I live with ghosts. Ghosts aren’t spooks. They’re memories that you’ve clung onto so long they start to cling back. Hands you held so tightly, you can still feel their touch when they’re gone. Voices that ring through empty rooms.
Ghosts can be five years old with pokey toes jabbing you in the night as you sleep, and sixteen next morning, when a song comes on that she loved back then. Ghosts can disappear as you reach them, or hang around all day.
Ghosts can stay even while their souls go on living, having kids and grandkids of their own.
As we climbed, I sensed something was about to happen. We always said we wouldn’t get married, that love was enough. But that day it occurred to me that an ancient temple, high above the city, would be the perfect place for you to propose. When you touched your pocket, I wondered what sort of ring you’d hidden there. By the time we reached the top, my heart was pounding as much from the anticipation as from the climb.
Then you pulled out your phone and as you snapped selfies, my heart was tumbling 7000 steps back down to reality.
In the dream we’re falling. She’s a tiny bundle in my arms and we fall and fall until I don’t know whether I’m terrified or grateful that there’s no ground to hit.
Her cries pierce me awake and for a moment we’ve hit the ground but no, we’re in bed and she just wants a drink or a diaper, or maybe she was dreaming too. For that microsecond she’s all there is: even outside the dream there’s only her and me.
But then the world comes back, and there’s her, me, and the gaping hole where her mother should be.
The story that follows this picture is fictional – all except the garage, which is real.
Advice was the one thing Dad always gave without hesitation. So I lapped it up in the place of love: never trusted a man with a skull tattoo, never bought vegetables after 6pm, got cars serviced at a dealership.
Then I bought my dream car: an 1967 MGB Roadster. My nearest dealership is Swansea and I’m not driving into Wales every time I need an oil change. Forums give the little garage rave reviews. The guy has a voice like an old MG engine: Soft and growly, sounds like trust.
Appointment’s tomorrow – something tells me he has a skull tattoo.
Ever since a cruel boy had weaponised the concept to break her heart, Jodi had desperately tried not to turn into her mother. She’d discovered over the years that it was far from the worst thing that could happen – her mother had been kind, thoughtful and forgiving – and the heartbreak of losing her had been many magnitudes worse than being dumped by Andy Whitman.
Nevertheless, Jodi winced when she saw her mother in the mirror or caught herself using her voice. Which made it all the more confusing today, when the reflection before her wasn’t Mum. It was Grandma.
Not a true story. 😉
There’s a song on the radio these days in which the James Barker Band claims “They ain’t making new old trucks”. It’s a fun song and an understandable sentiment, but of course it’s nonsense. New old trucks are being created in unprecedented numbers. And so are new old ladies, which was the point of this story.
Trigger Warning: I haven’t written much misery recently. Maybe having kids makes it harder to write sad stories. But this one came to me and it needed to be shared. If I’ve done my job well, and especially if you’ve just been watching the UK’s Christmas adverts (McDonald’s in my case), it might bring tears to your eyes.
Little kids just take things for granted, don’t they? When I was in Kindergarten, I didn’t know it was weird to go to school nextdoor to a graveyard. Or to watch your teacher sneak out and eat her lunch every day beside a small grey angel statue, come rain or shine.
We collected leaves between the headstones and took rubbings of their intricate carvings, but we never went near the angel. It was Ms Connor’s special place.
Two weeks ago, Rochelle shared a picture from long-lost Fictioneer Doug, this week she doubles down and shares not only a photo but news of another member of the FF old guard, Ted. I don’t normally read past the picture, but today I scrolled on to look for the news. So glad to hear Ted’s nailing the stroke rehab – sending him all the best for ongoing progress. The news came with a request for Rochelle that no doubt inspired my story too. I hope you don’t mind me hopping on that bandwagon, Ted.
Joey seemed nice, thoughtful. Becca wanted to believe she’d chosen well this time. When the clocks changed, she started getting home in the dark. “I’ll leave the porch light on,” he said. “Like a lighthouse steering you into safe harbour.”
But Becca had a history with porch lights – Mom used to turn it on when Pop opened his second bottle. Not all lighthouses stand at the entrance to ports, some warn of dangers lurking just beneath the surface.
Outside, Becca swayed on a stormy sea of doubt, before heading for Joey’s lighthouse and praying it was the good kind.
I’m not sure about this week’s story. I wrote a 200 word version and have edited and reworked it so many times, I can’t tell if it loses the point. I’d love to hear your feedback, good and bad. And apologies in advance for using the C word when it’s barely even October!
The Christmas After
That first Christmas after Mom left, Shannon knew things wouldn’t be the same. Last year, she’d got a big doll’s house with only a small tear in the wallpaper. Her one-legged Ken carried Barbie across the threshold and Dad had made little furniture out of cardboard boxes.
There was no big gift this year, but Dad appeared at the door holding a folded square of paper. “Christmas a little lean this year, Bubblegum” he said.
In Dad’s shaky handwriting, the note said “IOU: One afternoon window shopping”.
“Thanks!” she said, trying to mean it. “I only got you a hug.”
Time moves slower on a train. It’s the perfect chance to read or to write, even to sleep. If you don’t mind occasionally waking up in Wales. But the world moves faster around it, changes at a glance. Bleak warehouses become sheep, huddling from the rain that minutes ago was sun.
You can age a year just waiting for leaves to be cleared, but the world won’t hold on. The wedding can’t be delayed for a single guest, even one who might have put a stop to it and told her she was making a mistake. Especially not for him.
Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is a great example of why I didn’t study physics beyond 16. I just… no, it’s ridiculous. I mean, I’m not saying I know better than our great scientists, I’m just saying this is theoretical too far for me. If you are interested though, here’s the video Sebastian and I watched this morning to try to understand it for this story. Start about 3 minutes in for the portion this narrator is referring to.