It started one night.
I woke in the middle of the night. I knew I was awake. At least, I thought I knew I was awake. I could see someone sitting on the bed. It was dark, yet I could see him. It was actually very dark so I shouldn’t have been able to see anyone there; but it was as if I could sense the figure. I knew there was someone there. What the fuck? It was when the figure turned to look at me that I really lost it, a robber I could cope with, but this?
What freaked me out was it was my father. He’d been dead for six years. ‘I’m a rational, sixty year old man, seeing a ghost.’ I thought, ‘and I don’t believe in ghosts.’ It had been years since I had believed in anything but what I could see, hear or touch. I had lost a real faith at thirty, and lost that lingering feeling that there was ‘something’ in the ensuing decade. Now I was seeing my father.
I hadn’t seen him, hadn’t even dreamt him after he died. I had cried, I had grieved, I had helped Mum clear him from the house until there was nothing left to remember him by; and regretted every loss of tools, clothes, even the garden shed had gone. I didn’t argue with her, I could see this was her way of coping. She was hard-hearted, but she wanted to cope somehow, and that was her way.
Now he was looking at me from the bottom of the bed. I did what any big, brave, brawny, six foot two man would do – I screamed. I had to be awake, I was screaming. I live alone, nobody came running. Dad just looked. He didn’t speak, he didn’t move. I stopped screaming. I watched him, convinced he would come closer if I closed my eyes. His eyes just seemed like dark pools of sadness; which wasn’t like him at all actually, he had been a reasonably happy person.
Mum died five years later, I cleared the house, sold the house, split the proceeds with Tom and Shirley (brother in Newcastle, sister in South Wales). I was the closest and the oldest; somehow it all fell to me. I used my share to buy the narrow boat that sits at the bottom of the garden in the Tenbury Canal.
I live alone since Margaret left with my best friend. I wasn’t surprised or even saddened; maybe disappointed. Margaret had never liked boating, she didn’t like much that I did, really. Didn’t like walking, canal boats nor French holidays. She liked beach holidays and Sangria. She and Mike were better suited. Still, seven years wasted, I was disappointed. So I live alone, no-one to hear me scream. Of course, there was also Anne.
I watched Dad, I knew I had to watch, I had to stay awake, I had to keep an eye on the figure in case he moved.
There was blackbird singing outside when I woke, it was daylight. So much for keeping an eye on the figure – I wouldn’t call it a ghost, there are no such things. I tried to see if anything could have fooled my eyes but there was nothing. No dressing gown flopped on the bed, no picture which the light could have reflected from (the only picture was of the Gorch Fock, and there was no light anyway). I was tired, I would call in sick. I picked up the phone before realising it was Saturday. That was it! I’d had my usual fish and chips and a bottle of Spitfire last night. Maybe the bottle was off, or the batter was, or something. That was it! Had to be.
That night, I went to bed early. A good night’s sleep was what I needed. Then everything would be fine.
I woke at 2am, no-one was there; got up and went to the bathroom. Came back, got into bed and as I was about to switch off the light, there he was. I knew I was awake this time. The light was still on! He was there; a grey figure. The more I looked, the less I saw. He was translucent but solid at the same time. Hard to explain; if I didn’t look hard, he was more solid and less transparent. Again, he turned and looked at me; never saying a word. My hairs on the back of my neck were all standing on end. The sailing boat picture should opaquely through his body.
Either there really were ghosts, or I was going crazy. Since I didn’t believe in ghosts, even now, I reckoned I was going mad.
I switched off the light, and he stayed looking at me. I went to sleep. That might sound like I was way cooler about this than I was, but it was the middle of the night; I was tired. I couldn’t have stayed awake even if my ex had chosen that moment to have a row – and she did seem to like having fights in the middle of the night. It didn’t help when I fell asleep in them, she wasn’t forgiving.
The following night I was unwilling to go to sleep. I sat up watching TV and fell asleep on the sofa. I was watching a Mission Impossible film – I forget which, but then they are all the same aren’t they? - and woke to hear David Attenborough telling me about the Blue Whale. I couldn’t work out how that fitted in the plot for a while. Then I realised. It was as I realised that I saw the person sitting next to me on the sofa. From a slouched sitting position, it is possible to jump, still sitting, over the armrest of a sofa, I discovered. I looked back. The figure just sat. No reaction at all. I couldn’t tell who this was. It wasn’t Dad. It wasn’t Mum either, I had half expected to see Mum turn up after Dad, but no, this was a younger, female figure. Indistinct though. I thought there was something I recognised, but what was it?
