Seasons move one to another; miss one here and there, before you know it you’ve lost half a decade. Remembering the view, I stared out of my window, but the mist covered the hill, the lane down to the river and the Church tower. I’ve been dead for five years and it’s not been an interesting time.
At forty years old, I developed a cold which turned it into pneumonia and I passed away. My parents were devastated, and both died within the next few years. My anticipation was buzzing, I thought I would meet them, but they never stopped and moved straight along. It was the start of a sad time as I watched the house fall apart, mould and damp spreading from corner to centre walls across my home.
Over the succeeding years, I was trapped in the house that I had lived in for all my life. A seventeenth century affair, a white two up two down with a central front door, the type small children draw. Attached to it was an older cottage, one room placed on top of an old work store. The newer part faced towards the front highway, the back looked down over the village towards the church. Between the two dwellings the builders had constructed a staircase; it was narrower on the north side and climbed the wrong way. This was my home for the whole of my life and I felt comfortable here, and still did, even in death.
Towards the top belonged my bedroom and living space, a landscape outside my window looked down over the rose garden. And this is where I had spent my time since having the lodgings to myself. The bottom floors were cold and bare, the electricity had been turned off, and with this the heating. I was a dead man in a deceased house. When my parents had been alive I would sit and watch TV soaps with them, listen to their conversations, debate silently and scold their mundane ideas. They never replied.
For now, the outside world was beyond me, through the window, the view was misty white, no garden, church or people were visible.
From time to time potential buyers would come by. I despised them and in a temper I could drop the air to freezing. My mood affected my surrounding, chasing a ten year old boy out of my room, his eyes wide, focused on getting back to his parents who were viewing the living room, but not able to tell them what had scarred him.
A noise from downstairs confirmed I had visitors. The clunk of small shoes told me a small person was on its way up. The door flew open and in jumped a small girl dressed in pink, with blonde hair, it was straight, slightly stringy with a yellow bow. She wore white stockings over her legs. At the centre of my room, she flung her arms out and swivelled on the spot, nearly toppling over. I leaned against the wall in the corner, arms crossed, frowning.
“Hello, this is my room and I’m going to paint it pink.” She said as she span.
Without moving I returned “I don’t think so young girl.”
“Yes I am, Daddy said I could, and my castle is going in that corner.” She pointed to the corner across from the door, stopped spinning and stared at it. “It has a real flag on it.” With this she turned to me. “What’s your name?”
“David” I said, standing up straight. Slightly surprised but managing to keep controlled.
“Well David, my beds going to be where you are and I’m getting a new one. The room over there.” Her head nodded to my living space, “that’s my playroom.” With this she hopped to the door and jumped from one room to the next, without stepping on the hall between. I followed.
By the time I arrived she had placed herself at the window, had breathed on it and was drawing a face. “Sorry, you…” I stuttered, how do you talk to a small girl? “You, girl, thingy.”
Without acknowledging my voice and adding hair to her art piece, she carried on. “I’m Rosemarie, I’m nearly five and I’m going to school soon. What are you doing here?”
“I am David. I am forty years old and this is my room!” I replied with menace, increasing the volume with each syllable. I wanted it to sting and see her flee the scene.
Rosemarie’s eyes gave me the once over, “Very well, you have this room I’ll have next door, but it’s still going to be yellow.” Her head turned back, as she blew again, ready for another picture. “You can call me Rose.”
Two weeks later the removal men turned up, decorators painted the rooms yellow and pink, with pink and yellow boarders. A single bed went into my corner and the castle with real flag ended on top of a chest of draws. A few hours later Rose flew into her room. I waited to see if she would talk. She did.
“Hello David, do you want to play?” She pulled the castle to the floor and brought out a small doll. It had a dress. From her other pocket she removed a boy doll. “You can be a knight and save Molly from a dragon.” She put the female doll in the castle by the main turret.
“That’s never going to work” I started coming off the wall. “She won’t fit, the scale is wrong. If she was real then she would be around twenty five feet tall. She’s more like King Kong in medieval costume.” I stated walking over and standing over Rose.
