It wasn’t that I needed to think about it. Did I believe or not? The plain fact of the matter was how couldn’t I? I remember the first time I saw my ghostly visitor, my breath was trapped in my throat, and only a pickaxe might be able to dislodge it. She stood there, eyes as round and white as golf balls – staring at me. Pale lips parted in a shocked expression, screaming at me in silence. How dare I be in my own home – the one place I should be safe.
At the time, it was impossible for me to understand the connection.
After the first vision, I called the doctor for a home visit. I was seeing things – there must be a reasonable explanation. I didn’t go to the doctor’s surgery myself – that would have been impossible.
It’s not that I didn’t try, but each time I pushed my foot over the threshold to exit my flat, my stomach tightened and my head filled with a dense cloud separating my brain from the rest of me. Actions – static. Thoughts – impossible. I was unable to persuade my leg to move. My brain incapable of completing a single thought.
It was difficult to remember when I last left the flat. A few days – a week – a month? Each day felt like the next until I lost track of time altogether.
When my telephone rang, I would wait for the call to click over to the answerphone. Nine times out of ten, it would be my mum or my sister; on the rare occasion, my dad, but his messages were always short and sharp, and I heard mum in the background urging him to speak kinder.
Then there was the woman next door – I’m sure mum called her to check on me. Why else would she knock? For the year we were neighbours we’d never even exchanged a greeting. What could I say to her now that wouldn’t be awkward and embarrassing. I’d stand to one side of the door, too afraid to look through the peephole in case she saw my shadow. Fearful she would hear my pounding heart crashing against my ribcage. Perspiration trickled down my forehead and I wiped it away in frustration. I’d curse at myself, angry at my own incompetence and the ridiculous situation in which I found myself.
So that’s why I phoned the doctor. I mulled it over in my mind. How was I to approach the receptionist? The thought of travelling to the surgery was too much. My fear of stepping past my front door was more than I could bear.
It took a lot of faking on the phone to get the doctor to do a home visit. Home visits made him grumpy. I’d come up with dizzy spells and continuous vomiting as a reason for being unable to travel out into the cold September day. I suppose if I had given the real reason that I was seeing things and afraid of the world outside my door would have been good enough; but I felt stupid and ashamed. Vomiting seemed more acceptable to me.
I apologised to the doctor as soon as he arrived. The guilt for my lies was almost more than I could stand, although it no-way matched my fear. My fear was no longer nameless.
‘You’re agoraphobic, young lady,’he said while he examined me over the top of his thick reading glasses. He produced a pamphlet from his briefcase and hurled it at me. It left the grasp of his hairy fist and landed on my lap. Meanwhile, I was waiting for the doctor’s infamous bedside manner. I realised I would be out of luck on that score.
Agoraphobia – An Irrational Fear of Going Out in Public.
That was the title of the document he supplied me with and it explained a lot about me. It was a relief that there was an explanation, and now I had a pamphlet. It was evident I didn’t need anything else, or why would the doctor rush away like that?
This didn’t explain the hallucination, but then in the end I didn’t mention it for fear of being tied up in the strait-jacket I imagined was hiding in his compact doctor’s bag.
My thoughts grew steadily negative. What did this mean for me now? Would my four walls be my life? My fists clenched. Would I ever get to the supermarket again; or was it home deliveries till kingdom come? Was my fear all I had now? A dark cloud consumed me. It was a depressing future.
My heart grew heavy as panic attacks filled my waking moments. My life so clearly illustrated through the words in the pamphlet. My anxiety was altering my perception of the terrifying world outside my protective walls.
It was at that point my phantom companion returned. Her eyes always watched me, and most of the time from the bathroom.
She would stare open mouthed and look at me with tears of sadness in her strained eyes. I couldn’t understand why. Come to think of it I’d been avoiding the bathroom. It was as if a magnet was repelling me in the other direction, and as much as I tried to force myself forward, I remained static. I wasn’t able remember the last time I’d been in there, which in itself was a ridiculous thought. It’s not like my bladder had become an insignificant organ, and I didn’t feel as though I hadn’t bathed in days.
Days meshed as one, and exhaustion devoured me, as my memories grew dim. Why was that?
My translucent guest was like a strip of double exposed film. A faint figure planted in … no wait that’s not quite right – hanging there against the backdrop of my home. It wasn’t even as if she ever disappeared in a flash, she was always bloody there!
Sometimes she would try to speak but all she would achieve would be to look like a fish searching for food.
