What I’ll never fully understand is why Timothy waited six years before he started to haunt me.
If I’d moved into the big old house by the sea which I’d inherited and immediately noticed strange goings on, it would have been somehow more plausible, more believable, from the beginning.
But six years, for heaven’s sake! Six years of adjusting to living somewhere new, of slowly sorting out all my uncle Benjamin’s things, of learning my way around the town, making friends, joining clubs, hosting dinner parties, choosing new wallpaper, getting replacement windows put in. Starting to feel settled.
In all that time, nothing unusual had ever happened. My whole life was firmly rooted in the real world, in normality. I had never in all my years experienced or believed in anything remotely supernatural. Which is why, when things changed, I had such difficulty believing it, and was much happier to ascribe my supposed experiences to some sort of deterioration in my own brain. I was in my fifties now, after all. I read up on dementia. I checked the side effects of all my prescription medicines and found one promising reference to hallucinations. But when I changed that medicine (fabricating some other excuse for the request, when I saw my doctor), it didn’t help.
But come on! An ageing woman living alone in an ageing house for six years. Which was more likely, that the house was haunted by a ghost which had taken all that time to reveal himself, or that the woman’s mind was going?
Much later, Timothy tried to explain to me that in his world, time passed differently, and that six years were like a blink of nothingness. I had only come to his attention at all, he claimed, when I had bought myself a little dog for company, and the dratted thing had yapped and yapped at the tendrils of his presence so much as to eventually rouse his awareness.
For a year I had suffered this annoying barking and had even consulted a dog training person for advice. Why did my sweet little Milo behave so well when we walked through the streets or to the beach, but barked so badly in certain areas of the house – particularly the conservatory and the garden? The expert concluded that the dog was responding to some old scent, probably of another pet which had once lived in the house, and recommended that I engage a cleaning company for a thorough clean.
I still resent the ridiculous sum the resulting deep clean cost me, for I was only to find that afterwards, the dog barked as much as ever. He was a miniature dachshund (well, he may still be, I don’t know – for I eventually gave him away to a rehoming charity) and I ran out of patience at the way he would stand in one corner of the conservatory (which I seldom went in because it leaked) and bark and bark, always facing in the same direction. I supposed he was unhappy and wanted to escape down to the sea, or that he could smell food from a distant barbeque, or that his doggie soulmate lived in a neighbouring garden.
It was only much later that I remembered and reinterpreted his odd behaviour as perhaps being the first sign. The first sign that something very strange was happening in my house.
And then Timothy confirmed I was correct. But it was quite some time after Milo’s departure before Timothy and I began having our regular conversations. Conversations of a nature I would never, ever have anticipated featuring in my life.
Adjacent to the leaky conservatory was the dining room, in fact the biggest room in the house because there had been an extension long ago. I liked to sit in this room and had made it part library, part office (for the occasional bits of writing and editing work I still did from home), and part dining room.
I would often bring my food in from the shops, load most of it into the fridge in the kitchen and then treat myself to a ‘spread’ of my favourite freshly bought items, taking it through to the dining room to eat while I listened to music, or read a paper, or both.
Thus it was that one day – whilst eating a beef and horseradish sandwich, along with a slice of quiche, and reflecting that I had now got back in the swing of living on my own again (without a dog, that is) – I first felt the brush of a hand on mine.
I was very spooked. I didn’t drop my plate, but put it down quickly on the coffee table by my chair, and stood up. I checked the doors and windows for draughts, I checked the thermostat. I abandoned the sandwich, suspecting food poising. Then I left the room and pushed the incident firmly out of my mind.
But a week or so later, once habit had driven me back to the same room and the same soft chair, it happened again. As I sat there reading a magazine, I was suddenly sure I felt the gentle pressure of a hand resting momentarily on my lower arm. But I could see with my own eyes there was nothing there, so I concluded it had to be some problem in myself – perhaps I was having a stroke? Perhaps I was losing feeling in my limbs? Perhaps it was a neurological symptom of my very gradually worsening diabetes? The next day I made an appointment for a check-up.