She handed me Ken which fell through my open hand, I squirmed slightly, it was embarrassing not being able to hold items. “I must apologise, I find it a bit hard.”
“That’s okay, you do the voices, I’ll run the toys around, and the size is not important. It’s just a game, silly.” Rose played. I knelt down, checked that no one was spying on me and began.
All my life I had a love of books, which now I could not hold, suddenly I saw an opportunity to once more enjoy this pastime. “Rose, if I play with you for twenty minutes will you fetch me a book and turn the pages so I can read?” Rose agreed. So I played.
I must say my input to the story was very slender. If I had an opinion and it did not fit with Ken saving Molly, then my points were ignored. Twenty minutes came and went and still we played. Eventually, I sat down, refusing to make any more dragon noises until we had read a few pages. She gave in. Rose went to her parent’s room and returned with a love story., which I had not read for years.
The deal was that I would read out loud and she would turn the pages. Within the first chapter the pilot was getting it together with an air stewardess, and it was very graphic. I stopped and went back to the castle.
Evenings and Saturday afternoons we played; always her games and her ideas. Reluctantly I allowed myself to be humiliated, either becoming a knight or a monster, and even once an ugly sister. During the day she went to school and dance class every Saturday morning. At this time her mother would appear and tidy. Each time she returned my book back to the library. This would lead me to explaining to Rose which shelf she had placed it on. I started several books that Rose would not pick up again.
Sunday lunch arrived and Rose dived downstairs only to reappear moments later. “Mummy has a seat for you, come on.” Adult conversation; and why not I concluded. Timidly I walked through my sitting room, and into the kitchen. Mother and Father and Rose all sat around a small square wooden table. Beside Rose sat a pulled out seat, I came passed and sat down.
“Is he here yet Rose?” asked her mother.
“Yes. Mathilde got a medal at dance yesterday.” She scowled.
“Does he want dinner?” asked her father.
“David doesn’t eat, do you David.” Rose giggled at me, I nodded back, but the beef did smell delicious.
The parents started talking about the depression; there was a recession when I died, had it become something more? I prompted Rose to ask about my old company, and what was happening to it.
“Daddy, the industrial manufactures of boat bits? The company down the road, are they still there?” It would do, ‘motors’ is what I’d asked, but I was happily surprised by her remembrance of ‘Industrial and manufacturing’.
Her father looked up, flicked his eyelids, and continued about job losses locally. This was fantastic, in depth conversations, the world updates, and what were they having for sandwiches that week. There were boring points as well.
It was agreed. After school we would play for up to one hour, there would follow grown up time with her parents and news. At bedtime I would read a book of my own choice for half an hour and then I would read her choice until she fell asleep. And this we continued through the spring and into summer.
Water trailed through the kitchen, pursuing Rose, who grabbed a cake and towel before heading towards the side door and back out into the garden. “Come on David, play with us.” She had two friends over, Mathilde and Lucy. They were very annoying. A blow up paddling pool was situated on the lawn, or so I was led to believe. I could hear Rose splashing and the squeals of girls being splattered by cold water. I stepped closer to the opening, to hear better and amazingly I enjoyed the cries of fun. Not that I would let Rose know that.
The door was open and for the first time I could see the grass, freshly mowed, the plants, and the steps down to the girls playing. The white mist was situated at the far end of the plot, around the garden edge. It had moved outwards. The sun lit up the picture.
Stepping out, heart in my throat, and stretching my toe forward, my territory had expanded. Keeping my focus on the floor I headed slowly to the lawn, constantly aware of the presence of the mist. Her parents were on recliners, both reading behind shades. The small pool was blue, a foot deep and a meter and a half in circumference. The sun was bright and the sky was full of Swallows, Swifts and Martins, all enjoying early evening feast of bugs flying up from the river. “Rose, I can come to the garden.” I shouted with excitement, she turned, smiled and went back to her work.
A small dwarf wall ran down from the lawn to the vegetable beds. Sitting down I wasted an hour or two, bliss. Their voices faded, as I drifted, my eyes shut as the heat warmed me. Rose crept up. “David were going in for cake, you coming?” Replying that I would stay for a while, take in the atmosphere of the valley, I shooed the young girl away.
