The Ghosts of Time
She burst through the living room like a cyclone, scattering chairs, books, and loose papers into the air like weapons.
I’ve heard it again, Roger! Roger! I’ve heard it again!
Where this time dear? I think. Within the sprung slats of the wearying bed frame? Resting inside the ruined cloth and dying cobwebs of the garret? Those mildewed memories can rot and blight an overcharged mind such as yours, I want to say.
Mildred and I fit together like spoons, like people holding hands. Our love is not loud and catastrophic like cannon fire. It is swift and lethal as an arrow. The kind of love that pierces the skin unnoticed, hemorrhaging blood from the body like a great river from a mountain slope.
No, no, she says, I was in the garden by the east tower and I heard it. Soft and undemanding but persistent, like a bluetit’s begging call.
We haven’t had a bird in the east garden for over a decade. But my sweet and foolish wife, how her innocence beguiles me still. That mind, that sharp discerning yet sensitive mind, it pains me to watch it wither and die daily like light exiting the evening hastily in winter. We have been through all this before, she and I. And there will come the day when the provenance of her auditory hallucination reveals itself, like the face of a bride beneath a lifted veil. She will wail and cry, an orphaned cub. Her thoughts will muddle, her speech will falter as she uncovers the evidence:
It was you! You killed her! You bastard. She will say. She will scream. She will strike me with the vengeance of an angered god. We shall flail, fall, and slip into the shadows like actors departing a darkened stage.
Our house, Hearth House was falling to pieces. The day Mildred’s mother disappeared, the surrounding land grew dark and arid and now lies bleak and skinless. The very air seems to strip the little fields and gardens of vegetation, leaving the forest of ash, the great oak in the courtyard, even the ivy naked of a leaf. There’s little lure for the sparrows and harried blackbirds and even the scavenging rooks over-fly the decaying estate. Mildred began to experience her ‘false perceptions of sound’ shall we say, at about the same time. Voices or reverberations? Neither of us really knows anymore. She races from room to window, from defoliated tree to inert flower, tilting her head like a spaniel, seeking its source.
It’s like an echo, Roger. It’s audible yet indistinct. A muffled sound. Something like… like blurred vision when you try to read without your glasses. I can’t quite make it out. Come and help me find it. It’s in every-place yet, no place!”
I watch her turning over sap-sucked leaves and withered grasses scraped of life by maggots rummaging the undergrowth. And everywhere, the echo. Ricocheting off rock and bark and sombre sky; reverberating through the house like a freight train. Over here! it seems to repeat. Then, one morning, beyond the herb garden I observe Mildred place an ear to the ground beneath a gaunt and haggard hawthorn. The birds who’d overflown the house were clinging to it. Stabbed by its thorny antlers and hanging there like macabre Christmas baubles swinging in the absent breeze. The veil rises. The echo, the voice, the hum, she finds it. Thumping like a heart.
What’s down there? The predicted question.
Your mother! The eternal response.
With the flailing, a touch of rue. For ghosts cannot change a thing I say, poetically placing a forceful hand over my wife’s mouth, pinching the nostrils waiting for the breath to surrender itself – we are condemned only to repeat the same thing. We suffer interminably but at least we do it as one. For those who die in violence can never rest in peace. In time, Mildred will forget, and we will re-enact this perpetual performance as if for the first time. Like the seasons, the blossoms may pass but the bulb remains.
Tracy Gaughan is a writer living in Galway. Her poetry and short fiction have featured in a variety of literary journals including Live Encounters, Boyne Berries, and The Honest Ulsterman. She is IRL/UK Poetry Editor at The Blue Nib Magazine.