Then there was the occasion when I noticed, whilst gardening, that some little stones and pebbles appeared to have been arranged into the shape of a letter T. I wondered if children had got into the garden, or if I had done it myself and forgotten. I broke up the T, and when I finally dared look again in the same spot, the letter had not reappeared, and the pebbles were lying innocently in a pile, as I’d left them.
And a while after that came the odd occurrence of the seven plates.
Now I made a point of occasionally inviting people round to the house, so as not to be entirely isolated from company, and one Saturday evening prepared a meal of chicken and salad for five visitors – three single ladies I had befriended at a baking class, and the mild-mannered couple from next door.
I left the washing up that night, but on the Sunday morning found to my confusion that there were seven dirty plates waiting to be washed up, as well as seven cups and seven glasses.
Someone must have used a spare one, I concluded. (There was a huge dinner service which had belonged to my uncle in one of the kitchen cupboards.) But I had been there, seen everything and didn’t remember anyone asking for or fetching an extra plate, or cup, or glass.
After this, I sat myself down and had good long think. What was going on? Was I going mad?
I made the mistake of mentioning these few odd events to an acquaintance who ran a local shop, and she gave me a very funny look and said, “Well you know that row of houses is extremely old”. I’m sure she wanted to say more but held back to spare my feelings.
I did some research into the history of the house – the house I had lived so happily in for several years unmolested! My uncle, Benjamin Riley, had owned it for around 30 years, but it had been built at least two hundred and fifty years ago. It was large and detached and had at some point been used as a hotel. There was some lovely stained glass in it, and one or two chandeliers (which were more trouble than they were worth). In one bedroom there was a small doorway that had apparently once led to a servants’ stairway, but my surveyor, from when I took occupancy, had assured me this had been blocked off and filled in long ago. The mysterious doorway had never bothered me, but now I looked at it suspiciously and moved a screen so as to block it from view.
One more incident – another letter T, this time appearing in the condensation on a window pane one morning – sent me first to the library to read up on local ghost stories, and secondly on a long holiday to Fuerteventura.
I was determined not to fall out of love with my own house. I had rejected my pet dog because of its strange behaviour, now I didn’t want to have to reject my lovely home.
At this point, of course, I still believed it was all some fault in my nervous system, or that maybe someone was playing pranks.
Ghosts simply did not exist.
When I got back, everything seemed calm and I kept myself very busy so as not to think about it. But about three weeks after my holiday, I thought I saw an old man in the garden. Sitting on the crumbling bench I had been thinking of replacing. By the time I had found my keys to the back door and got out there, he was gone. But there was no access into the garden other than through the house, and the fence around it was high.
I was scared, no doubt about it. I couldn’t sleep for a couple of nights.
Then another evening I saw him again from an upstairs window, sitting on the same bench, and watched long enough to notice what he was wearing – a long dark coat looking like something from a vintage shop, a tatty scarf round his neck, and a cap of a sort I had never seen before. I memorised the details, but the light was fading, and after a while I couldn’t see him any more.
I tried to stay calm but continued to catch glimpses of what seemed to be the same person in my garden over the next couple of weeks. Could it be a tramp or homeless person who was somehow climbing over, or through, the fence? But it hadn’t been a tramp who had touched my arm, right in front of me, or moved plates about in my kitchen. And it was starting to occur to me that I never saw or felt anything unusual other than when I was in this particular property – I hadn’t been bothered by strange occurrences in my hotel in the Canaries, or when I went out to the shops or the cinema – so the idea of it all being due to some failing in my own mind didn’t hang together.
My feelings were changing, from scepticism, through fear, to anger – that whatever was happening was threatening to put me off my own home and disrupt my life, when I didn’t feel like it being disrupted any further.
