And the wind cries…

Just so you know, I’m dead. I mean, it’s half why you’re here, isn’t it? Ghost-hunting’s all the rage these days. But you never know. Better to be clear than give you a nasty shock.

I don’t know why I’m here. Not really. The usual reasons, the ones in your stories anyway, paint us as revealers of buried secrets, agents of providential fore-warning or just looking for vengeance but none of those really apply. I was killed. I don’t know why she did it. I like to think it was love.

Our parents married when we were already all but grown but we loved each other as much as any biological sisters could. Differently, perhaps. I prefer to think that when I became ill, she couldn’t bear to let me suffer. I wanted to live, I wanted to stay but perhaps she couldn’t bear that I would stay for her. Then perhaps it was something else. Maybe she grudged the care or she wanted the inheritance. She spent it, certainly, but not in extravagance. She never left this house to live in richer surrounds. Our half-brother offered. I heard him. I don’t know. Maybe the uncertainty is what kept me here.

She stayed here in the house. In this room even. This is where she slept. It was a bedroom before they turned it into this replica study and placed my writing desk here in their recreation. You’ve no idea how vexing it is to have them reconstitute your life and get it all wrong with you watching over their shoulders and not able to say a word. She mourned. I know she did. She shrank back into the house and we lived around each other. Two ghosts in our own different ways, apart in the same space. I used to sit with her. I don’t think she ever knew. She talked to me sometimes but not to me, just to the air. I heard her though and answered but my words never found their way to her.

She saw me once. It was the moment that she died. She saw me and she left. I smiled, I know, and perhaps she read forgiveness in it and perhaps it set her free. I don’t know. We don’t know more because we’re dead, you know.

It was a long time ago that she left me and the house filled with strangers, my half-nephews and nieces. They aired rooms and took down curtains and ripped up panels and floors and renovated and changed everything till there felt like there was barely room for me with all the new air they were bringing in. But we got on well enough. They never saw me and I got used to sitting round the corners of their lives.

It gets dull being stuck in one place, you know, but there was an ever-changing scenery. I watched people grow and change like plants and wither and leave and be replaced and so on for generations. I never learnt the knack of not loving them. It would have been easier.

They never knew me. There have only ever been a few who could see me before you. It must be some kind of gift. There was a man who could see, I think. A husband to some great great niece of mine. His eyes shifted away from me too consistently to be coincidence. But he didn’t choose to see and who was I to force him to.

 

I’m not the only one. I found another ghost. Across the way. Come, look, it was this window right here where I first saw her. She was stood at an upper window. I waved because I always wave. It amuses me. This time, though, someone waved back. She began making these gestures that I couldn’t understand then, but I was entranced by her hands as they wove through the air, drawing pictures, creating, moulding and shaping whole worlds. Well, that’s how it seemed to me and I couldn’t look away.

She saw my lack of comprehension and she stopped but she began again with simple movements, short sentences, repeated. She was telling me her name. I couldn’t read the letters though but she drew them with her finger in the air and then repeated the gestures until I could repeat them too. Mary. That was her name. I repeated her gestures and then spelt my name in the air. She taught me how to say it with my hands. She was very patient.

We met each other at our windows each day after that and she taught me how to speak with my hands. I watched her hands fascinated for hours, days, weeks of time until I knew them better even than my own. Long, dancing fingers with skin the colour of horse chestnuts in the late autumn. She had a seamstress’ hands with pads worn on her finger ends and nails short. There was a scar from some old injury which created a seam between the thumb and index finger on her left hand. She was an excellent teacher with a smile like a spring day which encouraged my progress like those first bright flowers of the year. It took a long time, I was not the quickest learner and my hands are stubby and uncooperative in comparison. She had need of all her patience! But in the end, we could converse for hours. It made a change from watchful silence, hearing others but never speaking. It makes you invisible even to yourself when you can’t communicate a single word.

We were lucky to find each other but we were stuck on two sides of an invisible and uncrossable barrier. Who knows the rules or who designed them but ghosts are created stuck haunting a specific place. If I’m honest, I’m not sure how the place is chosen. For me, it could be the place of death or, and I think this more likely, it’s the place that can most correctly be called home to you. Mary died somewhere else but she was drawn back to that little upper room, where she had lived when she had worked there. Who knows. I keep telling you that death doesn’t bring knowledge with it.

