People smile strangely when I tell them I am haunted. They laugh, or ignore it entirely, dismissing my confession as a joke, an oddity of character. I ask them the silent question - are you not too? I have never asked you.
Each turn of a page speaks of the page before and the one before and the one before. I lift an arm, and behind it trail the movements of days passed; a wave, a strech, a fist. I am haunted, haunted by those that I have touched and those that have touched me, and I cannot exorcise myself. I am made up of others, I can claim no true existance for my own, rotting body.
Your words haunt me, your face, your hands, your thoughts. But so do those of the man who asked me the time three years ago. My ghosts are do not discriminate. All are welcome. Each action, each thought is merely the result of all the ghosts that have gone before, the volcano that has been rising, pushed upwards, brimming until it overflows, burning, scorching, searing.
I stand on the shoulders of giants. No, not giants. Of ordinary people, of strangers and friends and those ficional and famous, of chance meetings and disembodied pain. My ghosts are not malicious ones. Nor are they kindly. They behave exactly how they did in life. Some are unimportant - the ghost of a shower once taken in a motel room, but some lurk with intensity; the ghost of a relationship, an idea, a moment. I am haunted by the honking of a car horn as I sat too slow at the lights, by the touch of a breeze, by a scream in the night. I am haunted by a life lived,
My ghosts batter at my windows, little wings soft in the night. They crawl out and show themselves through me, possessing my fingers, my tongue, my feet. I am driven by them, driven through them. Shadows chase shadows, echos rise and swell and twist and shatter.
A black cat follows me. You will not remember it. I do not speak of that ancient omen of death, that beast who is stoned and cast out, who sours milk and sickens the cattle. This one was not truly black; grey and ash and blotches.
I found it on the road. A car had taken its ribs; its body bent awkwardly, leaking on the hot tarmac. I reached towards it, instinctively, hoping perhaps to scoop its insides back in, to stroke it, to selfishly ease my own soul with its soft fur.
It tried to hiss at me, but it spat blood instead. It looked at me in surprise; in pain and terror and loss. I have heard tell that the last thing a man sees is imprinted on his pupils. I wonder if that held true for cats, and if a miniature version of my outstretched arm had seared itself into this cat’s eyes; his last moments wasted on my useless gesture.
Its mouth filled up with blood and it was still.
‘Just a cat’, you said.
And I thought of a lonely widow who would call at the back door for hours.
‘Probably a stray.’
A birthday present, I thought, an only child; a gift to fend off the sound of the midnight arguments.
‘Stop worrying about it.’
A bowl, dark blue perhaps, with a carefully chosen name picked out in black.
You said I was soft; I thought too much. I thought you didn’t think enough. You let life pass you by, you drifted and floated. I fought, I caught every passing stick, I pushed my life away.
Days and days and days and days.
I grew up beside you. I got my period. I fell in love; I gave you my love. I left, for a time, and came back. I settled down. I had your son. Then lost him again. My father died. I had your daughter. My mother died.
But hese things happened on the surface, where people swirl and live and die. They never touched the deep. The deep was where the terror was.
I moved home. You followed.
The trees outside were crinkled, like wrapping paper. Their branches would frighten me as a child, black and twisted and straining sky-wards in supplication. The crows perched on the highest branches, screaming derision down on us. They would take flight in flocks, wheeling around in a giant circle before settling in a tree that looked no different to the rest.
Our farm is built on a forest-bed. Centuries ago, they had dug out the roots and the trees and laid down soil and bricks and iron. Sometimes the trees would come creeping back in, spreading a toe or two across the boundaries, but after my father died, you kept them in line with biting axes.
But the trees had a champion. A monstrous hooded crow, as large as a cat. Every morning he would come with the rising sun to dash his head against our window panes. He would perch on a rafter, and beat against the glass with his beak and skull, tap-tap-tap. If we chased him away, he would sit on the telephone wires and caw at us, taunting us, and would be back on his crusade as soon as the door was closed. He was trying to break down the house, I know this. Make it crumble to dust, piece by piece until the earth could reclaim what was hers. He was a thousand years old and one, that crow. He fought for chaos; to send our pretense at order tumbling down around our heads.
I kept your words with me. ‘Too soft,’ you said. I was soft. I see it now. My words were soft, my head was soft. My love was softest of all. Push it, test it, and it would shatter. I was tested, again and again, and I failed. But it never seemed to matter.
Nothing but days and days and days, days void of love but filled with words on a stained and torn napkin. I kept the terror with me too.
The terror was the trees. The terror was the tap-tap-tap of the crow. The terror was the cat, spitting blood and spitting hate.
I don’t hate you, even now. I’m sure I did, in wine and confessions and scribbled words. But they were fleeting, never lasted.
You are waiting for me now in our bedroom. It is yours, no matter how you protest; you take my things that I have so idly strewn and fold them and place them away, out of sight. You have grazed my shoulders with your hands and whispered in my ear.
‘Come’, you said. ‘Follow me’.
You will take my dress and slip it from my shoulders. You will twist my skin and suck my lips. You will open my legs and give to me, but truly you will take.
I will die inside, like a thousand deaths before. But never true deaths, because I knew my true end would come like the grey cat’s; spitting blood and defiance. Hating the hand that reached out in selfishness, hoping to sooth their own unease. Claiming my death as my own and fighting till the end.
I have no car to take my ribs from me and spill my innards onto the hot tarmac on a summer’s day. I have you, and only you, and I have years. I weigh them in my hands, I judge their worth. You never took my heart, no never, you took my lips and hands and feet and womb. But my heart remains my own, and here it ends.