One day I came into the conservatory and found one of my favourite flower vases, which had been standing empty on the windowsill, lying on the floor, smashed into pieces. The door to conservatory was locked, there were no windows open, nothing else was disturbed. There was no rational explanation.
I’d had enough. I retreated into the dining room and sat down in the armchair where I had sometimes thought I’d felt a touch on my arm. Fuelled by annoyance and anger, I took a deep breath and said out loud (and rather theatrically), “Who are you and what do you want?”
Dust motes circled in a ray of sunlight.
A china doll stared at me from a shelf.
There was a bit of a stain on my favourite rug.
Time stood still.
Nothing in my life had prepared me for the experience of suddenly hearing a whispered reply to my question, in the clearly empty room.
“Thank you for asking, my dear. My name is Timothy.”
My hair stood on end, my stomach lurched – I was terrified.
“Please don’t be afraid,” said the voice, masculine and kind. “I promise not to hurt you.”
I sat in a state of shock and stupor, not knowing what to do or say next.
“I’m so sorry about your vase,” the voice continued, in the most beautiful cultured English, like something out of a very old film. “I didn’t mean to do that.”
Was a ghost apologising to me? I couldn’t take it in.
“You must be so shocked,” said Timothy, his voice hanging somewhere in the air. “I’ve been trying to introduce myself gradually, but I can see it must be difficult. I’ll tell you what, why don’t I leave you alone again for now, so you can get used to the idea of me. Whenever you’re ready, we can talk.”
I wasn’t ready. It was too much for any rational mind to handle.
I left the house and checked into a hotel. Then I went away again, for a month this time, to an old friend’s house. I didn’t dare tell her what the problem was, but she must have known something was badly wrong, as I arrived distraught and without any luggage, and imposed myself on her hospitality far longer than was appropriate.
It took me that long to process what I thought I’d heard, what I thought had happened. And to pluck up courage to return to my own home.
Arriving back on a sunny morning, I went straight to the dining room and, after fortifying myself with a glass of whiskey from a seldom used drinks cabinet, closed my eyes and finally ventured to call his name.
“Timothy?” I said, more timidly than I’d planned. “Are you real? Because I really need to know whether you are, or whether I’m just an old woman going mad!”
Next to my favourite armchair, facing the conservatory window and the garden beyond, was another chair that didn’t quite match. A little smaller, the fabric slightly less pretty and slightly more faded. It was on my list to replace it, like the garden bench, but I hadn’t got round to it. Now suddenly, it caught my eye. Something seemed to be shimmering there. The chair seemed to be fading slowly from view, until suddenly – yes, there was no doubt about it. I was no longer alone in the room.
The most amazing feeling swept through me, of fear but also of wonder. A being had appeared, sitting in the chair beside me. The old man who I had seen on the bench in the garden, but much closer to me this time.
His gradual solidification made me think of transporter beams from the TV programme Star Trek, and I found myself wondering if this was perhaps an alien, rather than a ghost. How would I know the difference?
His legs were crossed, his hands resting in his lap. He was stooped forward a little, and he wasn’t looking directly at me – his eyes were down in a manner that made me feel he was self-conscious and embarrassed, not used to being observed.
Outdoors, the day was warm, and I heard seagulls calling from overhead. The outside world was carrying on as normal, but my world, inside my uncle’s old house, had changed forever.
“Hello,” I said, after I’d sat for at least five minutes trying to believe what I was seeing, and calming my emotions with deep breaths.
“Hello,” said the apparition, nodding a little. Another shiver of shock went through me. I was actually talking to a ghost! (Either that, or I was talking to myself, I still wasn’t sure.)
“So, er, who are you?” I ventured.
“I’m Sally,” I volunteered.
He raised his eyes to look at my face. “Hello Sally. Thank you for coming back and talking to me again. And for not being scared – you really have nothing to fear, you have my word.”
