Our Ghost

I came through the door and stopped dead in my tracks.

My father, who had been buried last Friday, was sitting in his usual place by the fireside, as live as you or me.  Well, not entirely as live as that.  One side of his face still bore the waxy colour of death, while the side next to the fire was regaining a pinkish tone.

“Will you close the door,” he snarled, “and keep out the draft.”

I obeyed, and then noticed my mother and Elsie, sitting at the far end of the room, both in a state of catatonic shock. 

I looked back at father and grasped for words to break the silence.

“We buried you last Friday,” I mumbled, “Are you a ghost, or what?”

“Yes, ye buried me last Friday,” he retorted.  His words were strangely contorted due to the frozen state of half his face.  “Ye must have been in a real hurry to get rid of me or ye would have waited for me to die first.”

He looked a ridiculous sight there by the fire in his brown burial robe. 

“You seemed well dead to the doctors and all,” I said weakly.

“Well, indeed I was not dead,” he said.  “And if it wasn’t for the good sense of my grandfather, who took a family vault in Glasnevin Cemetery, instead of interment in the soil, ye would have buried me alive under six feet of clay.”

Owning a vault in Glasnevin Cemetery was a matter of family pride.

“How … how did you get out?” I asked.

“Ha!” he snapped.  “I shouted and banged and kicked on the lid, weak as I was.  After an awful long time, a cemetery worker heard the noise and let me out.  And here I am, home from the dead, and what a cold welcome I get home from my own dear wife and children!”

He glanced with derision at his catatonic wife and daughter.  But, no more than them, I couldn’t bring myself to give him a warm welcome home.  The truth of the matter is that, in the few days since the funeral, we had been basking in the relief we felt with the passing of his tyranny. 

“How do you expect them, us, to greet a ghost?” I asked.  “They are in a state of shock.  You could have killed them waltzing in from the grave like that.”

He snorted, and spat a mouthful of phlegm into the fire.

“What time is it?” he asked.

“Ten past six,” I answered.

“Then, why isn’t the tea on the table?” he snarled, (for tea was always at six o’clock in our house).

“I’ll put on the kettle,” I said.

“You’ll do no such thing,” he said.  “You’ll sit by the table and let your mother and Elsie do their tasks.” 

I turned to mother.  “Put on boiled eggs for everyone,” I said.  Then I told Elsie to set the table.  Nothing like simple, clear instructions to shift people out of a stupor. 

“You should have a hot bath as soon as the tea is over,” I said to father.  “That will bring the circulation back into your body.” 

We had our tea.  Mother resignedly helped father upstairs to the bath.  I went to my room and focused on my studies, oddly enough making good progress despite the unusualness of the circumstances.  I complimented myself on my controlled detachment.

When I came downstairs, father was dozing by the fireside, and mother and Elsie were vacantly watching television.

“I’m going out to Molly,” I said, and began to make for the door.  Father roused himself and snarled: “Make sure you’re back by ten o’clock.”

For Goodness’ sake!  The man’s episode with death obviously had set his mind back a few years and now he was treating me like a child.

“Look here, father,” I said, “I’m twenty years old!  I’m going out to see my girl friend.  I’m not a little child.  I can’t be back at ten o’clock.  I won’t be out late, but there’s no way I can be back at ten o’clock.” 

“If you can’t be back at ten o’clock,” said father, “you can find somewhere else to stay.  Ten o’clock is still bedtime in this house.  And that’s that.”

Restraining myself from answering back, (which was not permitted in our house), I left in some pique.  Back by ten o’clock!  Not a chance.  He can like it or lump it, but I have to live somewhat like a human, if not with quite the freedom to which normal people are accustomed.

Molly and I did our usual.  We strolled down to the Golden Spoon restaurant for a cup of tea, with apple tart and ice cream.  It was a pleasant way to while away an hour and enjoy each other’s company.

Molly had been a hot thing, and the object of my desire, when she was a teenager. At that time, I was obliged by my despotic father to be “in” by nine and in bed by ten, while the other teenagers engaged in horse-play in the lane behind our house. From my bed, I used to hear Molly’s voice engaged in the banter outside, and the quietness that ensued when the teenagers coupled off for kissing sessions. I used to wish that I was there.

But all that ended when Liz Manning got pregnant. The horse-play suddenly ended and the lane went quiet. Molly took to religion, just like her mother. She was at Mass and Communion every day and at the Miraculous Medal devotions on Monday nights. Clothes-wise, she was always well covered and always behaved as if the protection of her virginity was her number one priority in life.

Actually, I didn’t mind. It suited me to call for her in the evening and stroll down to Phibsboro for quiet hour over a cup of tea. It meant I got a break from my study, before hitting the sack, and Molly got a break from her “owl one.” Romance was for another place and another time.

I decided not to mention my father’s return from the dead to Molly. It would be too difficult and too upsetting. Instead, I let Molly natter on about the trivia of her life, while I sat in relaxed detachment.

It was, of course, well after 11 by the time I arrived home, - more than an hour beyond father’s curfew!  However, I did not expect any particular consequences to follow.  I was wrong.  This tyrant would not be disobeyed!

When I turned the key in the lock, the door did not respond.  Father had set the latch and bolt, and locked me out!  The house was dark: all were in bed.   I tried again and again, but knew it was in vain. 

