The Girl in the Chiton

It’s Halloween today, and this is the last ghost story I will be sharing with you. It’s a long one and, in a subtle way, a gentle one. Thank you for reading.

The American woman descending the front steps spoke, in an irritating voice.

“This is so not a Queen Anne house, I don’t care what they say!”

Actually, if I am honest, there wasn’t anything that irritating about her voice. It was just that she was wrong. And loud. Her voice was a well-modulated, New England contralto, and I suppose that on another occasion I could have listened to her for hours in quiet conversation. But to me – my degree was in architecture – loud and wrong equalled irritating.

The moment I approached Ballantyne House in my hire car, catching my first glimpse of it along the gravel drive, the place felt right. It was those satisfying proportions of the early eighteenth century, the awakening of the age of science. The house was beautifully oblong, too small for a stately home but too big for a manse, mathematically perfect in red brick with a tall, tiled roof. So untypical of Scotland, but so appropriate to the age which saw the legal establishment of the United Kingdom, when Scottish gentlemen imitated the airs and graces of their English counterparts. I loved it at once. But then I love the beauty and harmony of mathematics. I remember making my colleague Tony Fleming laugh when I drew a graph for him – it was a simple, inverted parabola, crossing the x and y axes at zero – and then wrote down the equation which expressed it. From that equation, with its harmonious, chiming simplicity, I went on to extol Einstein, the high priest of order…

“Tony, nothing, absolutely nothing, is chaotic. Nothing is left to chance,” I had said. “At the back of everything there is order, there are rules, and everything obeys those rules.”

“What about the stuff we can’t explain?” had been his reply.

“That’s simply stuff we haven’t found out the rules for yet. Maybe we never will – but the rules will be there whether we find them or not.”

“Hannah,” he had said. “You’re a geek.”

“Oh, balls!”

“I don’t want to know why you were barred from the Brownies.” That had been his parting shot, as he went for coffee break.

Tony is irritating too. He doesn’t take me seriously. I do take myself seriously. It’s still a man’s world in architectural design and in marketing and in all the other sexy pies the consultancy we both work for has a finger in, so I have to take myself seriously. I vie for attention proactively, so I have to be right. I expect that is the real reason I found the American woman so irritating for being wrong. I longed to say out loud to her, “OK so it isn’t what you Americans call a Queen Anne house, it has no bay windows, no variety of surfaces, no multi-storey turrets, no myriad styles of casement, no projecting upper-storeys – in short it isn’t a Victorian travesty, named in crass ignorance. But it’s what is called a Queen Anne house here in the country which had Anne as its Queen. It’s the kind of house which was built when she was Queen. Ergo, it is a damn Queen Anne house!” But I didn’t. Instead I went inside, into the hallway, and looked with relish at the elegantly-banistered staircase that swept its way up to the first floor landing, and I reflected that the American woman with the loud, wrong opinion had been on her way out, and would therefore play no further part in my life.

The blurb for Ballantyne House, where our company was hosting a working weekend break in honour of Mr Ohira, our Japanese client, and for several other business contacts, made much of the concept of enjoying a stay as a guest in a country house. The full Downton Abbey routine. Corporate money came here to play at being old-time class. Pathetic, I guess, but I had to play along. It was a change, the surroundings were pleasant, and the architecture was wonderful. The house had either hardly been touched in its three-hundred-year life, or it had been carefully restored. Apart from basic things such as chairs, beds, and so on, which had been selected for the ergonomics and economics of modern comfort, the fixtures, fittings, and decorations appeared to be original. There was even an oil painting of a wigged and armoured Sir Alexander Ballantyne, the first baronet, who had served as an aide to the Englishman John Churchill when the latter had been made Lord Eyemouth. He had hitched his wagon, by luck or by design, to the man who had gone on to become the Duke of Marlborough. At that time in history, any Scot who knew which side his bannock was buttered on looked southwards. No matter what had befallen the family since, Sir Alexander had made the right choice then, and the style of the house reflected it.