I watched his lips move. It was just as if a real little old man were sitting next to me. He looked very solid and human at this point.
“Well, I’m afraid I am scared,” I told him, “but thank you for the reassurance.”
I waited for him to speak again but he didn’t, he merely sat calmly and looked at me, and I had time to inspect the long shabby coat, which was dark blue rather than black, his old-fashioned trousers and crumpled white shirt, and the tangled mop of grey hair under his cap.
“Who are you, Timothy?” I asked him with a forced smile, and then remembered I’d already asked this question and tried to think of another. “Where are you from? I mean, why are you here in this place?”
“I used to live here,” he replied.
“When was that?”
He looked upwards. “Well, I came here in, let me see, 1834, and Iived here probably 40 years.”
I was filled with awe, hearing this date. I struggled to decide what to ask him next, but he had his own questions.
“What year is it now?”
“Twenty twenty. Two thousand and twenty, that is,” I clarified.
“Oh my! So that’s nearly 200 years!” He lifted his ghostly hands. “What a long time!”
“And have you been here in this house, all those 200 years?” I queried, intrigued.
“Well, I suppose so,” said Timothy. “I don’t recall going anywhere else, but I haven’t been aware of that much time passing. I must’ve been asleep or something.”
I was gaining confidence. He did indeed seem harmless. And very interesting.
“And – and have you seen other people in this house, before me?”
Timothy thought for a while. “Well yes, I remember various people, I suppose. There were children in the garden sometimes. They weren’t yours, were they?”
“No,” I shook my head. I had no children.
“But you’re the first person I’ve spoken to in 200 years, I’m pretty sure!”
I think I actually blushed. “What a privilege! Why did you choose me? Is there something I can help you with?”
Timothy looked absent for a while and I wondered if his image was drifting away a little – for an instant I thought I could see the pattern of the chair through his torso. “Um, no, I don’t think so. I don’t know.”
“It’s just that usually – well apparently – spirits have some task they have to accomplish before they can, you know, move on.”
“Really?” said Timothy. “Where am I supposed to move on to?”
“Well, the afterlife, I suppose.”
“Heaven? Hmm, I never believed in that sort of thing, I must say. I’ve no idea what might happen to me next, if anything.” He looked confused.
“But, but – surely your existence proves there’s life after death? You must believe it now?”
Timothy sighed. “I don’t think I’m alive, Sally. I don’t know what I am, and I know as much about heaven as you do.”
“Oh,” I floundered. I was sure his form was growing fainter now and I struggled to find something more meaningful to say or to ask him. What if this was my only ever chance?
“Timothy,” I blurted out. “Come and talk to me again, won’t you, please? You can tell me about your life and maybe we can find out whether you need help with anything.”
“Very well,” he nodded. “I’ll try to come back. Do you live here alone, my dear? Maybe you can see me because we’re both lonely.”
Oh God, part of my mind thought. I’m not being chatted up by a ghost, am I? And then with a shock of mixed feelings.. don’t tell me I’m going to have a love affair with a ghost! What irony! After all this time, a man I can’t touch!
But then Timothy disappeared, with a little wave, and my unexpected thoughts of romance were dispelled. What was happening was bigger, more important than that. A more momentous thing in my life even than having a late romance. Befriending a ghost!
But, I reminded myself, he might never come back. Or he might not be real.
I sat sadly for quite a while, ruminating again on whether Timothy had been simply a hallucination, the creation of an ill mind. But it hadn’t felt that way.
I settled back into my house and let a couple of days pass, scared to call on him again in case he didn’t reappear – or in case he did! I wasn’t sure which eventuality I was most afraid of.
When the time felt right, I said his name again quietly whilst out in the garden, and rather suddenly found him sitting on the bench beside me.
“Hello again, Sally,” said my ghost. “How are you? Are you coming to accept me now?”
“Well, I’ll have to, I suppose,” I replied. “Sorry, Timothy, hello. And how are you, or isn’t that an appropriate question?”
