Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Bill Griffiths: Ghost Stories 1: TOMMY

The clocks go back next weekend (in Britain) and the winter months draw in. It is time for a ghost story or two - even if they don't have actual, virtual or artefactual ghosts in them - but who better than Bill Griffths to tell them to us. I read a wonderful piece in Alice Lenkiewicz' magazine Neon Highway called 'Fog', and asked Bill if he had more. He had six, which (one a month) will last us through until Spring. Check his own web-page and see the smoke rising from his chimney, and much more. (See a picture of Bill reading on Page 473 (July 2005.)

Boldly I went up to the door and knocked.
“I want to join the party.”
The man at the door looked at me for a moment, in a detached sort of way. “You cannot,” he said with an almost amused calmness. As though I was not a member of their club.
Behind him I could see lots of people, men, women, not all old. My age too. “There’s youngsters there too,” I pointed out, so he knew he wasn’t fooling me, but keeping it pleasant, like.
Just as mild, he gave a sympathetic shake of the head, and shut the door.
Not rudely, but as an older more wise chap might deal with a bairn.
It rattled me.
What were they? What sort of posh crew, them? Wasn’t I good enough?
I went round the side to look in a window. There was quite a lot of them. Not exactly merry, chatting in little groups, easy enough. ‘Mebbe there’s nae alcohol,’ I thought. But it looked sociable enough, not some prayer meeting or lecture or nowt, and they was a curious mix to be getting on so well, I thought. Some were right old. But there were some me Dad’s age, and a scattering of young-un’s. And somewhere a baby or two was settin’ off its voice.
One or two of the old folk looked my way and noticed me. They gave me such a glare of challenge – or mebbe just astonishment – I had to give up and walkt away.

I had every right to be curious. So many people are leaving our estate to get work, there’s empty houses a-plenty. When no one expects it, a block or so gets knocked down. It depends on what pattern they fall empty in. And then just as often, other people move in. From outside the estate. Exactly, we want to know about them. Especially if they’re the sort to throw parties.
Just once a pair of houses were joined into one, to make a bail hostel. That caused commotion enough. What with packets changing hands on the street and break-ins at the houses round, it wasn’t long before the local residents got together and had it shut down.
But always there were new people coming in. Councils sent them here, hearing there was spare housing. Sad cases, and wrong cases, and belligerent types, so you always wanted to know who they were, what they were like, as soon as possible.
Only I wasn’t having much success here.
“What about that corner house, then, Mam?” I asked at tea-time.
She looked oddly at me. “They’ll keep themselves to themselves,” she said. Suggesting I should dee the same.

I was round there again after dusk. Surely the get-together would end some time. They would set off – somewhere – I could ask one or two as they came out. That seemed fair.
Only there was no sign of change. A dim light was on now, simple blinds were down, so I had to move around a bit to find a chink and get some notion of what was happening. There seemed no less of them (after all no one but me had come knocking on the door; no one came out). As far as I could make some shadowy sense of it – more were sitting down now, it looked more relaxed somehow. Occasionally someone got up and went through a door at the back. Perhaps they were getting a bit bait or summat. But I saw none of them returning. Were they going to bed? Did they all stay there?
The house didn’t seem big enough. I set out to prove it. Being a corner house that wasn’t so easy. A receding corner, that is, so you couldn’t see how big the house itself might be, or how widely the garden fanned out. I could try from round the back. This meant going to the next street, or so I thought. But I plain got lost. At least, I got to where I thought it should be, but then there were other houses and gardens in the way. I clambered over into a back garden here, in case I could get through; but then I lost my bearings, the houses opposite looked all the same; a dog began barking; I gave up. Bedtime.

“Tom, where do you gan when ye’re deed?”
“A gert big serpent swallers ye up.”
“Wi googly een?”
“Weel, he wad, if’n he’d swallered ye.”
“Ye’re funnin’.”
“Aareet, what d’ye reckon?”
“Mebbe things just stop.”
“Or mebbe ye just carry on i’ sum other place.”
“How d’ye knaa?”
“It maks sense. Nowt ends, dizzit?”
“Sae gan ti sleep willyer?”

All the same, mi little brother gave me an idea.
I walked up to the door, and knocked.
A woman answered; she waited for me to speak first.
“Is Jake there?”
Her mute face registered alarm. She kinda gestured with her eyes, at the room behind her, mebbe not meaning to. She never moved to let me in or auht.
“Jake!” I shouted.
I thought I caught a glimpse of my marra – just a flash as of a turned heed – or someone caught unaware – or was it him?
I was trembling now.
The woman looked at me not unkindly. “I think you’d better leave now,” she said.
It was a suggestion, not an order.
I was too dazed to reply.
The door quietly closed.

Did I want to meet Jake again?
Did I dare?

It took a coupla days afore A’d worked that through; and then the house was empty again. Everyone had went. Everyone.

Page 484

There will be another Bill Griffiths story next month. Two poems of his may be found here.