Every step Rose went closer to the house, the mist started to encroach on the land, at first over the hedge, then towards the vegetable patch. I stood and stepped backwards, turning. Rose was in the house, the white mist was surrounding me. The side door was a haze. I ran, held my mouth shut and dived in through the door as the mist pounded my ears. Cake was being cut in the kitchen.
Three mothers were controlling the girls, cutting, wiping, and washing “Lucy has an imaginary friend as well, a grown woman would you believe.” said one.
From the kitchen sink another voice stepped up. “In that case I’m lucky, Mathilde’s friend is a nine year old boy named William.” Rose’s mum shrugged. “I’m not overly worried; they will all grow out of it.”
I hadn’t noticed. But in the corner, leaning against the wall was a tall slim lady, with black hair which she wore tied back. Her face was pale, with little makeup and two stud earrings. She wore a dress that covered the shoulders but left her arms bare and stopped an inch below her knees. Next to Mathilde a blonde boy was giggling along with the girls’ conversation.
Ladies had been a difficult area to me when I was a live. Once I nearly had a date with a very attractive young woman, but she caught a cold the day before and called it off. Being dead had not improved my awkwardness. I stuttered, gave a small cough and muttered to the floor.
She beamed back at me, pushed herself off the wall keeping her arms folded. “Hello David, I saw you earlier but you seemed so content out on the wall.” She walked passed the table and mums, stopped within three feet. “My name is Gladys, and the young boy is William. We came with Mathilde and Lucy.” She held her hand out to shake. Nervously I responded and tingled with the feel of a real object. My mouth opened and then shut, and then opened.
“Do you want me to explain?” asked Gladys I continued to stutter, gave up and then nodded. “We can go out with our friends. Wherever they are we have a space around them, the mist circles us, centred on our partner, but it has enough space to keep us safe.” I nodded, this made the garden experience fall into place.
Gladys continued “Our houses are our own. I guess you have total freedom within the walls.” She didn’t wait for a reply. “With the children we have more freedom, that is, until they grow to an age when they realise they should not be able to see us. One day they forget we exist and we are trapped within our walls again. This is my second child, William is on a dozen.” She threw a friendly smile in my direction, went to the boy and tossed his hair. “It’s ever so good to meet you.”
“Likewise” I managed a reply. “So you can visit me, and I you?” Gladys nodded back.
Where did I start, how old was she, when did she die, and what off? How come she never went over? The boy, where did he fit in, his clothes and cap made him a working boy in the coal pits or local mills. They finished over one hundred and fifty years ago.
What I did was make my excuses and hide in my room. Half an hour later the party was over and Gladys with William left to go home.
Rose arrived upstairs, excited about her party and keen to talk. ‘It was great, everyone had a fabulous experience and the cake was sensational’ I may have agreed with a few words, but Rose nodded with each one, clapped and jumped onto her bed.
“Can you invite your friends over again?” I said to the wall.
“Mum said she is having them over every Thursday and I have to go to Lucy’s on Tuesdays. It’s was decided today, how good is that?”
Amazing, I would have the chance to see Gladys at least once a week, maybe twice.
Thursday took an age to arrive, but with it came the two girls and Gladys with William. High pitched screams filled the room. William lay on the floor as Mathilde pointed at pictures in a comic. He filled with colour and was blissfully happy with the company of other children. Gladys and I sat on the floor with our backs leaning on a radiator.
Gladys had died during the Second World War, not in service, but knocked down as she crossed the road from the village shop. She had been sweet on a boy named Ronald, they had dated once, but he died from a mine collapse in the late twenties. Gladys spent the next fifteen years single, quiet, wore her glasses and read or listened to the radio. Her family home was passed the church, part of the row of miners cottages. Next door had lived William.
At nine years old he was already digging coal, an orphan from Bristol; he had been shipped out to work and shared his house with eight other boys and a housekeeper. In February, during the snow, William caught a cough. Within days a fever came over and he could not work. The keeper threw him out of the house. He lasted one night and died in the Church doorway the next morning.