He hesitated. “No, it’s appropriate. I do seem to still have feelings, which change. Though everything’s always a bit fuzzy, and I’m confused about time. And about making myself visible – I’m not sure whether I’ve ever done that before.”
I suddenly scanned the neighbour’s upstairs windows, wondering if someone might be looking down on my garden. Would they see Timothy, or just their eccentric neighbour talking to herself?
He seemed to understand my concern. “Perhaps we should speak inside again. I don’t know whether other people can see me. We’ll have to put it to the test sometime.”
I imagined walking out onto the street with Timothy beside me. I wasn’t ready to try that yet, though. I got up and walked back into the house, and he stood and appeared very much like a real old man, as he walked behind me through the kitchen door and into the dining room.
We sat in the same chairs as previously and looked at each other.
“I have some more questions for you,” I began.
“How old were you when you.. passed away?”
“Seventy eight,” Timothy replied, though I would have guessed he was even older, from his appearance.
“Were you ill?”
“Yes, I remember having consumption for some time, and coughing a lot.”
“And was somebody with you.. at the end?”
“Yes. I had a sister, and two nieces,” he explained. “I had never married or had children. My sister lived with me after her husband died, and looked after me as best she could.”
Another question presented itself to me, though I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the answer.
“Did you die in this house?”
“Um, could I ask you which room?”
“The room above here,” he gestured. It was my spare room, the one with the mysterious door, and I was relieved he hadn’t said it was the big front room, which I had been using as my bedroom. “I could walk round the house with you, if you like. Show you what I remember about it.”
“Hmm,” I replied. “Could I think about that, it would be a little strange.”
“Of course. I don’t want to do anything that upsets you. After all, it’s your house now, and I don’t want you to think I’m creeping about everywhere, scaring you.”
“Thank you, Timothy.” I had the strange feeling suddenly that he was my guest, and I should be offering him a cup of tea and a scone – but of course that wasn’t possible. “Have you thought any more on whether you need any help with anything?” I asked him instead.
He nodded. “I’m afraid I can’t think of any particular reason that I’m still here. My sister would surely have buried me somewhere, she would have had the money to do it. And I don’t think there was any foul play – no-one had any reason to murder me, and I don’t remember murdering anyone else. No, I’m sure I wouldn’t have done such a thing.”
I was a little disconcerted by this, but surely even if he had been a murderer, he wouldn’t have been able to kill me in his present form?
“Maybe your sister…” I began, but Timothy shook his head as if catching my meaning immediately.
“She had had access to most of my money already, for some years. The girls were well placed, with sizeable dowries. And in any case Matilda and I got on very well, and loved each other. I’m sure the tears she wept for me were genuine.”
“Well anyway,” I volunteered, “I can look up where you were buried, if you like. Then we would know that it wasn’t the issue.”
“Very well, thank you,” Timothy replied. “My surname was Stag. I worked in a bank, though I find I can’t recall the name of it now.” He seemed to have an afterthought. “I do remember a graveyard up beyond the town. I suppose I could attempt to wander round it myself. I don’t know whether I’d be able to, though. I’m new to all this – assuming a visible form and walking about. Before I was just, well, hanging about somehow, and only vaguely aware of things.”
I wondered whether, if I’d been a ghost for nearly 200 years, I might somehow have tried to find the place where I was buried. But what did I know about it? It obviously wasn’t that straightforward.
“Well, Sally,” Timothy said then. “I think I’ll have to call that it for today. I’m not sure if I can keep this up. But shall we speak again tomorrow? Perhaps then I can ask you some questions. Oh, not about yourself, if you don’t want, but about this modern world I can see beyond your fence.”
“Of course, come tomorrow morning, and ask me whatever you like.”
And so was established a pattern, where my ghost visited me for half an hour or so every day, and we sat and talked quite amicably, for all the world as if we were two normal people, and not separated by a gulf of 200 years, not to mention the bigger gulf between life and death.
