Episode Two – can a newly-built house be haunted?
12th November 1984, moving day.
When I saw my dad’s car approaching I thought he’d come along to help. I waved at him through the window and waited for him to come inside. The look on his face froze the smile on my own and my cheerful greeting caught in my throat.
I really have no memory of his words, maybe I didn’t even hear them through the buzzing in my ears, but he’d come to tell me that Stephen had died.
The removal firm had just started carrying in our furniture and boxes so I left my husband to deal with things and went with Dad to Stephen’s house.
I was asked if I wanted to see him before the funeral director came. I did not. I really didn’t. I’d never seen a dead person before. But something propelled me up the stairs and into his bedroom and although the curtains were drawn, there was enough light seeping through the gaps round the edges.
His eyes weren’t quite closed, blue irises, silvery and paler than in life, were just visible beneath the lids. I kissed his cold cheek and whispered my goodbyes.
In the close huddle of family and friends we got through the awful next few hours together. The shiny black hearse arrived and left swiftly with its burden. People came and went. The kettle boiled endlessly for cups of tea. Some of it got drunk, much of it was left to grow cold.
Eventually it was time to separate, time for everyone to go home.
The next ordeal would be the funeral, the cremation, the wake.
Stephen was gone and all too soon only memories of him would remain.
At the wake, it was a tight crush in every room downstairs; there were so many people I hardly knew. I caught snippets of conversations, heard a group of his friends sharing stories about him and laughing. Their laughter jarred me – how could there be happiness at such a time?
The days that followed are hazy in my memory. I organised things in my new home. Cooked meals. Dealt with the chores. I went to work.
Within a short time, my husband insisted that everything return to ‘normal’. But what is normal when you are heartbroken? When you are grieving beyond anything you could ever have imagined, nothing seems right with the world.
The days and weeks passed. A brand new house has its settling down issues, and we had a few to deal with: a cupboard that wouldn’t close and small cracks appearing above a door. A leaking tap. Then we started to have electrical problems.
Lights flickered on the landing. The television changed channels unbidden. When that happened we would scowl at the remote control sitting on the coffee table, raise our eyebrows at each other and shake our heads.
The electrics were checked and no problems were found.
Then, one evening, I was ironing on the upstairs landing. My husband had gone out ten minutes earlier, but suddenly there he was at the bottom of the stairs. “Have you forgotten something?” I called.
He started up the stairs, peering at me. But it wasn’t my husband.
My heart leapt into my mouth. An intruder! But as I thought this, the figure just faded away to nothing. I almost passed out, but luckily had the presence of mind to put the iron down before I collapsed to the floor.
What was going on? Was I so grief-stricken I was hallucinating?
Then a week or so later, my husband was already in bed, and when I entered from the bathroom, I was in time to witness a small china pot fly from the window sill to the centre of the bed. And I mean fly! Its contents, mainly safety pins and small buttons along with a lock of my hair, were scattered all over the duvet.
Had it been a gust of wind? No, the windows were closed. Could the cat have knocked it off? No, she was nowhere to be seen.
And besides, our later experimentations with the pot showed that even a hard shove would not have been able to propel it the distance from window sill to bed.
Incredibly, my husband dismissed it as just one of those things, but I knew something very strange was happening.
I just didn’t know what.
Next Episode: 1985, entry into a new world