A maid and a porter disguised as a footman – yes, Downton Abbey style – had taken my bags to my room, and I had followed them. Warm, fresh air flowed in through the half-opened sash window, making the curtains gently billow, and introducing the scent of newly-mown grass. I stood for a long while, looking out over the formal gardens with its unusual avenue of two parallel beech hedges which led, after a good couple of hundred metres to a small, round lawn with a central sundial. That morning I had been in Amsterdam. I had eaten my lunch quickly on board a KLM jet. At Edinburgh I had changed my Euros back to pounds and picked up the hire car. On the drive down here my head had been ringing from the noise made by a disabled man, who was being wheeled, almost flat on his back, around the baggage carousel at the airport. He had found a note, and had sounded it out with every exhalation, like an automatic foghorn. Everyone had ignored him, even his carer. No one had wanted to appear crass enough to complain, un-British. After fifteen minutes his note had modulated slightly into what I was idiotically fancying to be the first line of an Arikara death song. I repeated it as I drove; even with the car radio turned up as loud as I could stand it, I sang that demented riff over and over again. Such is the state of my mind, normally; there is always something seething there, as though I fought a running, verbal battle with an internal kind of Tourette syndrome. Now, at the window of my room, I took deep, slow breaths, and strained to hear birdsong. Finally it filtered through. There was a lot, in fact, though a city girl like me couldn’t hope to identify them… wait… there was a jay in the woods beyond the formal garden, and I caught sight of a silent heron gliding over the trees to where the river Teviot – I supposed – ran towards its confluence with the Tweed. This was beautiful, this was an interlude of peace in my life, and I was beginning to wonder why I had never noticed before what refreshment such a period could bring.

It was brief. Footsteps, loud laughter, conversations, the bump and clang of clumsily-wielded bags against inconveniently-placed fire extinguishers, all told me that Tony and the rest of our team had arrived by minibus from Berwick station. Time for me to shower, to change, and to get ready for dinner. Corporate life bursting back in on me.

Dinner came and went. Digestifs came and went, as we relaxed in the library and the drawing room, sunk into chairs and sofas. I bagged a chaise longue – I always wanted to sit on a chaise longue. Staff stood around, only semi-visible and probably totally Polish, as our conversation turned, casually but deliberately, to deal-making. That much at least was true to the image – for us the flunkies did not exist, unless we wanted a refill. Breakfast the next morning was a come-as-you-will affair, with hot and cold dishes arranged on the sideboard. I leapt upon the kedgeree – how long had it been since I had eaten kedgeree for breakfast? The whole weekend seemed to be navigated by the seamarks of food or refreshment, almost masking the serious business. But no one forgot that we were no interbellum house guests, we were KM StanierMunro LLP and clients, and deals and money were what we were all about. On Saturday afternoon, our CEO James MacMichael and Mr Ohira even disappeared and did the golf thing. Tony and an associate of Mr Ohira joined them. I was invited, but I do not do the golf thing, and I do not hang around in the clubhouse while other people do it either. Minus one point to me, in this game.

Instead I stayed in my room. I think I slept for a while too. I certainly stood at my window again, watching the shadows of summer clouds drift across the formal garden and the woods beyond. Occasionally fellow guests strolled into the garden and out again. In my half-awake state I imagined the paths between the flower beds populated with folk in the various costumes of the past three hundred years, until I caught myself at it, and laughed myself awake and out of that mood. My busy mind at it again.

The next buoy I sailed around was a light afternoon tea on the terrace. I was one of only a handful of people who bothered, and again I found myself gazing at the garden. When I returned to my room, I found my dress for that evening’s shindig laid out on my bed.

We really were going for it, packing business and the whole country house thing into a couple of days. I had already made arrangements to follow the minibus to the A1 on Sunday afternoon – the driver knew a short cut – before driving to Waverley, where I was due to leave the car; that was the measure of my waning commitment to this weekend. Maybe on Monday I would post my CV on the web, or ring around contacts in one or two of our rivals and sound them out. I didn’t feel like going to the costume party that evening, but all our get-up had been pre-hired from an expensive firm, and I would be expected to dance – a little too much like a professional hostess for my liking – with Mr Ohira.

My costume was very simple – I had chosen it myself – a classical Greek chiton. I tried it on. Its lines were perfect. It all seemed to be suspended from my shoulders, and gathered naturally at my waist, where I tied it lightly with a cord of braided cloth. It came to my ankles, and I had a pair of espadrilles which would go nicely with it. I tried other accessories – pendants and so on – but nothing worked, so I decided to do without jewellery. In the catalogue, the dress had looked like white linen, but in reality the fabric seemed a little sad, and I wasn’t sure I liked the faint smell, even though it seemed clean. But I hung it at the window, and let the breeze play over it for a couple of hours, while I took my time over showering and getting ready. My most outdoorsy body-spray made me want to kick myself for being excessively girly, but the finished effect wasn’t far away from what I wanted.

