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June stared out of the window at the familiar sight of her husband carrying out his daily ritual with meticulous attention to detail. She took in his rapt expression, the way his fingers caressed the shining curves, how he stood back to admire the satisfying effect of his handiwork… the gleaming bodywork, the chrome bumper glinting in the sunlight, the luxurious leather upholstery so lovingly restored.

It had been twelve months since Gordon had reluctantly retired from a demanding job that had consumed him. At sixty eight years old, he had found retirement hard to adjust to… his purpose in life had been replaced with a yawning void that stretched before him into infinity. He had lost his identity, his status and the kudos that gave him immense satisfaction.

Unlike her husband, June had counted down the days to retirement, which she saw as an opportunity rather than a threat. That had been four years ago and she had not looked back. She found having more leisure time liberating… she joined a gym, an art class and a book club. She rescued a puppy and went for long walks with a community of dog walkers. She enjoyed pottering in the garden and discovered a dormant talent for writing poetry.

When Gordon retired, she had found his general loss of interest in life bewildering. She had tried her best to help him. “Gordon, you need to take up some new interests… join some clubs. You used to be so interested in photography, and you always vowed to take up golf when you retired. We haven’t even been on holiday since you left work, and this aimless existence is doing you no good at all.”

Of course, Gordon knew she was right, but he did not possess the interest or initiative to do anything about it. Then one day, while idly flicking through a Classic Car magazine in the dentist’s waiting room, a spark of interest ignited. It was definitely in need of some restoration, but he now had the time to devote to it. It would be a new project to focus on, give him a purpose. Yes, this is just what I need, he had vowed.

And so his project soon became an obsession, to which he devoted an inordinate amount of time, to the exclusion of everything else.

As June stood at the window with faithful Merlin at her side, that bitter resentment again began to rise inside her. She was married to a man she no longer recognised. Yes, they lived together, but with every day, they had drifted further and further apart, until one day, Gordon announced he would be sleeping in the spare room. It was this final act that, for June, had sounded the death knell on their marriage.

She watched him take the chamois leather and with long strokes, caressed the windscreen until it shone. With anger boiling inside her, she opened the window. “You might as well be married to that car, you sure have more feelings for it than you have for me. Why don’t you just bugger off with it and don’t come back.”

June began to shake violently, and poured herself a large schooner of sherry to help calm herself.

“I think you’ve finally taken leave of your senses,” Gordon accused, wielding a tin of car wax like a weapon.

“Oh, there you go again, it’s always my fault. Well let me tell you this… the love of your life won’t put a hot meal on the table or iron your shirts, but I hope you will both be very happy, because I’ve had enough. It’s not me who’s crazy, it’s you! You’re in love with that bloody car, I’ve seen the adoration in your eyes… the way you fondle and caress it… it’s a car for heaven’s sake. You’re mad Gordon, stark raving mad.

Gordon picked up the whiskey bottle, poured himself a generous measure and gulped it down. “You’ve got a nerve… you’ve only got eyes for that damn dog, it follows you everywhere. You should hear yourself… you talk to it in this silly la-la language, it’s pathetic.”

Well at least I know Merlin loves me, he has feelings, unlike that car. You’ve changed, Gordon, and as far as I’m concerned our ‘marriage’, if you can call it that, is over.”

June stomped from the room with Merlin at her heels, opened the front door and stood in front of the car. “Gordon!” she yelled. “I’ll show you what I think of the love of your life.” She picked up a garden spade and smashed it against the shiny chrome bumper.

Gordon jumped into the driver’s seat, reversed furiously off the drive, and drove off like a maniac sending nosy neighbours diving behind their thick privet hedges.

“Show’s over folks.” June yelled. “Come on Merlin, we’re better off without him.”

Fired up with rage and whiskey, Gordon drove with reckless abandon. He misjudged a bend, and plummeted down a grassy bank. In a daze he pushed hard on the accelerator, hoping to find a way back on to the road, but found himself driving deeper and deeper into woodland… negotiating trees, bushes and ruts. He told himself to keep going that he would eventually come to a track. That was Gordon’s last thought, as he crashed headlong into the sturdy trunk of a gnarled tree.

That evening, June settled herself on the sofa in front of the television, with Merlin cuddled up beside her. After a while she glanced at her watch, guilt beginning to tug at her. He’d been gone for hours with no contact. She picked up her phone and sent him a curt text, asking him to get in touch.

Days turned into weeks and still no contact. She toyed with contacting the police to report him as a missing person, but thought better of it. Without him, she was happier than she had been in a long time. Her face broke into a wry smile. “Come on boy, looks like it’s just you and me from now on.”


Shadows in the Dark.
The day I had dreaded for so long arrived. My parents decided it was time to buy a larger home. We did not need five bedrooms or two reception rooms and a huge kitchen. Dad told me it was a bargain. From my bedroom window, I watched the removal van leave. Sad, I took one last stroll around the home I had known for sixteen years.