My relationship with Gladys’s became deeper over the next few weeks. I loved the history of the time and the detail she gave of village life back then. The reminiscences of the war and all the shortages William’s life was harder, but he gave it over with real warmth and seemed to have had happy memories. Gladys kept her eye on William, asking if he was alright, shaking his hair, always willing to jump if he called. He enjoyed showing her bits and bobs, a book, a shell, anything that took his fancy. Gladys would fain interest and because she did, then I did.
From time to time, during my special evenings, Rose would come over from the girls. I would firmly inform her that this was not the time. Thursdays were my occasions for adult talk, for spending moments with the woman I was falling for. Rose would stick out her tongue, stomp and flump down with Mathilde and Lucy, whisper to them and join in the laughter.
One Thursday as summer gave over to the first wave of autumn and a cool breeze came under the door. The curtains had been pulled and as was our norm, Gladys and I leaned back in our usual spot.
I began to speak; it had taken several attempts for me to get the nerve to bring it up. “Gladys, can I ask you something?”
“Yes of course.” She said, slipping her arm through mine and resting her head on my shoulder. “What is it?”
“Well.” I started, “Last Sunday, I was in this room when Rose came running in to get a toy, a small fury brown hedgehog. She grabbed it and went sailing out again. The point is, I said “Hello” to her and she never noticed. Two days later she sat on the floor and played and however much I tried, she would not let me join in, she sat there doing all the character parts.” I looked over; Gladys’s eyes were concentrating on the floor. “But yesterday, she was upset as her dad said she could not have her own pony, then she came in full of tears and through sobs told me all about it. Gladys, what’s going on?”
Gladys brought her knees up, slipped her arm from mine and closed them around her legs. Her eyes searched out William. He rose up onto one arm and returned her stare. “Do you want me to tell him?” said the boy. Gladys’s face went to the floor prompting William to begin.
“It happens to us all, she’s starting to outgrow you. At first it’s on and off. Rose will come home from school on a Monday and tell you all about the picture she drew, on the Tuesday you will have never existed. Any kind of temper will bring her back, but in two to three weeks even that won’t bring her to you. David, she’s growing up.” William flicked his eyes to Gladys, she took over.
“When she stops, then you will be trapped in the house again, we can come over with the girls, until they stop seeing and at that point we will all be separated.” Tears rose up. “David, it is really rare for more than one dead person to be able to meet with others. This is the first time for me and William has only met one other and that was fifty years ago. The mist keeps us in our homes.”
I bent over and put my arm around the boy, he was shaking. Gladys came to his other side. “I don’t want to be alone again.” He cried. That was it, I was going to find away for us to stay together, we were becoming a family."
“Okay you two, how are we going to fix this, what happens to everyone else?” I thought out loud.
Through his tears the boy pointed out that they never came here but went straight on. And then a light came into his features. “The Church! In the Church is an old plaque, its very old, before my time. It’s a note to the dead to help them move on.” William stood up, “It’s on the wall to the left as you go in.”
This was amazing, a way to stay together, meet my parents again. “What does it say?”
“I don’t know, I can’t read.” said William wide eyed.
“Rose” I shouted, she carried on playing. Gladys called to Lucy, on the third attempt her young girl acknowledged her. Gladys asked her to get Roses attention. My young friend turned towards the door.
“Who’s David?” she looked confused. “David? He must be in the play room.” Continued Rose, staring straight passed me as I stood two feet from her. Her mind went straight back to her game.
Time was moving on, I had perhaps two weekends. I needed a plan to get to the Church and read the plaque. It was decided that at eleven thirty I would come down with Rose, if she wasn’t seeing me then I would freeze the room until her focus was back on us. Gladys could still talk to Lucy, and Lucy would drag Mathilde.
Sunday morning arrived and Rose was playing by herself in the middle of my room. Several times I had chatted with no reply. She had not played with me since mid week. The clock ticked on towards the set time. I pleaded with her but with to no avail. Frustration grew inside and I could feel the temperature drop. Rose grabbed her quilt and carried on. My future was in the hands of a five year old girl and I needed to get to that church. I flung out an arm, smashing into the castle, it flew across the room, crashing into the wall, bouncing the plastic off the side and dropping the flag into Rose’s lap.