I stopped inviting people to the house. I went and looked up where his grave was, and told him about it. But he was disinclined to attempt to visit it. I suppose he knew he was dead and didn’t want the fact further emphasised! I asked if he was curious what had been written on his gravestone, but he didn’t want to know. As for myself, I felt the same disinclination to go to the cemetery, but I thought that seeing his grave would help me to confirm that what I was experiencing was real. How else would I have known his name, and who to look up? Well I found it and stood looking at it for a while, but it confirmed nothing, because I might always just have looked up his name, or could be imagining the whole thing, including my visit. My thinking became so convoluted that I couldn’t see how anything could confirm to me definitively that Timothy wasn’t a figment of my own imagination. I even raised this issue with him, as we came to know each other better.
“So Timothy, I’ve been thinking, what can we do – what can you do or say – to convince me you’re really a ghost and that this isn’t all just happening in my mind?”
He laughed to himself, then sat quietly for a long time, crossing and uncrossing his legs, while he seemed to consider my request most seriously.
“Well, I’ve given you my name, told you all about my life in the early nineteenth century. Isn’t that enough?”
“Maybe I just read it in a book.”
“Well, if you’re going to think like that, I don’t see what will convince you. What about that vase I broke, that time? Would you like me to try to break something else?”
I considered. “A good idea, except that I couldn’t be sure I didn’t break it myself.”
“Go and get your dog Milo back, and see if he can sense me.”
“I suppose I could try that.”
“You just have to believe. I think I’m real. I think I’m me. I don’t think I’m a creation of your brain.”
I looked him up and down. Yes, it was time I accepted the evidence of my own eyes and ears, and believed that Timothy was a ghost.
“Alright. But still, if something definitive occurs to you…”
“Of course, I’ll let you know.”
We smiled at each other for a while, and then he gently faded away – with a wave that told me he’d soon be back.
So the seasons turned, and my life outside the house became neglected. Timothy visited me more and more often, until it was every single day, and usually more than once. He walked around the house with me, and I showed him all my favourite things, and he told me anecdotes of things that had happened during his years living in the same building.
The mystery of the small sealed up door was revealed. He assured me it had nothing to do with a hidden corpse – neither his nor anyone else’s. Instead it concerned a period of intrigue during the occupancy of an even earlier resident of the house. The gentleman of the house had been ‘carrying on’ with a housemaid, who had come regularly to his rooms by way of the back stairwell and tiny door. His wife found out, the girl got dismissed, the door got blocked up. I wondered what the cobwebs must be like in a stairwell that had not been accessed for over two hundred years.
“But maybe the wife murdered the housemaid, and there IS a corpse,” I queried.
“My dear,” Timothy said, “you are obsessed with murder! I knew that housemaid when she was much older, she came back to live in a cottage down the road. But have the door broken down if you must!”
“I’ll leave it. Sorry.”
We had other deep conversations.
“What if you were even older?” I mused once. “What if you were a Roman ghost, a ghost from thousands, not hundreds of years ago? Do ghosts last that long?”
Timothy squirmed. “I can’t help you there, I’m afraid. I don’t know about any others, I barely understand about myself.”
And on another day, I said to him, “If all this is real, it cannot be the only instance on the planet of people talking to people from the past. Or maybe it is, in which case it’s even more important. Perhaps I need to tell people, find some experts, let them know I’ve got this opportunity to talk to someone across an expanse of time!” I had got carried away.
Timothy looked at me, then answered simply. “No. Don’t do that.”
He loved watching me cook and clean. He loved my plants and my ornaments.
We were without a doubt sharing the same home, and it made me feel very happy to be living in it, and very happy to have this new, very unusual and entirely unexpected companion.
I read to him from books that had been written after he died. I introduced him to crosswords, and we would sit with a newspaper spread out between us, with him so proud of himself when he could occasionally supply an answer I didn’t know.
