Sally saw a ghost that night. It was while she knitted a scarf for her nephew. The clicking of the needles, and the prickling wool, made the darkness listen to her. She always used to sing these hymns to herself. Ones her late father once played every night on the piano. Sally was old now, her singing turned to croaking in places. It was more of a hum of words came into her mouth from the past. Hymns eased away the time.
Sally had been staying in the building, before anyone. She only knew her apartment. The worn sofas, the rocking chair, the dusty carpets, and the moaning pipes shrieked through the night. Sally had built up a rhythm, to keep herself company. She walked in the morning. She visited her dying daughter, never remembering the old woman, who came to see her. She went on to the book club. They spoke of Victorian novels that were swallowed with social intensity.
The restaurant collected her after the books did. She’d have the same meal for lunch. It was a Wednesday, which meant she’d eat the spaghetti bolognaise. She loved to eat the mince first, grind up it, and slaughter the noodles with a sadistic smile. Sally cut up the chaos, into straight controllable limbs. She allowed herself to become nasty with food. She had such a conservative presence, that this one treat of brutality tasted delicious.
The afternoon arrived, faster some days. Sally couldn’t move very fast, her back battled to carry her along the walkway. The previously slipped discs still bit into her, when she resigned herself to her bed. She’d lie there, and watch the ticking clock across the room, accompanied by the faint moans the pipes gave now and then.
The ghost came that night. She gave no pathetic feminine shriek, or religious mantra to ward off the spirit. Instead she continued to talk to it. Sally stopped telling everyone, she always knew the girl was there. She sensed it. Once she heard a sharp giggle. It was so instant and unexpected that, she couldn’t be sure. Just like most cases she ran along with her intuition. Pleased she could have the company there, besides the fact it happened to be supernatural.
The figure spoke. Its translucent shadow resembled a small girl.
“Knew you’d pop up some day,” a throaty chuckle rose from her double chin. The fat wobbled.
The age is tied. Lullabies rest between the fingers of the dead.
“I wish you wouldn’t be so cryptic.”
She paused and cut the black vein of wool, circling her thumb. Sally heard that giggle again. It was small and begged to be played with. The girl skipped and danced in front of her. Her small spotted dress swayed in a wind Sally had not heard. The girl swayed to a lilt only she knew. The music of the dead.
Numbers keep count. Tick-tock the clock won’t stop for you.
Something else filters through the girl’s usual candor. Tonight she is nasty, and probably possessed (if that’s possible once you’re dead).
“I’ll tell you something my darlin’. I ain’t ready for that hell. I see it more of a figure of speech. Something to get the children to eat their spiritual vegetables.”
She chuckled again, her arms shaking.
The ghost had no face; she revealed her expressions through her movement. Her voice arced and dipped like a hyperbola. She didn’t reply, for some reason Sally’s humor stunned her obscure speech. She stood in front of the old woman, tilted her head and watched from the place you’d call her eyes.
She walked across the room. It seemed as if she was walking into a darkroom. You saw less of her after each step. She gave a brief skip after every few steps, grabbing the corner of her dress with two watery fingers. Her features faded, only outlines were left, until those two begun to slowly seep away.
Sally smiled, watching the place where the girl should’ve been.
“Bless her heart. Poor little thing.”
After a sigh, and a few complaints, she rose from her chair. She slowly rolled into bed, curling into her silver pillow, and listened to the soft hum of the pipes.
* * *
The following day, a thick silence rested in the house. It seemed as if a person’s voice was taken out, replaced by a noiseless noise. Sometimes when you listen, you are what other people aren’t. You’re a voice, speaking to the quiet.
When you listen long enough, you begin to feel. Your silence draws the other out of its corner. Sally spoke it to, in an intuitive way. She’d woken up early this morning, feeling her way through the rusty gloom. The girl was still watching her. She looked for company, Sally felt. There were so many. None had the girl’s courage, the curiosity to step out from behind their guise.
People believed in ghosts. Many traded it off on film, turning them into tormented, broken souls. Not many could understand, or feel. Sally had come to know this. The supernatural was always known, but never felt.