Mr Ohira, beaming and erect, made a grand entrance into the main salon in full highland regalia. I managed to avoid most of the dancing myself, but when the Scottish dance band started their stint, I did partner him in a foursome reel. I actually enjoyed it, though I silently thanked heaven I had remembered to pack my sports bra!

Tony is superb at his job, but sometimes he can really lose it. He looked good in evening dress, a sash, and a black cloak lined with red satin; even with his hair slicked back and a set of false fangs he was still quite dashing as a Transylvanian boyar. When the joke of pretending to bite some of the female guests and most of the staff began to wear thin, and after he had lost his fangs in a glass of Bordeaux, he forgot that you should never mix grape and grain, and began to be a bit of a liability. He made a couple of remarks about “the MacTojo tartan”, and “Toshiro MacPhoney” a little too loudly. Mr Ohira was too much of a gentleman to indicate whether he had heard, but I felt a nudge from Napoleon (James).

“Lose Vlad,” he said. “Impale him if you have to.”

I won back the point I lost for not doing the golf thing. I got hold of Tony’s arm. “Come and thrash me at snooker,” I said, and dragged him away as unobtrusively as I could. In the billiards room we found that Robin Hood appeared to be thrashing Al Capone at snooker, so that was no-go.

“Hannah, have I been making a tit of myself,” Tony asked.

“Elegantly phrased,” I said. “And accurate.”

“Possibly a good idea if I made myself scarce for the rest of the evening, then, and hope I fade from our guests’ memory.”

“Possibly. No, probably.”

I watched Tony make his way to the main staircase, his cloak flowing behind him. At the foot of the stairs, he turned, grinned, swirled it about himself and took the stairs three at a time. Idiot. By this time I realised I was leaning on the wall, holding myself off, stiff-armed, with one hand. I hadn’t exactly been ignoring the drinks this evening either. I was tired, and the regular thump of the reels’ quarter time was calling back into my head the persistent chat of the disabled man. I found myself humming it in time to the beat from the next room. Suddenly, taking a turn on the terrace seemed a fine idea.

Outside, I leaned on the worn, stone balustrade. It was midsummer, and the evening was light. A backscatter of apricot sunlight illuminated the clouds to my right, and over half the sky. The rest was still the smoky blue that comes before twilight, and a single star – a planet no doubt – shone steadily at the horizon, over the woods. The breeze, though cooler, was pleasant on my skin, and the other scents of the garden mixed into the lingering smell of cut grass. The formal shapes of the garden were still clear, and the twin beech hedges bisected the scene. My eye went to the sundial and beyond. There was only the slightest movement in the trees, the barest rustle of leaves drifted across to me, and the occasional cry of a late-roosting bird. The relentless death song that had pounded in my head began to attenuate and fade.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it.”

It was a statement, rather than a question, and it came from a young woman – a girl really, barely out of her teens – who was leaning on the balustrade too, about a metre to my right. Her sudden presence startled me, but then I felt silly.

“Oh!” I exclaimed. “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there. You made me jump.”

“No, I’m sorry if I startled you. Perhaps I should try to make more noise as I approach people.”

She smiled, and turned to look at the garden. I looked at her. She was dressed in a chiton like mine. Her hair, which was a muted red-gold, was gathered up, and tied with a trailing ribbon high up on the back of her head. She had a pale face with a flawless complexion which made me very envious, and a straight nose. As I took in her profile, I felt as though she could easily have stepped off the side of an antique Greek ceramic. Her bare arms and neck made her outfit seem, at once, more naked yet more innocent than mine.

If she had been at the costume party I hadn’t been aware of her. I would have noticed someone else in the same get-up as myself, I would certainly have noticed someone looking that good in it. Maybe she was a latecomer.

“I haven’t noticed you here until now, I mean here at Ballantyne House,” I said. “Are you a guest?”

“I’ve been coming here since I was a child,” She said. “My name’s Cassie, by the way.”

“I’m Hannah – hi!” I said, holding my hand out. She took it firmly and shook it.

“Are you American?”

“No,” I laughed. “I’m English.”

“Oh,” she said, and looked a little embarrassed.