We spent years talking. Decades. It’s amazing how inventive you can be when you have endless time and we took to reading whole books to each other, creating worlds, telling stories, matchmaking, vying in nonsensical competitions, inventing teasing quizzes. One day, I watched as her hands wove the air with a beauty that took my breath away, they sang the air into music. I could never sing as well as her but she taught me songs, how to maps the notes with your fingers, move melody into the words with gestures. I could sit and watch her sing for hours. We had plenty to talk about as well. There were histories to discuss, and secrets to share, revelations about our deaths as well as our lives and then we were both old and we had so many changes in the world to share and try to understand. I’m older than her. A lady never tells her age but suffice to say I’m older than half this city. Mary, she’s just a young whipper-snapper, a couple of centuries, nothing more.

The most painful thing we did was plan. We’d come up with all these adventures we could have. We’d invite each other over, beckoning in turn. And we’d try to cross the barriers between us but this window here was the end of my whole world and that window there was hers and we’d just be walking right into them, faces pushed against the barrier. We would laugh but we weren’t laughing, not really. There came a certain point where it became too much, when every word started to hurt because it was never going to be enough to reach her. You see, I loved her in the end. I loved her too much. I wanted it to be real. I wanted us not to be trapped in our own little worlds so near and, as the cliché goes, so very far.

I started to miss days at the window. She didn’t. She stayed and she watched. I would walk past, hiding in the shadows of the room and check. She didn’t move from the window but she started to leave in her own way. She grew silent. Those beautiful hands lay still and quiet in her lap. I would talk of nothing and she would watch and answer but it was so brief that it was worse than silence. We grew distant but not really. She still sat, like patience on a monument, at her window, and I paced in the darkness and spoke in streams of nothing when I came to meet her, when I could stay away no longer.

You living never think of us feeling. You paint us stuck in those last moments, attached to who we were and who we loved on earth but centuries have passed. Centuries of people I have loved like family have lived and faded before my eyes. And I have remained alone. When you find someone who could stay, they can’t come near. That’s how it goes. I began to believe then that ghosts were the souls of the damned.

I don’t believe it anymore. I don’t believe in damnation. She asked me in the end, her hands rigid with the effort of it, lacking their usual grace. She asked me to stop pretending that I hadn’t realised we couldn’t ever reach each other and to let her sit at her window and watch in peace. Here she made sure I was listening, calling my attention with a half-desperate gesture of attention and with tears running unacknowledged down her face. She said she loved me. She loved me and it hurt. She preferred we lose each other once than every day for a hundred more years.

What can you do in such a circumstance but reciprocate in kind. I speak facetiously. I never knew how to have emotions, much less tell the story of them, but so you know how it went, my eyes were half-blind and my hands, for some reason, were more graceful than they’ve ever been before or since. I love you. I said it a dozen times. I love you and I can’t bear that it doesn’t matter. When we were all cried out, we shook ourselves off and shared a smile. We’ve both always been practical women, I feel. I reached out my hand towards her and she mirrored the gesture, reaching out to the outmost limit of our barriers – as close as we could ever get.

My hand reached through the glass, through the air, through a barrier that wasn’t there and I watched hers do the same. You look surprised. Did I forget to tell you this was a love story? You can imagine. We ran out into the street. We stopped short an inch from each other. We reached out tentative disbelieving hands and they touched and we held hands in the street like naive teenagers learning courting for the first time. Then I was in her arms but you don’t need all the details. Up close her eyes were beautiful, dark pools to drown willingly in, and her lips smiled under mine and warmed my soul like spring sun on newly unfurling flowers.

It turns out home is where the heart is. We can go wherever we please, as long as it’s together. You’d think we’d be tired of each other by now but hardly. We came back here for a visit. There’s a whole world out there we’ve barely got started on but it has a pull, this old place, as does hers. She shouldn’t be long. We’re meeting here when she’s ready. Stick around. Maybe you could meet her.

2 thoughts on “And the wind cries…

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