Only afterwards, at night, I would trouble myself over the question of proof again. Maybe I had known those answers myself, and it was a figment of my imagination that someone else was providing them. I went for long periods, accepting him as real, but every so often something would make me doubt and worry about my own sanity.
But did it matter either way, as long as I was happy?
He was never there at night – I don’t know whether this was because it wasn’t possible for him, or if he wanted to spare both of us the echoes, the suggestion of, us spending a night together. As we became more and more familiar with each other, it sat there between us, the unspoken knowledge that we were from different realms, and could never touch each other. We tried, in the early days, reaching for the other’s hand – but as I might have expected from a dozen TV dramas and films, our fingers passed through each other, as if passing through thin air.
“But surely, I felt your touch on my arm, when you first showed yourself to me?” I questioned him. We tried repeatedly – I would sit there with my eyes closed, sometimes feeling that perhaps I felt a gentle brush of something. But it was insubstantial, inconsistent, and in the end we stopped trying because it upset us both.
“Seeing you is enough,” I told him, smiling.
“Talking to you is enough,” he smiled back.
On one of my rare trips to the local shops, I met an old acquaintance, Milly, a lady I’d sometimes gone for coffee with.
“You look so different!” she exclaimed, as we paid for our groceries. “There’s a new light in your eyes… Have you met someone?”
I blushed and denied a romantic involvement, but she only raised her eyebrows at me in disbelief. “Well, whoever he is, the best of luck with it.”
I was thrown by this. That someone could see a change in me which I couldn’t acknowledge myself. Surely, surely, I could not be in love with… a ghost! It was too impossible, too ridiculous.. and way, way too sad. A world full of real people with whom I could have had a real, proper, relationship, and I was in thrall to a spirit?
But when I next saw Timothy, I knew it was true. I did not speak the words to him, but I knew in my soul that though he might no longer be a human being, he was still an entity of some kind, who I had got to know, and who I now cared for.
More time passed, and I was sure of my love – very sure. But not sure of his. How could I ask him directly? What if the answer was no?
We continued to exist together, side by side.
In the spring, I planted flowers in the garden, and he walked beside me watching, and making suggestions.
“There used to be roses there, but the soil wasn’t right for them, and they never did well.”
In the summer, we sat together on the bench, not speaking, for fear of neighbours watching. I would enjoy feeling the sun on my skin, and I worried that it would bother him, that he couldn’t do the same. But he told me he didn’t mind, so he would sit beside me as I sunbathed, his legs crossed, looking up at the sky and at the seagulls, seemingly very happy.
In the autumn I swept up leaves, and cut back bushes.
“It’s a shame the poplars over the wall have gone,” he told me. “I used to stand here and try to catch their leaves as they blew down. If you caught them, you made a wish. Maybe I wished for eternal life!” he laughed. “I don’t remember now.”
In the winter I pulled my boots on and tromped about in the snow, and he walked beside me, his footsteps not making any impression.
“Let’s go back in,” he said, subdued. “I don’t need to be reminded of our differences.”
Back in my multi-purpose dining room, in our favourite chairs, I told him, “But our differences don’t matter, do they?”
He thought for a long time. “Of course they do. I cannot hold you in my arms.”
And I flushed with pleasure, because it was an indication, at last, that maybe he returned my confused affections.
The next day, he pursued the same conversation, though I could tell it troubled him.
“You know why our differences matter. Because you are mortal and are aging, and I am not.”
I sat and thought about this. “Then at some point I will die and join you,” I said quietly.
“But we don’t know that for sure,” he replied. “We can’t be certain.”
A dreadful thought struck me. “Perhaps I am dead already, and that’s why I can see you?”
“Then where is your body?” he said. “And how come you are demolishing all that cake and tea, when I cannot even taste a crumb?”