I turned round and levered myself up to sit on the balustrade, turning my head to look at her. She was looking out at the garden, and sometimes down at her hands. Her left foot was cocked out behind her, causing part of the skirt of her chiton to fan outwards, as she rested her toes on the flagstones. She seemed shy, about to say something. There was a sense of poise, part learned, part natural, yet also something gauche and ingénue. I felt as though I was seeing, viewing, something I had lost, or something I had always lacked – not just her prettiness, but something which now caused the strange words “an old soul and a young heart” to come into my mind. It is unlike me, the city girl, to be such a poet.

“This is my favourite place in the entire house and grounds,” she said, looking out over the gardens. “I come out here to look for patterns in the garden. I trace lines with my eyes, over and over again, following the shapes. I try to hold them in my memory, and then recall and retrace them. It is as though the shapes all have meanings, and they tell me things. And see the sundial? I used to go there at night, and pretend the shadow cast by moonlight showed me what time it was… somewhere else… a different world or something. Does that sound weird?”

“Yes, but don’t mind me.”

“If it’s too dark to see the shapes and patterns in the garden,” she continued. “I come out here and look at the stars. And I do the same thing with them, tracing patterns over and over, committing them to my memory and then retracing them.”

“Do the stars tell you things too?” Why was I asking her this?

“Yes.”

I looked up at the roof of Ballantyne House.

“Unless I am much mistaken,” I said. “Due north is over there. If this was mid winter, maybe the polar stars would be visible from right here. But the house is in the way, and it’s too light anyway. The Egyptians called them ‘The Eternals’, because they held their positions while the other stars wheeled through the skies. They equated them with their gods. I can see why. There’s a wonderful orderliness to them.”

She looked at me. “Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

“None,” I said. “You?”

“I had a sister, a younger sister called Dorothy.”

“Had?”

“Yes,” Cassie said, looking down – I thought she was about to cry. “She died when she was four.”

“Oh I am so sorry.”

Cassie said nothing for a while, then: “It’s very difficult. Very difficult to say this. I was standing right here, and I saw her. But I knew I didn’t really see her. She was making her way through the garden to the woods. And then it was as though I could see her pushing through the woods, and all the time she was looking back at me, as though she wanted to make sure I could see her. But she wasn’t really there. I knew she wasn’t really there, but that I was somehow meant to see her. I was only six myself, and I didn’t really understand. I wanted to call out to her, but no sound would come from my mouth. I wanted to run after her, but it was as though there was a wall stopping me from going that way. All I remember being able to do was run and tell Mama. I remember saying, ‘Mama, Dorothy is down by the river’ and Mama saying, ‘Hush Cassie, Dorothy is nowhere of the sort, she is in her room asleep’. She didn’t believe me. And by the time she actually did realise Dorothy was missing, and then all that frantic searching, and the police coming, and then when someone actually found poor Dorothy stuck under a tree root in the Teviot…”

She stopped, shivered, and clasped her arms around herself. I leaned across and touched her shoulder gently.

“It seems like you blame yourself,” I said. “You shouldn’t. You were very young, and frightened by what you had imagined.”

“No, no,” she said, shaking her head as though I had failed to understand. “It’s not that. It’s like when my cousins George and Simon went off to war. I was standing here, and suddenly I saw them both. One was lying across the other. They were both very still. Their arms and legs were bent awkwardly. I begged them not to go, but they laughed. George said, ‘Oh really, Cassie, times Danaos et dona ferentes, and no mistake’.”

“Is that Greek?”

She shook her head. “No it’s Latin, it’s a mis-quotation from Virgil’s Aeneid. But I said to George, ‘It wasn’t Cassandra who said that anyway, it was Laocoon, and look what happened to him!’ But George laughed, and so did Simon, and they went off anyway… They never came back.”

“Oh dear,” I said, instantly feeling that was a lame response. “Was it Afghanistan? Iraq?”

She looked at me, but said nothing. Then she looked down and stood in silence for a while.

“Sometimes I feel as though I should have knocked them unconscious and hidden them to stop them going,” she said. “I felt like it. I felt desperate. I wish they had believed me. If only somebody believed me, just once.”

“Cassie, why are you telling me all this?”

“I feel as though you’re really listening to me.”

I looked at her for a long while. It was touching that someone I had only just met had opened up to me like this.

