by Katie Lumsden
It is strange, having company after all this time. I do not like hearing my voice when I speak. Her voice I do not mind so much; it is her words which, for the most part, annoy me. This morning she made me carry her out of the tent. It felt strange. I could feel her breathing, feel her movements as we walked. This ghost girl is having a bizarre effect on me.
I wish she would go away. I wish she would leave me to my life, to my beauty, to my empty glorious normality. When I walk about during the day it is as though I am free, and I can forget her. Or it is not so much her, exactly, as the fear that comes with her presence here, the fear that someone may come and look for her. Amongst my plants, amongst the willows and the river and the bridge and the ruined history, amongst the crumbled stone walls, I am happy. I cannot forget forever, though.
That is an odd thought. In the beginning I came to my cathedral to forget forever. I thought I was succeeding. Now I am not so sure. I shall explain my meaning: more and more my brother trickles into my thoughts, like dripping blood; more and more the life before this life, my real life, my happy life, seeps into my mind. I blame the girl. I think I do, but blame is difficult to place. It is difficult to know anything for certain.
When I get back to my cathedral I can taste in the air that it is late afternoon, and the girl is sitting outside the tent that we now share, with a pile of wood beside her. She has shaped it all, and I stare at her. She is still working. I come up from half behind and she does not notice me at once. I take advantage of this – I hardly know why – and stand behind, watching. She works fast, with skill almost. It is strange to watch her hands move. I have grown so used to only watching what is still, to watching ruins and plants, to only seeing occasional movement in those of fish or birds or the wind shaking the leaves. My life lacks motion that I can watch. Here I stand, as still as the world around me usually is, and she moves, she works.
Her presence is not a comfort, and yet this sight makes me smile. Were she not here I would not be smiling now. She is a variation to my steady routine, and I am not entirely sure whether the change is welcome or not.
Besides, her desire to be useful to me surprises me. She is a mystery to me. And perhaps I am a mystery to her too.
She turns. I suppose if you are used to people you can tell when you are being watched. She stares at me for a moment. It is one thing to look at her, another thing to be looked at by her, so I break the gaze and stare down at the pile of pointed sticks she has made for me. I did not need that many. It does not matter.
I say, “Thank you,” because it seems fitting, and then I take the penknife from her. With the end of a tree trunk I carve her a wooden plate, and hand it to her in silence.
We eat dinner in silence, but then that’s not new. We’ve eaten in silence, done everything in silence, in all my strange days in this strange place. I feel happier today, having sharpened sticks for Lord Hugh Blackmore, my ghostly companion, because at least I’ve done something worthwhile, at least I’ve helped his bizarre existence. He fashioned me a plate out of wood; that makes me feel a little more welcome here.
When I look up from my food he is looking at me, and I look down again. I take a bite of fish and vegetables. We’re eating outside today. I prefer that; I mean, it feels freer, and the sun’s bright on us here, shining, heavy. It must be late, I suppose, but it’s high summer, and still warm and light despite everything. It occurs to me, strangely, that I haven’t thought of the time in over a week. I move back my sleeve and, sure enough, my watch is gone. I look up, frowning.
“Where’s my watch?” I ask.
He looks around at me slowly, his eyes wide, looking almost afraid.
“Where’s my watch?” I repeat.
After a moment, in which he seems to consider lying and then decides against it, he says, “I threw it in the river.”
I stare. Any feelings of gratitude to him drift away, any understanding of him goes. I use my most demanding voice. “Why?”
“I do not like time,” he says. “I do not like knowing the time and I do not like technology, so I threw it in the river.” He pauses, and then adds, “I threw your gun in the river too.”
This is a little too much for me. “That’s not even mine!” I cry.
“I did not want you to shoot yourself again. And I hate guns. I hate them.”
The last sentence is said with so much violence that I turn and stare at him. His intense frown is enough to silence me.
When dinner is finished, just when I’m thinking that I wouldn’t mind going to sleep, Hugh Blackmore says, “I have an idea.”
I turn and look at him.
“About – about the fact that they might come and look for you. You said that it was because of the bill, because you had not paid the bill at where you were staying.”
“You…” He trails off, frowning, thinks, and then says, “You have the money?”
“In your rucksack?”
“Yes.” I’m confused now. He, with all his frowning, looks confused too, reluctant.
“I thought perhaps… perhaps I could pay it for you.” He talks a long time over the words. “I could walk into town, find the bed and breakfast for you and… pay…”
I’m amazed, so amazed that I stare. “But–” I frown. “When was the last time you left this place?”
“I don’t know,” he says, in a low voice. “Like I said, I haven’t been counting… Years. Maybe more than a decade.” He bites his lip. “The thing is that if I don’t… they might come here. I am afraid of them coming here.”
“They might not.”
“I am afraid of the risk. I can’t be comfortable, can’t be at ease, knowing that people might come here. It terrifies me.”
“But, to go back into the world, after so long–” I frown. “I mean, can you do it?”
“Your foot won’t heal for a while. I have no choice.” He struggles, shrugs, and frowns. “I will go tomorrow. It will be over soon.”
“I’ll give you the money.”
“How will I find the place?”
I think about this. “I’ll draw you a map,” I say.
“And how is it done? How do I go about paying a bill?”
This is strange to me. This weird man, this man who knows how to survive in the wilderness of a ruined cathedral can’t remember how to pay for something. “Go in and ask for the bill for Izzy Williams and say you’ll settle it.”
He stares at me. “Belle.”
“I thought your name was Isabelle, not Izzy.”
“It’s the same thing.”
He nods, but still he seems unsure. “Alright,” he says, in a long drawn out way. “Alright then. I shall try and do it.”
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