There is a tradition of ghost stories at Christmas. The season of goodwill, for all its tinsel and light, seems tinged with the hollow melancholy and ache of mid-winter.
I have never believed in ghosts. All those sad tales of hauntings and the infinity of the human soul. Febrile imaginings and the manifestations of a maddening grief; sanity perched upon tenebrous wings. Stories bred of desperation and a base human instinct to survive. I have enjoyed the thrill of a spooky tale as much as the next person, but I have never believed a single one. Not until Nate, that is.
Nate and I met in the first early frosts of autumn, and somehow, even in our happiest moments, that promise of the chill of a winter yet to come would seep across us like a stain.
We succumbed to the fairytale of love, and I immersed myself beneath its milky waves. Through late autumn evenings I would rush home to see him, driving through the gathering twilight, a harvest moon suspended overhead as a red sun disappeared to greet the other side of the world, the acrid smell of bonfires filling the air. His arms on my waist as he stood behind me, watching fireworks pop and crackle in an electric night, laughing like children, as we ‘Oohed’ and ‘Aahed’.
But always, there was the chill of foreboding picking at our edges, lifting us like a scab. It is woven through what remains of my memories: that thread of disconcertion.
Weekdays working, weekends shopping for a first Christmas together, and car journeys on dark wet evenings, the glow of headlights reflecting on wet roads as we traversed with caution, anxious to avoid the drivers who have indulged in too much festive merriment before their journey home.
Sometimes we would walk, marching out into the night on a whim, relishing the salty tang of sea air and the high winds that shrieked like a woman through our senses. Hair whipping around my head and rain pouring down on us in torrents, the water seeping into my ears as it ran from Nate’s face, as he whispered sweet nothings to me and we laughed, laughed like children, safe in our coupledom, untouchable in our youth, resilient in our love.
Yet, as we strung the lights and decked the hall, I knew. I knew that I could not hold him forever.
And my, how quickly life can change. How quickly the blanket of routine and safe prediction can be drawn from under us, leaving us toppling and quaking, uncertain in its wake. Death: the unfathomable, hardest, most finite of them all. And it is coming for us; make no mistake. If you are happy, if you are sad, if you are in a relationship for the long term – whether romantic or platonic or parental or hateful – it is coming for you. And when it does, when Death steps out from behind the shadow of her sister, Life, then you’d better be ready, you’d better brace yourself: batten down the hatches.
For death is not the end.
I hear him sometimes. Speaking to me. Trying to break through, trying to make some tenuous contact with the life that we had made. He talks in cold whispers that grate and catch in his throat. He sounds no more human to me than the bark of a dog or the echo of foghorns from the port in the mist of a Christmas morning.
It’s as though I have lost my grip on reality. The fragility of life, and how it can flip you from its axis in the blink of an eye, or the slit of a wrist… or perhaps the slip of the brake on a wet, wet road in the dark, dark night. With the sweet, alcoholic tang of Christmas indulgence still on your breath, and the reflection of headlights sparkling in the firmament of your unseeing eyes. Death can explode into life, with all its thoughtless and technicolour morbidity.
I exist only in blue twilight. It sucks me down in lonesome currents, and I’ve not the strength to fight against it, as I drown beneath the swell. Never had I dreamt that such a loneliness could exist. There is the ache of fifty winters in my soul; my bones splinter with it.
I can’t seem to get warm anymore. Life rages on outside my windows and I find myself reaching for him. Sometimes I believe I touch him, my fingers stretching until I feel as though the tender webbed skin between them might tear apart, like over-ripened fruit on the vine, splitting down the middle with yearning.
But of course, I cannot touch him. I cannot feel him… although once, he seemed to sense me. I held my face close to his, peering at him as he slept, a window to the living. I longed to feel the warmth of his rising chest beneath my head. But he turned away, a shudder passing through his body, almost indiscernible in its quivering transience, yet unmistakable all the same: it was the shiver of revulsion. I am all that he is not.
And so, you see, I can vouch for the true love story. And I can vouch for eternity. I can even vouch for the ghost story, hand upon my broken heart that smashed against my ribcage as the bells rang out, loud and clear for Midnight Mass. The hopes and fears of all my years, ended in the scream of rubber on tarmac. How still they see me lie.
But mine is not a deep and dreamless sleep, because death is not the end, it is simply another lonely beginning.
For I am the story: I am the ghost. We are the haunted.
I originally wrote a draft of this some years ago, but returned to the drawing board & reworked it for Christmas. If you like it, then please do share it.
This is my final post before Christmas, lovely readers, and I wish a merry & peaceful Yuletide for you and yours. Have a healthy, happy & wonderful Christmas. Thank you, as ever, for reading x