand up again.
Assessed by all as safe and sound, the crowd disperses, the ambulance, rider, police, all go, and she is alone.
Yes, she is really alone.
There is no ghost.
The weight has gone.
Unable to enjoy London alone, she returns to Charing Cross and shops in WHSmith. She feels no need to buy a magazine he would like. She buys one about flower arranging. Then she chooses 7UP not Fanta. She heads home.
She opens the door and she hates every part of her past with a feeling so deep it feels like her heart has been ripped out and thrown onto the streets of London.
The next weeks see her fill bin-bags with old possessions – she can even throw away the music cassettes that are unwound, the novels with pages missing. “Catcher in the Rye” means nothing anymore. She phones in sick to work more days than she goes in.
One day she stops mid cleaning, makes a coffee, and grabs a rock-cake from the tin. She coughs as she bits and chews, and her mouth feels funny. She runs her tongue over her teeth, and it encounters a hole, a gap, a missing tooth, where before there was a full set.
That evening, as she gets ready for bed, she pays attention to her reflection in the mirror. Daily, there are more and more grey hairs, more wrinkles, and a small spot on her nose.
As winter turns to spring, she carries on with the cleaning. She needs to fill her life with something, after loosing her job. With every day that she fills black bags, she feels tired, achey; the spot is getting larger, like an ugly wart, her hair greyer, deep wrinkles line her skinny face and hands, more teeth have fallen out. She is scared to go out the house. She adopts a black dress as her all day wear.
One day there is a scratching at her back door. She opens it to find a black cat, who comes in, and never leaves.
Summer comes, but she is still making stews in a big pot on the stove. Hiding from the outside world, horrified by her own appearance, she cooks what she can find in her garden: nettles, frogs’ legs, newts’ eyes.
At night, she sits in an old rocking chair by the window, the cat on her lap. She cackles quietly to herself. She dreams spells that will make him return to keep her company, to make her young again.