“Julie,” dad shouted.

I heard mum tell him to give me time.

With tears in my eyes, I sat in the car and said nothing.

In twenty minutes, we arrived outside a large, grey stone house. The paintwork on the windows was white and the gardens from what I could see, immaculate.

“What do you think?” Dad asked.

“It’s big.”

“You’ll soon get used to it,” said mum. “Jump out and we’ll choose your bedroom first. You have the choice of four but I’d love the one at the back for my sewing room.”

Once across the threshold my doubts faded. The outside appeared traditional, but the inside was hi-tech and modern. The polished oak floors complemented the narrow, winding staircase.

At the door to a bedroom mum said, “Wifi and television in every room.”

I gazed wide eyed at the large bare space. “I’ll take it.”

“Thought you might.”

A shout from outside told us the removal van had arrived. Why no one queried that it left before us and arrived after,
I’ll never know.

The narrow stairs presented no problem for the removal men. My parents’ large wardrobes passed straight up through the large hatch in my bedroom floor. Dad said that in the past the house was a joiner’s workshop. He reckoned the owner stored expensive wood on the upper floors.

With beds made and most items of furniture in position, dad made one of his better decisions. He drove to the local fish and chip shop and bought dinner. With our meal eaten, three tired people made their way up the stairs.

“Sleep well,” said mum. “And thanks for your help today.”

With a quick rinse of my hands and face, I undressed and clambered into my bed. As I reached to turn out the light, I noticed a strange silence. My old home used to creak throughout the night but this one was still.

Snug in my bed, I closed my eyes ready to let the night pass and awake when daylight flicked through the curtains. Tired as I was, I could not sleep. Something made me sit up and although impossible, I appeared to see shadows in the dark.

A soft glow formed at the foot of my bed. A small child, a boy, dressed in strange clothes. At first I thought him a figment of my imagination. His mouth formed the briefest of smiles before he was gone.

The shadows twisted and the child reappeared holding the hand of a young girl. Barefoot, she stood in a flowing white linen gown. She looked at the boy, smiled and then as quickly as they came, they left.

I thought I should be frightened but whatever I saw made me feel safe and untroubled. I snuggled under the soft duvet and slept.

At breakfast the next morning, I told my mum of my experience.

She smiled and nodded. “You were dead beat when you went to bed. Just a dream.”

“But I was wide awake.”

“Ghosts and their like do not exist, Julie.”

“She might have seen something,” said dad. “This is an old house.”

“Stop being silly,” said mum as she placed his plate full of bacon and eggs in front of him.

I laughed, left the table and headed for my bus to school.

That night as I lay in bed I sat and waited. The shadows drifted as before. An old woman become visible and vanished, there one moment, gone the next. She was not ghostly, or frightening. She was dark, her skin brown and wearing a simple cotton smock more suitable for nightwear. From her brief appearance, she seemed lost and confused.

At breakfast, I waited for my dad to sit at the table before I told my tale.

He shrugged. “It’s my fault and I should have told you. This was the village joiner’s workshop and home before the conversion. From what I understand, he was also the undertaker. They used the hatch in your bedroom for taking coffins down into the kitchen. From there it was a straight lift through the front door. The luxury of a chapel of rest never existed in those days. Later I’ll have a word with the vicar. He’ll know what to do.”

I placed my hand over his. “I like having my strange visitors. They don’t scare me. Can we leave them be? After all, they were here before us.”

“Julie, I suggest you move to another room,” said mum. “We can use it for storage.”

I did not argue but some nights I creep into that room and watch the shadows in the dark. From then on, I met many wonderful visitors.


The Calling

You move into a shadow world, a place I cannot inhabit, or visit, or begin to understand. I watch from the other side of the rope, watch you walk across a scarlet carpet – deep with meaning – where I can never tread. The pattern leads you away, smudging your details, and shrouding you with garments of mystery.

It is difficult to distinguish you from the statues, hidden between pillars or inside arches, their gaudy blues and golds dulled by the strange climate you now breathe. Surrounded by the trappings of your mission, you listen to that music, and speak with soft, embroidered words. All I can hear though, is Goodbye.

So you reject me and my ancestry for one short future that will end forever with your heart. From the first single cell, our line endured through four billion years, evolving into you. Look behind you at the greenery, the feathers, the fossils and the bones. Look behind at the teeth and the talons and the rivers of tears, spilt through millennia, bringing you to where you are.

But you will not look back. Your eyes are fixed on the pattern in the carpet, and your path into the future, to your calling. Four billion years have made you who you are, which nothing can change. Be it spirit or nature, you have advanced into a shadow world so far away from mine that, when you speak to me, all I can hear is Goodbye.

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