“Cassie,” I said eventually. “I don’t believe in prescience. I’m sorry, but I don’t. It defies all the known laws by which things work. I don’t say this to hurt you. I know that what happened to you was one hundred percent real to you. I can’t take that away from you, and I wouldn’t dream of trying. If you want to tell me more about this, I’ll be right here and listen, and I won’t scoff. Even if I doubt the objective event, I would never doubt the subjective experience.”

She looked into my face. “Hannah, will you meet me here at the same time tomorrow? We can talk again then.”

I shook my head. “I have to leave tomorrow. I have to take my hire car back to Edinburgh. It’s all arranged.”

“Please don’t leave. Please stay. I know you don’t believe in prescience, but couldn’t you just stay as a favour to me?”

“I can’t.”

We stood and sat in silence for a while. I began to wonder if I was quite right in the head, or if the drink and the night air had made me a little crazy. What was I doing, talking like this to a youngster I hardly knew anyhow? I was about to say something and go inside again, my peaceful time alone having now been somewhat disturbed, when she smiled and changed the subject entirely.

“Have you been down to see my sundial? Come on, let me take you. Let me show you.”

She reached out and took my hand, giving it a little tug to urge me to jump down from my perch. Her impulsive and friendly innocence worked its charm on me instantly, and I allowed myself to be led off, down the steps from the terrace, and into that arrow-straight avenue. Cassie kept hold of my hand as we walked, and I reflected that this was the first time I had held hands, as if with a playmate, since I was very, very young. We strolled slowly. The avenue was wide enough to accommodate us side-by-side, but narrow enough so that we could reach out and touch the hedges if we wanted to. They were taller than I had expected them to be, cutting off the rest of the garden from sight, and thick with the broad, dark-green escutcheons that are beech leaves. I couldn’t make out any gaps ahead, merely the shadowy, green path leading to the sundial, and beyond that the deepening dark of the woods. Cassie cast a look behind me, and told me to brush my chiton where I had been sitting on the balustrade. Then we strolled on in silence for a while. The sundial seemed as far away as it had been before.

There was a moment of change – there must have been. If some kind of chaos had been creeping up on me, I hadn’t seen it coming, and suddenly everything was different. I noticed Cassie looking up at the sky, and then she looked at me with something in her eyes that seemed too controlled, too determined for panic. She tugged hard on my hand.

“Run!”

“What? What?”

“Run – just run!”

We ran. We ran in the only direction we could, straight down the grass path between the tall hedges. We ran against a cold wind that had sprung up, chilling my bare arms, and against the sting of hard raindrops, as a desultory shower hit us, as though skirmishing for a squall. The sky was dark, the beech leaves rattled at us like so many dry, wooden clappers, ripping off and slapping us in the face – now brown and sere rather than green. The path was wet and slippery, patches of grass worn or torn away, shining with mud. It became difficult to keep my feet as I ran, dragged along by Cassie, who gripped my hand with a painful tightness. Breath knifed in my lungs, and escaped from my open mouth in gasps. My pulse began to thump in my head, and I caught, as if in far off echo, that demented death song again. Through the raindrops that pelted my face, and the tears of effort, I could see the sundial getting closer. It was just like that – as though we were running hard to stand still, and the world around us was doing the rushing, hurtling towards us. My mind revolted against all this, even as I ran. “Why are we running away from the damn house? Why are we running away from shelter instead of to it?”

Closer and closer came the circular lawn, and as it did, I became blinder, more breathless, more aware of the noise in my head. Then I caught a glimpse of Cassie’s face. There was an expression of grim determination on it, and I felt her suddenly yank on my hand, and let go.

That was enough to jerk me off my feet, as I slipped in the wet. I lurched forward, stretching my arms out stiffly. I was somehow aware, by a sense other than sight, of the upright of the sundial passing right in front of my face. Then I felt a jar as I hit the ground, and a dreadful pain shot up my left arm. I rolled over, and as my vision cleared a little, I realised I was sitting with my back hard against the base of the sundial, looking back down the beech alley, towards Ballantyne House. It was unlit, a black, barely-visible silhouette against an indigo sky, in which the Eternals now glittered like bright jewels on a coronet, and seemed to mock me. I fought for my breath.

“Cassie!” I called, hoarsely. “Cassie!”

There was no sight of her, no answering sound.

I don’t remember anything else, until I staggered back into the house, which was – mercifully – lit again. I was helped into a chair, and people fussed round me. Mr Ohira looked very concerned, and James MacMichael wanted to send for an ambulance. I waved all this away irritably.