I leaned against the doorjamb.  Stay calm, I told myself, and consider the alternatives.  I could knock at the door and bring someone down.  This might result in an unpleasant confrontation with father.  I could knock at Neighbour’s, - but how could I justify that against knocking on my own door?  I said to myself, “what I’ll do is this: I’ll go for a long walk, and by the time I come back I’ll be sure they’re all asleep.  Then I’ll throw pebbles up at Elsie’s window until she wakens.”

However, just as I was about to put this plan into action, I thought I heard a stir from within, and, yes, placing my ear to the door, I heard mother’s footsteps gently padding their way down the stairs to the door.

She unbolted and unlocked and quietly opened the door.

“Don’t make a sound,” she whispered.  “He’s just gone to sleep.”

As quiet as a mouse, I made my way to the bedroom and into bed.   Gradually I drifted asleep.

Suddenly I was wakened by a splash of liquid on my face, to find my father emptying his pisspot over me!  The putrid liquid splashed over my face and hair and drenched my pillow.  He did the deed and was gone back to his own room.

I sat up in the bed in agitation.  I pulled off the top part of my pyjamas and dried my face and hair with it.  Then I threw it and my soaking pillow onto the floor and lay on my back fuming.

After some time I heard the sound of father snoring.  Then I hit on my desperate plan.  I waited for several minutes to make sure he was fully asleep.  Then, heart pounding again, I picked up my pillow and tip-toed to my parents’ room, gently easing open the door.  Father was lying on his back.

I went straight over to the bed and planked the pillow full square down over father’s face.  I put my full weight on top of it, holding the pillow securely over his nose and mouth.  Mother turned onto her back.

“He will never die,” she said weakly.

I said, “Sit on his legs, mother.  Sit on his legs.”

She stirred herself and sat on his legs just in time, for father now began struggling to escape from the pillow.  Mother held down his legs and I kept my full weight on the pillow over his face.  Fortunately, he was in a weak condition after his experience in the grave, and failed to throw us off.

The struggling ceased. But I held the pillow in position for a further quarter of an hour to make sure he was really dead this time. 

I whispered instructions to mum, and she obeyed, zombie-like.

With considerable effort, mum and I managed to get the pyjamas off, the third order robe back on again, and the body down to the front door.

I opened the front door and peered out.  All was quiet out there.

“All right!” I whispered.  “We have got to shift him outside, and then stand him up against the wall.”

We got him out headfirst and then, placing his feet against the wall, hooshed him up into a standing position.  Then we went in, and I closed the door.

Elsie was on the stairs.  She had heard noise and came down to see what was going on. Complications!  Complications!

“Come into the kitchen,” I said to them calmly.  Then I told Elsie to make a cup of Horlick’s for all of us.  As we finished our Horlick’s, I said:

“We are all shattered by the recent events.  So to help us to get back to sleep, let’s do some relaxation exercises.  First, put everything out of your mind and concentrate on your breathing.  Breathe deeply in … and out.  Any thoughts that invade your mind, just push them gently out, and concentrate on your breathing.  Notice the breath coming in and going out again.  Now I am going to count to five, and after that you may close your eyes.  As I am counting be aware only of my voice counting and your breathing gently in and out.  Counting, one, two, three, four, five …”

So I went on, suggesting that what we had experienced was a nightmare and that in the morning it would only be a vague memory like a dream … then I sent them to bed, where they were to sleep soundly until morning.

I still had a job to finish.

I dialled the police station.

“Blackdarn Police Station,” said a voice at the other end.

“Is Sergeant Peter Kelly there?” I asked.

“No,” said the voice, “Sergeant Kelly is on day duty.  Can I help you?”

“Yes,” I said.  “I hope so.  The reason I asked for Sergeant Kelly is that he was at my father’s funeral last Friday, that is, the funeral of Billy Moore.”

“O yes,” said the voice.  “I heard of that funeral.  I’m sorry for your trouble.”

“Well, something unusual has happened,” I said.  “Some practical jokers have taken my father’s body from the vault in the cemetery and left it at our doorstep.  If my mother comes down and sees it there, she’s going to have a heart attack.”

“What?” said the voice.  “Is this for real?”

Gradually I got the message through to him:  practical jokers, stiff body on doorstep; need to avoid shock to mother; possibility of restoring the body to the cemetery. I suggested that the culprits might well be criminals who had crossed swords with my father, for dad, of course, had been a policeman.

He talked about finding the culprits.

“O, for goodness sake!” I exclaimed.  “Just get the body off our doorstep, please.  And don’t go searching for culprits yet.  That would only extend mother’s pain.”

“Well, okay,” said the voice.  “I see your point.  I’ll see if I can get a van, and if not I’ll get a car, and smuggle up a roof-rack somehow.  You just go back to bed now, and I’ll see to it that the body is gone before morning.”

I thanked him and put down the phone.  Then I just sat there in a cold sweat, until, half an hour later, I heard the police van arrive.  True to the man’s word, the police quietly took the body off the doorstep, and I never saw it again.  That was the end of the matter.  The ghost never returned, except in my dreams, and, perhaps, in mother’s and Elsie’s.

-  THE END  -

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