What should I do? I was going crazy. But if I went to my GP and told her, she’d say “You’re going crazy” and I’d have to have treatment and I’d lose my job and then, even if I was cured, I’d never get a job again because once you go crazy you’re unemployable. Everybody knows that. Today seeing things, tomorrow swinging an axe into people’s heads. That’s what people think. It’s better to lose a leg or something. Some employers will take you on to feel good about themselves if you have one leg, or a wheel chair, or can’t hear, or ... anything but mental issues.
It could be worse; Dad and this new one hadn’t spoken to me; hadn’t told me to kill the Pope or something. They just sat. So now there was one downstairs and one in the bedroom; what next?
That night my Dad came back to the foot of the bed. I didn’t mind so much now. If I was going mad, well, at least this didn’t seem too threatening.
Work continued unaffected. At the office there was nothing too unusual and then on the delivery run nobody apart from Nobby was in the cab with me. Nobby was my assistant. His name was some long Asian name; we called him Nobby for short, he was okay with that once he realised it wasn’t some reference to his knob. Why Nobby? Well, he played football one day at lunchtime, somehow Nobby Clark or Nobby Stiles seemed appropriate. Who knows. Anyway, the point is, he was real, not a ghost (or whatever). I asked him if Sikhs believed in ghosts; he smiled and said “How would I know? I’m a Muslim.” Oops, well do Muslims believe in ghosts? “Nah man, you die, you go to paradise with 70 virgins, innit? ‘Course I’ll have to blow you up first.” He was laughing; he’s easy going about religion. We get on well. So, at work, no problem.
I get home and there ‘she’ is. Who is she? I’m sure I should know. Else why would she be here? This is very confusing. And yet still I don’t want to go to the doctor. Maybe they will leave after a while.
But they didn’t. Instead, I got used to them. I tried sitting where she sat and she just dissipated. But if I got up to go to make a cup of tea, I’d come back and there she was. “That’s my seat.” I said, and realised I was talking to a disembodied being that everybody would call a ghost except I didn’t believe in ghosts. I tried taking a picture, but of course nothing came out.
Dropped another cup today, damn I’m getting clumsy!
You’d be asking yourself, as I was, whether anybody else could see them. The thing is, if I ask someone and they say “What? You crazy?” Then the question is out there then. Public. And if they can see them? That’s worse. What do I do with that information?
So I sat with a grey figure and watched TV and I slept with a figure at the bottom of the bed. Was I scared? Yes of course, but I was more scared of being labelled ‘round the bend’.
A few weeks went by. One early evening, watching Fargo on a DVD. “Excellent program, isn’t it?” I said to the grey semi-transparent figure beside me. I was talking to a non-existent being! I looked at her and suddenly realised. When I was a student, I’d been asked to talk to the sister of one of my fellow students. She was a first year, I was second year. My colleague was going on a date with his girl and wanted me to double up to keep his sister occupied. I agreed. Had a good time, but she had freckles and I didn’t like freckles. How shallow was I? We never talked again, even though Steve was asked to tell me she was interested. I was so fucking stupid!
Now she was sitting on my sofa. Why her? I’d lost touch with Steve ages ago. But the internet is a mine of information. I tracked him on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and there it was, her name. I looked her up, she was a successful Head of Teaching Technology (What was that?) at Donby High School. So, she wasn’t dead or anything. You can see, I was starting to accept the ghost idea. But that didn’t explain her presence. She wasn’t a ghost. Why her, why now?
I picked up my coffee and promptly dropped it on the keyboard. No grip, just for a second. Weird. Luckily I don’t take sugar. After a wash and brush up, the keyboard worked again. I like to use a proper keyboard and screen attached to my laptop, it’s better for you than getting the ‘laptop hunch’.
Melanie and Dad. No connection that I knew of. I had occasionally regretted blowing her off, she was nice, pretty and I should have let her down better than I had. Perhaps I should contact her? No, that would be weird too. I had once or twice wanked off to thoughts of her; even though I could barely remember what she looked like. I wasn’t proud of that.
I didn’t tell anybody about these figures, I just got used to them being around. I did wonder why Mum hadn’t turned up too.
... Came down this morning and found Melanie had been joined by a friend. Now who the hell was this? I reckoned it must be someone I knew, the other two were. But the more I looked, the more it became vague. “Don’t want to be seen eh?” I said to it. Bloody Hell! I’m assuming they can hear me!
I tried to ignore them; and they weren’t in the way or anything. If I wanted to sit where they were, they just vanished. They didn’t move up, that would have been even weirder wouldn’t it? I don’t know. The new one was female. If I looked at something else and then let my brain just focus on the edge of my view, I could make more out before she went vague.