“I fell over, that’s all,” I said. “It’ll take hours for an ambulance to get here, hours for it to get back to the nearest hospital, and then I’ll be sitting round in A and E until some over-tired nurse can see me.”

“Hannah, your forehead is bleeding,” said James.

“I’m okay,” I insisted. “That’s only a graze. Look, the hotel’s bound to have the number of the local GP.”

That was that. The doctor came, agreed with me about the graze, pronounced my left wrist unbroken but badly sprained, and gave me a sling and something powerful for the pain. I slept until late the next morning, and came downstairs in a panic, late for breakfast. I fussed around, making arrangements for my drive to Edinburgh, until James and the hotel’s duty manager cornered me. James wouldn’t hear of my driving with a sprained wrist, and the duty manager offered to accommodate me for a few days – for the rest of the week if necessary – free of charge. James accepted on my behalf.

“I think they want to sweeten you up, in case you’re thinking of making an injury claim,” he said, once the manager was out of earshot. “The weekend has been a success anyway. All the loose ends of the deal are tied up. You did your bit for us – thank you, Hannah – you hit the ground running after the Amsterdam meeting, and you deserve a break. We’ll get the hire car picked up, and worry about getting you home later.”

A couple more points for me, then. Perhaps I wouldn’t tout my CV round after all.

Once everyone had left, and I had waved Tony and the gang away in the minibus, I relaxed. I had a Queen Anne house not exactly to myself, but at least now it could be the sole object of my attention. I could admire the proportions of it with the dedication of a geek, and I did this from every angle. I even walked down the grass avenue between the beech hedges to the sundial, and I stood on the terrace as twilight came, as though I was daring Cassie to appear, daring her to be something more than a product of slight concussion. She didn’t appear.

On Monday morning I turned my attention to the indoors, and roamed around everywhere I could get access to, looking at fireplaces, doorways, mouldings on the ceiling, pictures on the wall. In one corridor my attention was taken by a small picture in a simple frame. A young woman in profile, bare-armed, wearing a simple, draped garment; her nose was straight, her hair gathered high on the back of her head, and her gaze distant. I stood and looked at it for ten or fifteen minutes, until I realised I was blocking the way of a chambermaid with a trolley. I apologized, and asked her if she knew anything about the picture. She shook her head.

“I go for the duty manager,” she said, in a heavily-accented voice, and walked quickly down the corridor before I could tell her not to bother. The manager arrived a few minutes later, lap-top in hand.

“Ms Broad, good morning. I understand you have a query about one of the pictures,” he said. “We have them all on a database, and I have a download with me.”

I pointed to the picture. “What can you tell me about this one?”

He put the lap-top down on a semi-circular table and tapped on the keyboard. Then he read out what was on the screen, turning it towards me.

“Yes, this was one of the pictures acquired with the property. It is listed as ‘Girl in a chiton, circa 1920, pencil and watercolour wash’. There’s nothing more about it as far as I can see, nothing to identify the sitter.”

“How about these initials, bottom right – ‘CB’?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe the artist? Would you like me to see if I can find out anything else? It’ll probably be a wild goose chase, but I can try.”

“No, I… hold on a minute,” I said, as my mobile rang. It was Tony, asking after me, and letting me know that everyone had got back safe and sound. The only incident worth mentioning had been that the short-cut the minibus driver knew had taken them over a level-crossing where, unknown to them, the barriers had failed. They had crossed it, and a few seconds later the East Coast Express had thundered through. Their near-miss had made it onto local radio, apparently, although Tony and the others were back home by then and hadn’t heard it. It had obviously been a slow news day – that was Tony’s opinion. It was only after we had said our goodbyes and our see-you-next-weeks, and after I had folded my phone in two and slipped it into my pocket, that the following thought struck me. I had been due to follow the minibus – how close would the express have come to me? How much of a news item might I have been?

I know I must have stood with my eyes unfocussed for a moment or two. Maybe my face went white.

“Are you all right, Ms Broad?” said the manager. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

I recovered myself. “No. It’s my wrist, and I bumped my head. I’m a little disoriented, which way is it to the lounge? I’m ready for morning coffee and shortbread. There’s no such thing as ghosts,” I said, as we moved off down the corridor.

Under my breath, mostly to myself but also to any unseen, unknown ears which might hear the smaller sounds of the world, I added,”… only the stuff we haven’t found out the rules for yet.”

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©Marie Marshall 2008-2020