I saw the household ghost yesterday evening.
During office hours, I work alone in the spare room, shuffling paper, tapping on a laptop, making calls.
Outside, in the winter garden, the courting pigeons shift and flutter on the fence, prospective lovers trying their chances and being dodged. A crow flies down. He flexes his wings in dismissal and the pigeons scatter. He raises his head and looks around in disdain, waiting till all eyes are on him. Then he lowers his beak, and with slow deliberation, sharpens it on the edge of the fence. Even the slinking cat bides her time, hiding in next door’s cabbages. I may pause with a cup of tea to watch, then go back to work.
It has never felt lonely here. The ghost, a musical companionable presence, potters around. He plays the electric piano in the front room, wearing spectral headphones. All I can hear is the rhythm of thumping keys, which stop as I enter. He hums tunes from inside machines and knocks on radiators.
Sometimes there’s a tap on the front door. I have to stop what I’m doing to go downstairs. Who’s there? No-one. I imagine the ghost sniggering when he catches me out like that; his ghosty shoulders heaving noiselessly.
At night when the family is home, if I go to bed early, I can hear the ghost. He chats or sings with some other unbody. The voices are just too indistinct to understand and I know it’s not the TV or radio downstairs.
Other times, he thumps about in the attic, rummaging through boxes.
‘Go to sleep,’ I tell him.
My husband mutters ‘what?’ then rolls over to snore.
No-one else ever hears the ghost. Until yesterday I had never seen him.
Recently, I’ve been so busy, I haven’t stopped to chuckle or admonish him. I’ve been meeting deadlines, correcting drafts. Then I had to work away. In my hotel there was nothing to hear but city noises: buses, trains, strangers. Finally home, I went to bed too tired even to read, let alone feel charmed by voices from another world. Too tired to say ‘hello’.
Then yesterday evening, I saw him. Through a gap in the hall curtains, night pressed against the glass. Then there was a flash of movement.
‘That’s the ghost’, I thought, ‘what’s he doing outside?’
Today, I am alone in the house again. At first it was silent. Then the letter-box rattled. Now it’s silent again.
Was the rattling from inside or outside?
Where is he? It is very quiet.
I am lonely.
I get up and start down the stairs. Will I find a real person outside? Has my ghost left?
There is no-one there. My shoulders relaxing, I bound up the stairs.
‘Naughty ghost!’ I admonish.
Suddenly syncopated rhythm rattles the pipes, the dishwasher croons and someone is playing hopscotch in the attic.
Shaking my head, I turn to my work again and smile, no longer alone.
Words and photograph copyright 2017 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission
3 thoughts on “Quiet Company”
Paula, I just loved this one! And the photo is extraordinary!
Thanks Julie. I don’t know why I categorised it as fiction because it’s actually all true, except for the fact that my mother in law has heard some of the odd talking/singing noises at night (what’s even odder is that my mother in law is fairly deaf) and my husband hears the thumping in the attic (we do worry a bit that the ceiling over our bed will cave in one night). The photo is a rather blurry one of my son which I manipulated in photoshop (by removing him and putting in a silky background). It did take me a while! It’s a bit of an odd house (people have been adding bits to it badly for years) but not at all creepy even when I’m on my own.