Rosalind opened the back door of the
charity shop. Being a ghost, a key wasn’t strictly necessary. She could have
just drifted through the door. Sometimes it was fun to use the key. Like a
grown-up. The key had been placed under a garbage can. It didn’t belong to
Rosalind. It was there for the use of the volunteers who regularly staffed the
thrift store. At three in the morning, anyone watching would have seen the
garbage can tilt to one side. Lifted by an unseen hand, the key rose in the
air. It inserted itself into the lock, and the door swung open. It did not
creak ominously, as in all the haunted house movies. It just swung back. Rosalind
entered noiselessly. She knew the place well. It was a cathedral of unwanted goods.
There were bookshelves. Rows of best-selling paperbacks from fifteen years ago,
bought in distant airports, read once and finally disposed of. Books from
children who had left home long ago, kept by parents who couldn’t bear to give
them away. It was not the books but the memories they evoked. The books took
memories with them and stood gathering dust. Lost, as the memories would be.
Rosalind glanced at one book. It was ‘How To
Catch A Star.’ It had been a favourite of hers in childhood and in another
life. It floated from the shelf, and she moved forward. Despite the hour, the
light from the street lamps cast a glow inside. There were trays of used
cutlery and old coffee mugs, racks of compact discs. Most were from artists
from the recent past. The recent past—as all ghosts know and the living often
forget—is the most distant of all far countries. There were plates of all
shapes and sizes. Some had been placed on stands. One plate had a garish
illustration of a surfacing whale. Beneath the whale was an inscription.
Right Whale, Kaikoura, New Zealand
Rosalind had never
seen a whale. Or a dolphin. She may have had a toy whale. Some things—though
not all—were difficult to remember. There were ornaments of obscure purpose
that no one would ever buy. The store had T- shirts, mostly faded and often
from sports teams that had had their moment in the sun long ago. Silently, she
found what she had been looking for. Sometimes children keep a favourite toy
well into adult life. They are occasionally passed on to their own children. Losing
interest, the toys finally end up in a heap of the sadly abandoned in a thrift
store. There is a poignancy about them. Once loved, even cherished, now thrown
away and forgotten. Love can be like that. It can light a world, and then
vanish like melting snow. Rosalind saw a stuffed lion on top of the pile. The
fur had been rubbed smooth by frequent cuddles. It had a small label. A child’s
name had been written on this. It could not be read. In another time, the lion
had been christened Lionel, though she couldn't have known this. The toy rose
out of the basket. Book and toy lion were placed together in the air. She moved
toward the door. A ghost, a book and a toy lion went out into the street. The
door was locked and the key replaced. She was a ghost now. Once she had been a
happy little girl. When she remembered, the sun always seemed to be shining.
Until the headaches came.
They came in the
mornings and they never got better. She couldn’t really run. Later she couldn’t
see properly, or even eat. Even chocolate ice cream. When her mother had read
to her from How To Catch A Star it
had not been the same. So tired, so tired, and the pictures were so blurry. She
remembered machines and hospitals, lights and people crying. She had wondered
why they were crying. There had been other children in the hospital. She felt
sorry for them, and wanted to help them. She knew children liked books and
cuddly toys ,and she knew where to find them. She had found she could do things
she couldn’t do before. She didn’t know why, but she wanted to do things for
the children that were sick. Rosalind did not want to frighten them. She knew
there were children in the hospital. It had been a noisy place. The hospital
was quite close to the charity shop. She moved through the night unseen. The
hours between three and four are the dead of night. Had anyone been watching, they
would have seen a book and a toy lion drifting down a dimly lit rear corridor
that led to the children’s ward. The nurses were at the other end of the ward.
A baby was crying. Poor baby. Rosalind saw a cubicle door that was open. A
little boy was asleep in the bed and a man—probably his daddy—was asleep in an
armchair. Rosalind had been in a room like this, but she couldn’t quite
remember why. She cast no shadow, and the toy lion was laid gently on the
little boy’s pillow. He did not stir. How
To Catch A Star was placed carefully on a bedside table. There was a
plastic beaker half-full of orange juice. Hospitals always give you orange
juice. She wondered why. She thought the little boy would really like Lionel.
Little boys liked lions. Rosalind knew it was always good to help people, so
she would come back to the hospital later. She wasn’t sure why she could do all
the things she could so. She was glad the headaches had gone.
She thought she could find her way
home and see Mummy and Daddy. They would be so happy. She had had a favourite
toy. It was a bear. She had called him Mr. Fuzzypants. He slept on the pillow
and was always with her, even in the hospital when the headaches were very bad.
Rosalind thought she would go home and put Mr Fuzzypants on the kitchen table.
Mummy and Daddy would see him in the morning. They would wonder how he got
there. It would be a secret. Mr Fuzzypants would know but nobody else could.
And maybe, after a while, Rosalind would find out why people were crying. They
must have been so sad.
Paul is an Emergency
RN. In the past worked in an area where children were sometimes afflicted with
sickness of Gothic proportions. Some are ghosts now. As a child visited an aunt
in a haunted farmhouse. This explains a lot. Paul has worked in a variety of
noisy places unlikely to be on anyone’s list of holiday destinations. He is
also a highly suggestible subject for any cat requiring feeding and practising