A Story for Our Time: Ghosts

We ran away from there, hearts pounding…

We didn’t mean to go to sea, and I am lonely. I have often led quite a lonely life, I am naturally quite shy, although often people dispute this. Who knows what goes on inside people’s heads when they stand amongst others and smile and make witty comments, when they ask the right questions and listen attentively. People can learn how to behave socially, how close to stand to each other, how loudly to talk, how long to make eye contact for, knowing how to do those things proves nothing, and no longer serves me in anyway as there’s nobody to behave appropriately, or otherwise, in front of. Who cares now if I am shy, I no longer know if I am shy as there is nobody to be shy with. I can now declare I am not shy.

I am not shy, I am not shy, I am alone. A L O N E. Not a lone wolf, not choosing to be alone, not reclusive, I am no hermit in a cave. I am a hot-blooded woman alone on the ocean. The sea is stormy and the waves break over the boat and I stand alone with my hair flowing, salty, the wind whips it around my face and my eyes sting. Tears stream down my face but I cannot tell if they are from sadness, rage or the salty bite of the sea.

I fear for my children, I fear for their safety, for their sanity. I am not the only one who is alone, they are alone with one lonely, angry woman to look after them, to meet all of their needs. One woman to hold them when they cry, to stop them from killing each other, to keep them from falling overboard, to teach them to be kind, to love them. Which one should I hold when they are both crying, or when we are all crying? Children are resilient, they tell me. The great ubiquitous they. They who help to form our opinions. They say this and they say that. What do they know anyway? Surely the only truth is an observable one. I see plenty of adults who clearly were not particularly resilient as children in the face of adversity.

The storm and my mind rage together. Through the darkness I see somebody on deck. I can’t believe my eyes. I cannot and will not. I refuse to see them, they must leave immediately. I have no time, no energy to interact with another person, I have nothing left to give. They have no right to be here.  Yet still I crave that person, that invisible shape taking form on the deck in front of me in the gloom. I can’t speak and I cannot move, I am frozen, rooted to the spot. My throat is so dry, no sound can escape.

I squeeze my eyes tight shut against the sight and against the lashing salty waves that pound the deck. How long do I stand frozen in space and time, in tired limb and body? Time has no meaning, I am alive and today is today everyday; yesterday and tomorrow are ideas. Today I breathe. My fingers are numb. What if I open my eyes and you’re gone? Or if I open my eyes and you’re here? There are only two outcomes and both fill me with fear.

I have not faced much real danger in my life, and in the face of it I have not been afraid. I was once invited for a ‘smoke’ by a friend, in a flat with some people in Oxford whom I didn’t know. My friend and I sat down in the kitchen where five unknown men who looked to be in their forties were seated around a large wooden table, somebody made tea, vague introductions were made. I sat quietly listening to the conversation which slowly changed course from something fairly benign to a subject that was clearly causing two of the men a considerable shift in their energy. I didn’t notice what they were talking about but the hairs stood up on the back of my neck as the tension in the room rose. Suddenly silence boomed as two men seated opposite one another stared menacingly at each other. For the moment nobody spoke, but I dropped something I was holding, time stood still as the object spun through thick air and clattered to the ground, quickly I bent to pick it up, but as I rose I caught a glimpse under the table of a gun, black and shining, in one man’s hand, aimed toward the man opposite him. Panic and blood hummed in my ears as I forced myself to stand up, I held out my hand to my friend and without hesitation he grabbed my arm and pulled me from the room. We ran downstairs and out into the street never looking back. We ran and ran away from there, hearts pounding. When we stopped running I found that I was crying loudly, that my cheeks were wet with tears. Now I was frightened, my legs shook and I lay on the earth and cried until I realised I was laughing.

I wasn’t scared when perhaps I ought to have been. More often I get scared when I imagine things are there that are not. In my thirties I lived in a three storey Victorian house, and it was haunted. There were two ghosts and they regularly scared me. My house was always cold because it could not easily be insulated and my landlord was unwilling to fork out, so I sat in a cupboard studying in my coat with a duvet over me. Every so often a distinct feeling would pass over me, and extra coldness, a prickling feeling accompanied by a strong smell of what can only be described as wee. I imaginatively named this spirit the wee-wee ghost. At first it scared me often but after a while I actually got fed up with it because it used to disturb me and interrupt my studying, so one day I found myself explaining out loud to the ghost that I needed to finish my essay and could it please go away, at least for now. I distinctly felt it withdraw from around me, and it left me alone for a couple of days. After that I used to speak to it regularly and I stopped feeling afraid of it altogether.

The other ghost in the house was called ‘the smoker’ for obvious aromatic reasons, but it actually used to set off the smoke alarms. I found myself on several occasions creeping up the stairs armed with a large broom handle, or even an axe, ready to bash whoever it was smoking cigarettes in my hallway, but I never found anyone, just a lingering tobacco smell. I feel that I ought to add that nobody in my house smoked.   

I wonder if you are a ghost. You can’t really be here on my boat, where would you have come from? People don’t just materialise before your eyes, no matter how much I want them to.

Perhaps I can talk to you with my eyes closed. I am clinging to the handrail with wet numb tingling fingers with my eyes shut tight talking in my head to a person who isn’t really there. It can’t be right, life is not supposed to be like this, what is life supposed to be like? There is no supposed about it, it’s all just opinions, I am only really sure of what I observe, and seeing that my eyes are shut I cannot observe you. I don’t want you to go away, so I will keep my eyes shut just for a little longer. I can’t smell you because the sea smells so strong and salty. I open my mouth to speak but the words won’t come, my throat is dry, the only part of me that is. I have to open my eyes, I want to see you.

I wake up.

Photo by Pascal Meier on Unsplash

Photo by Heather Zabriskie on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “A Story for Our Time: Ghosts

  1. Hi Dora – how lovely to read your story today. Whats better still is that there are a few I haven’t read yet so a treat for bedtime. Hang on in there, like the rest of us, bobbing about in nowhere land. Love to the girls – Claudia xx

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