He was right of course, though it seemed almost more dreadful to think of him continuing without me after I died. He had already lost one wife, long ago, and lived on alone in this house. Now he might lose his new companion – or whatever I was to him now.
It was all too complicated. “Let’s just take one day at a time, and enjoy the moment,” I suggested.
“Good idea,” he agreed.
“And I am not ‘demolishing’ this cake!”
“Two surely, and only small ones.”
“If you insist.”
Then something unexpected happened. I had an unexpected visit from a doctor, and this led to an assessment of my mental health.
I didn’t see the need for this and fought it strongly, but it seemed someone in the outside world from which I had withdrawn had expressed concerns about me, and so I found myself faced with a series of embarrassing tests and questions. What year was it? Who was Prime Minister? Could I boil at kettle successfully? Could I demonstrate which was the hot and which the cold tap? Would I mind if they checked the sell-by dates on the food items in my fridge?
I seriously considered telling my allocated health professional all about my resident ghost and the fact I was in love with him, but I didn’t think this would help my position, when all I wanted was to get the intrusion over with and get back to living my own life.
But I have to admit this development confused me, and left me wondering again whether or not Timothy really was just a figment of my imagination, and if I had actually gone mad, some time ago.
I was unhappy for some time, and Timothy, who had been aware of the assessments, was quiet and subdued.
And then came the dreadful day… when everything changed again.
It was a sunny autumn evening, and we had spent a happy day together, walking round the garden, sitting in the conservatory, looking round the house.
After I had eaten my tea with Timothy looking on, he suddenly turned to me with a strange intensity and asked me to move the tea things into the kitchen. I did so and returned to my seat with some trepidation.
“What is it?” I asked him.
“My dear, I have something to say to you.” He paused, stumbled for words, then sat forward in his chair, and looked me in the eye.
His dreadful speech I will never forget.
“A long time ago now, you asked me if there was anything I could do to prove to you that I was real. I felt that you had got past that, and did now accept me for what I am – the disembodied spirit of someone who died many decades ago, and not just a fantasy companion that your lonely mind had conjured up of its own accord. But I know these recent events have troubled you and made you wonder again. And so, after a great deal of thought, I have come at last to a decision.”
I could hardly breathe, wondering what he was going to say.
“You have let me spend time with you and share your life. We have got to know each other. I have come to regard you with great affection. Yes, I am declaring my love for you, and should have done so sooner. But it seemed such an unfair burden to put on you. To make you feel obliged to something less than a man, someone who can never give you real love in the way you deserve – no, hear me out. I have made a decision, and if there was any way I could have done this by writing you a message after the event, I would have done so, to spare you this conversation.. but since I cannot write, I must face you like this, though it means I will see your pain.”
He put his head back and closed his eyes for a moment.
“Dearest, I see that you will always be unsure of me, that you are still plagued by worries about whether all this is only in your mind, and therefore worries about your sanity. And I see only one way out, one way to convince you. Since, as I believe, you have come to love me also – yes, I can see the truth of it in your eyes – well, if I was only an aberration of your braincells, your brain would never banish me, you would want me to stay with you. And so…”
I wanted to speak, but could not. I gazed at him with horror.
“And so I have to leave you. For only by going when you don’t want me to, can I ever prove that I am real. Only by a cruel act of desertion will I free your mind from doubt. You will know that it was me and not you that made that decision, and so your sanity will be restored to you. Oh, forgive me for making you cry, but there is no other way. When you think on it, you will know that I was right. We have had such nice times together, but I am taking too great a toll on your life. It is time to put an end to this strange encounter, and all your confusion.”
And then I realised that his ghostly, familiar form was fading from view, and I could see the pattern on the chair behind him again.
“Goodbye, my dear,” said Timothy sadly. “Forgive me.”
A huge cry of denial and outrage rose to my throat. “NO!! Don’t go! I love you! Don’t leave me!”
But it was too late.
My ghost had gone.