“David, what have you done” she screamed.
“Rose I am so sorry but I need your help.” I pleaded; she looked back at me, glowering. “Rose I need you to take me to the church, can you do that please.”
The flag was in her hand, she put it back into the turret. Set the castle upright, checked that nothing was too seriously damaged. “You should not have thrown my castle David, that’s not nice.”
I agreed, said how sorry I was and after much more begging, and informing her that the other two girls would be there. She finally agreed to go.
Pink Wellingtons on, she opened the door and skipped down the lane. The white mist fell back around us and closed in behind. I kept as close as I could, creating as much distance from the cloud. Within minutes the church yard came into focus and with it the other members of our group. We entered the yard and twisted our way through the graves. Huddled in close as possible, Rose opened the door and we all fell in together. Gladys and I flew over to the wall, and there, at head height, nailed to the brick work, was the plaque.
Whatever you perceived,
And whatever you believed
When you feel the wind freeze
And then the writing stopped. The bottom line was gone. A chunk was missing. The final part was gone. My heart sank. “That’s just great”, I said to the wall. “The one piece we want. The one line to make it whole. And guess what? It’s not here. Typical. My little friend can’t see me, the girl I love I won’t be able to meet again and I had great hopes with the boy. I wanted to teach him to read. I was in despair and kicked out at the wall.
A hand came up to my shoulder. My grip held onto the fingers. They belonged to William. “I think I know where the section is David?” Gladys came close. “I remember that a builder was doing some work on the church, he took the fallen part and used it in the inside of his fireplace, said the piece was a perfect fit and would make his home closer to god.”
William circled around to face me, focusing in on my clouded vision he carried on. “David he lived in Rose Garden Cottage. Your home.”
Could this be true? The final part of the jigsaw sat in my home. Light headed, I span into Gladys’s, my hand holding hers firmly, never wanting to let go. Spreading my free arm I pulled the boy in close. Determination came over us all. This was our chance to be a family. This is what I wanted.
Excitedly we called the girls over. Gladys explained to Lucy. And repeated herself as calmly as she could. Her voice rose higher as she talked over the gaggle of uncontrollable children. Changing tact, Lucy was reminded that there was still cake at Rose’s. A light flicked on in her mind. An announcement of “All back to Rose’s” and three young ladies ran back up the lane to my home.
Inside they disappeared to the kitchen for cake provide by Rose’s mother. The remaining three of us went into the sitting room. We faced the fireplace, peered to the side of the electric heater that stood there. With anticipation and my body shaking I took charge. Best foot forward I approached; bent over at the waist with slight flexed knees. William and Gladys stayed back as I stepped in. Three bricks counted, towards the back corner sat a grey dust covered brick. Cut into it, but faded were a string of letter, it had one line of writing on it. I brushed it clean. William shouted in. “Have you found it?”
I kept the reply blank; it was hard to make out. I wanted to be sure. The faces on my companions were frozen, waiting for the result. Reversing back into the room, I straightened out and faced my companions.
Whatever you perceived,
And whatever you believed
When you feel the wind freeze
Walk into the mist and you will be free.
You could have heard a pin drop. Gladys dropped her hand and held onto the boy. I stepped closer.
“I don’t want to go into the mist, if I go in there I’m not coming back.” said William quietly.
“You don’t need to worry; Gladys and I will stay with you always. William it will be the three of us forever. It’s our way over. We can find our families again, join with the others. William you will never have to be alone again. Gladys and I will be with you forever.” I rubbed his hair and slipped my arm around his should. “You ready Gladys?” She nodded. “Then let’s go”
One last look at the girls playing, they were happy and had no notion of our presence. The door to the garden was open and outside circled the chill of the mist. Hand in hand we walked. Tension in my fingers increased as William squeezed, tears dropped from him as a scared nine year old put his faith in a forty year old. “Don’t worry.” I said with confidence, bending down to him. Focusing, he stepped forward with Gladys to his left and I to his right. Temperature dropped as the mist closed in around us and the house disappeared behind us.....