Sally tried to tell people years, ago when she was still naïve, still young and blind to smaller forces around her. Too many dismissed her as a freak. She was someone seen having psychological issues, refusing to be medicated. The refusal of people, told her to withdraw. She kept the secrets to herself. People could not listen to there own questions, nor accept them.
This didn’t bother her, only the fact that people tried to draw it out of her. How could someone believe this fervently? Sally saw it as almost a reflex, calling the quiet into her. Now she went about her apartment, clearing out mess. She went to the kitchen, pouring her tea, and pulling out a rusk. Sally had old cracked lips, sensitive to the raging temperature spewing out of the kettle. She went out and sat on her veranda, doing like old folks did. She watched the day commence in front of her.
A few hours later she was at the hospital. She didn’t like to see her daughter everyday; it put too much stress into her system. Today she wanted to see her. She wanted to see someone alive, a grown up girl.
The red-haired nurse ushered Sally in.
“She’s still a bit drowsy the poor thing,” she gave a soft smile. “She was having a troubled night, took her a while to rest her mind.”
Sally watched her daughter. The tubes choked her, poking into her nose. A drip hung from a stand, the devious tubes snaking into her skin of her right hand. Propped up in bed, her hair grew over the pillow quite roots, the only soft part of her left in the hospital. She reached for her daughter’s hand, brushed it, and tried to be tender.
Her eyes flickered open. They grew wider, not knowing this old women smiling in her eyes.
“I don’t…know you…why are…you here?”
Her words struggled to escape her throat. They awkwardly poured out, punctuated my guttural groans, and croaks.
“Look at you necklace, darlin.”
She fingered the golden chain with a sluggish hand. She clicked open the locket.
“It’s you. Oh, Mom…I’m…sooo…ssss-s-sorry.”
On the back of the locket, the words Love, Mom lay engraved.
“How are you dear?”
“I can’t think too much,” her chest rose and fell with a great deal of effort. Her wrinkled brow, showed this. Pain and frustration were etched in her eyes, almost a permanent feature. Tears spilt out of her eyelids, carved a path down her face.
April had a brain tumor. For years she had a series of unexplained strokes and seizures. Last year she collapsed without warning into a coma. Three months ago, she seeped out of the cocoon, out of the trauma. Her memory failed to grasp people, understand their faces. The image was understood, but the name missing.
“It’s like a complete sum without the equals sign,” the doctor explained once. “She can see the pictures, but her brain can’t seem to fill in the gaps.”
She had been on medication to keep her at rest. Tranquilizers and painkillers kept her subdued, made her forget the gaps in her head. April couldn’t remember her own nurse. All she could retain was the names. Every time a nurse wandered in, she strain her eyes towards the badge, trying to focus on the name. April was desperate to hold on to something, hold something close.
Seeing her mother, it felt like meeting a ghost. A stranger crawling out of an unknown place. As far as she knew this was a regular visit. Three or four times a week, Sally came meeting her over again. Her mother seemed relaxed, not scared of her daughter forgetting her. Some time back, Sally gave her that necklace. It was a reminder.
* * *
Tonight Sally slid into her knitting chair. She undid her shoes, first the left, then the right. She whisked up a blanket lying next to her, smoothing it over her old knees, like worn bark. She took out the needles, long silver fingers soaking into the wool and pulling out a pattern.
She did not hum tonight, choosing rather to soak in the space around her, to listen. Besides the silence, holding its breath, only the needles were heard. Sally or course heard many other voices. Some weren’t aware. She always saw spirits in buildings. She liked to think of them as people, and not ghosts. It comforted her, brought them into perspective. No one really left this world. People’s bodies wore out, or gave out, and that was it.
Sally believed that heaven was closer than we realize.
“It’s just on the other side,” she remembered telling her daughter, in hospital once. Sally giggled. Topics such as these released a childish thrill inside her. April watched her mother’s face try and control itself.
“Isn’t it in a different galaxy, somewhere beyond earth?”
“No my dear,” she gave a tender smile, which swam out to her daughter. “It’s close. For example when you go under water everything changes, gravity, your walking, and the time you can be around. The creatures living there change, and so on.”