“I’m sorry. I can’t hear you.”
She sighed and walked to the front door and peered through the spy hole. Placing her translucent hand on the solid doorknob she twisted the handle and pulled. The door didn’t move. How could it? She possessed no flesh and bone, but she reacted as though it opened. She wordlessly spoke to an invisible visitor on the other side of the oak door, then she glanced at me and pointed.
For a moment our eyes locked. My stomach churned. Bile rose in my throat, but I fought it back. Four walls pulsated around me –closing in on me. She turned and walked through the solid door.
With her gone, I rushed to the door and gaped through the spy hole. The corridor outside my flat was empty. No sign of ‘her’ or anyone who may have had a conversation with her. I was alone once more. I should have been thankful, but my anxiety rose with my companion of sorts gone. Before I knew what was happening my eyes and cheeks were wet with salty tears, and I wiped my face with my sleeve. Why was I so upset?
It wasn’t long before she returned.
She would follow me into my bedroom at night and still be there when I woke. I should have been afraid, after all she was a ghost, but I wasn’t anymore. I never felt as though I was in danger, other than being in risk of overcrowding.
I often found her standing in the bathroom with an aura of sadness surrounding her. With my feet planted on one side of the carpet runner, I peered into the bathroom. My hands clasped the rough wooden doorframe as I tried to fight against that force repelling me, so I could see what had her attention. One moment the bath rippled with water as a steady stream gushed from the taps, as I squinted to see a submerged shape. It was dark and undefined. It wriggled, splashing water over the edge. I jumped, startled. It thrashed wildly, followed with muffled cries; but then I saw something else. A disembodied arm was pushing down in the bath, holding the body in place. Then – in a flash – the scene ended. Vanished. Pain in my throat as I gulped back imaginary razor blades.
Was that what my friend was trying to tell me? That she had drowned – someone had murdered her? Oh the poor woman. Did she want me to investigate? Did I have to uncover the truth so she might move on? But why was her spectral force holding me back, not letting me inside the room? Every new step I took just led me to more questions, and I didn’t have the answers.
The next time I saw her she was sitting at a desk. It wasn’t my desk, but a faint image of one that must have once stood there. She was staring at a screen, but my eyes couldn’t focus on the text. She was waiting. As she turned, a kind smile played on her lips and she beckoned me to her. She pointed to the computer screen, which was materializing before my eyes. There was a gentle whirring emanating from it as the information on it became clearer. She moved her chair aside to allow me to see. The local paper’s electronic edition was on the screen. I moved closer.
‘Police have reported discovering a body of a young woman in her twenties today. The deceased who lived alone died in her bathtub.’
“I knew it,” I mumbled looking across at her. “I’m so sorry.”
She shook her head and pointed with a perfectly manicured finger at the screen again. I continued to read.
‘Friends of the woman have said she had grown increasingly depressed over the past months after being diagnosed with agoraphobia. Her doctor has refused to comment at this time. The death has not been classed as foul play, but suicide.’
I shuddered, watching in horror as she scrolled down the screen. I didn’t want to see, but compelled, I lifted my eyes. There was a photograph and there was no getting away from it. Short blond hair, thin lips and a forced smile. Such a typical photograph taken at a family gathering – of me!
She told me how sorry she was. Finally, I could hear her! As she spoke, her body became more solid and less ghost like; which really was because she wasn’t the ghost: I was. She had been trying to help me comprehend what had happened, but I hadn’t been able to see.
“I didn’t understand,” I croaked. “I still can’t remember, but …” A sudden flash of light awakened a memory. I remember the doctor holding the pamphlet in his hand. When he removed his jacket, and I noticed how thick and hairy his hand and arm had been.
Tears stung my eyes, but neither were real anymore. She said that maybe I couldn’t remember for a reason, and now I knew that reason. I wish I didn’t.
I looked around at my home. The wallpaper I had lovingly admired when I’d first put it up, faded away into brilliant white painted walls. My threadbare sofa floated off into the ether, replaced with a brand new leather couch. Little by little the familiar transpired into the unknown.
“This isn’t my home anymore,” I stated, acknowledging the simple fact I couldn’t change.
“No,”she said. It was hers. She had been living here for two years. Two whole years! So I’ve been dead for how long now? I really didn’t want to know the answer.
I wanted to laugh at the irony. I’d never accepted they were real … ever. After all what kind of fool believed in ghosts?