April remained in her hospital bed, with a pair of sluggish eyes looking over the duvet. Her mother had her interest though, talking about your fate dispelled other minor doubts and fears lurking inside you.
“People have spiritual experiences on earth. The spiritual world is just another dimension floating around us. Our relatives watch us. We don’t always feel it, but they’ll pass into our world temporarily.”
April had been listening to stories of ghosts, since she could listen. They never frightened her, because her mother had never told it in that way. She didn’t see them as diabolical, or malicious.
“None of them are harmful,” reaffirming her daughter’s thoughts. “The broken souls are trapped in a fourth dimension. Locked in a world. I don’t know much about this since the spirits I’ve met, aren’t from this world.”
“Is that Hell then?”
April knew she’d probably asked these questions may times, she hearing her mother’s explanations comforted her. She could lie there all day, sinking into the gentle purr.
“‘Course not.” She chuckled, her arms jiggled like a doll’s. “Hell’s commercial mistake, too highly publicized. It’s simply terror food for the little kiddies.”
She paused, heaving in a new paragraph into her head.
“You’d believe in Jesus too, if you had a spiritual gun held to your head. Tsk, this business of eternal burning is nonsense! It’s ridiculous.”
* * *
The girl came back the following night.
Sally greeted it. She had an uncanny confidence with things. She never believed in fearing the unknown. She’d rather face it, talk to it.
Burial grounds tremble.
Sally laughed. The cryptic speech was so different, to the nonchalant way she spoke. She found it a touch eerie, but kept that to herself.
The plate-like face of the ghost, showed a pair of eyes. They grew red, piercing Sally’s head.
Blood does not comfort the voices of the dead.
A small golden string of fear ran in a rivulet down Sally’s leg.
The girl walked towards her, still tilting her head playfully. A small giggle escaped her. The arms became more muscular, growing definitions and mapped out veins.
“What exactly are your intentions, dear? You’re not upset with me, are you?”
The old woman eyes darted around like fish trapped in a small pond. The ball of wool grew wetter in her hand.
The girl grew stronger. Her voice deepened to a growl you’ll only hear at the end of a piano. Her movements were more determined, and forceful. Her voice rose to a deep, grinding bellow.
I’ll bury your ignorance into your wool.
This voice reverberated through her head, like a slow record speaking, declaring the end of you.
The girl thrust the knitting needles out of the girls hands. Wool and debris was thrown on the ground. She clamped Sally’s neck in a steel embrace, winding the wool around her neck.
“Don’t…do…this…” words crawled out of her throat with enormity of effort. She claw at her neck. Desperate to rake in a lasting breath.
The last clock ticks. It runs down the time glass. You are stuck in the middle.
The girl pinned down Sally’s arms, glued to the armrests. Palms up. The girl gave a deep gurgle, and sick laugh…slopping out a filthy throat. She drove the two needles into Sally’s lower arms. Blood spurted out, draining through her open fingers, dead with pain.
A carnal shriek, struggled out of Sally’s mouth. It escaped in a froth-filled gurgle. Panic laced the veins in her neck. The strip of wool sliced into her neck. The blood dribbled onto her dress, staining the innocent flowers.
Your choking amuses me, Sally.
She spoke her last sentence Sally would hear. It was in the voice of the girl. The pure voice left an intense snigger behind. The old woman barely heard her name, when she fell convulsing onto the floor. Her breath and splattered blood fought in a mad frenzy. Her limp figure slowly sank into a sleep as her lungs filled up with corrupted blood.
The girl bent down next to the corpse. She still had an ebullient presence, the youth never left her limbs, or enthralling voice. She stroked Sally’s hair with a soft hand, admiring her like a new doll. She never knew why her doll had such a painful face, when she’d been so friendly.
You’re my favorite anyway. She said hugging the dead head. If her face existed you would’ve seen a smile. She was happy. The girl had been waiting for someone to play with. Sally was so friendly, unlike the others. She knew that she’d be perfect.
I’m so happy. The girl exclaimed, with a giggled that rippled through the night.