I’m sure many of you may claim to have seen a ghost, or at least know someone who has experienced the paranormal. I remember well my Grandmother’s stories of hearing Uncle Bert cleaning his muddy boots on the scraper outside the front door—a practical impossibility because he was fighting in the trenches in Belgium at the time. The news of his being killed in action arrived the following day. Then there was the family story about someone walking down the stairs in their lonely country farmhouse while all of the occupants were seated around a winter fire in the kitchen hearth. The brave soul who ventured out to investigate found nothing. They later discovered that the footsteps on the stairs coincided precisely with Grandfather’s demise in hospital some twenty miles distant. A more gruesome epistle concerned the strange resurrection of Aunt Lucy. She had passed away from a suspected heart attack and the neighbouring ladies had already laid her out in the customary white sheets when her husband, upon hearing the news, dashed home from his work in the field. Rushing into the parlour he screamed, “Please don’t go Lucy—I need you so much” or words to that effect. Aunt Lucy sprang up like a Jack-in-the-box and lived for another year at least.
My story is a little different. Back in the eighties, I arrived home in England from my army posting in Asia, still recovering from a severe bout of Dengue Fever. A good friend wondered if I would be interested in purchasing his cottage in Minnis Bay rather than suffer the cold climes of the North East. Once I’d seen the place, I jumped at the chance and within a couple of months I’d moved in.
I first saw the lady in the blue satin dress waiting at the village bus stop. I say satin, but of course it could have been some similar material. Whatever it was, it created an outline of curvaceous beauty that stirred within me feelings both romantic and erotic. I had every intention of catching her eye and even boarding the same bus wherever it was bound, such was my determination to meet this beguiling woman. I was just about to reach her side of the road when a ponderous dustbin lorry came between us. By the time the infuriating vehicle had passed, blue satin was nowhere to be seen. Bus 34 to Ramsgate pulled in, raising my hopes that because she had not boarded it she must live in the village. That night my dreams were filled with visions of the lady in blue satin. Their main theme centred on an erotic desire to explore the voluptuous curves contoured by the exquisite material. The dreams intensified as the days went by, and, although romantic and erotic by nature, they never reached a point of consummation or indeed any response from her part.
The next time I saw her, she was strolling on the beach just below the long line of bathing huts. She stopped and stared out to sea, the breeze playing around the edges of the blue satin dress. I made my mind up—it was now or never. What made me do it I will never know, but I walked up to her and blurted out, “I think I’ve fallen in love with you.”
“Only think?” she asked, smiling. “I was hoping for more sincerity, especially the way you’ve been invading my dreams.”
“I don’t understand,” I stammered in embarrassment.
“Never mind Michael, all that matters is we’ve found one another.”
I wondered how she knew my name but deigned not to ask at that point.
“My name is Leonie,” she said, stepping towards me. We embraced until the tide reached our ankles, then ran to my cottage.
Within a fortnight, she had moved in with me.
We decided to marry as soon as I came back from my final posting to Afghanistan. You may be aware that British soldiers are encouraged to make a will before departing for dangerous shores, and it was with a loving heart that I willed her all my worldly belongings while she promised to wait forever; she cut off a tiny piece of the blue satin dress that meant so much to me to put in my wallet.
Burns was right when he said ‘the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley.’ Captured by the Taliban, myself and three comrades were locked away from the world for almost a year before relief came.
Torn with anguish, I made my way to Minnis Bay at the first opportunity.
Leonie proved difficult to find. She was obviously still living in the cottage because her clothes, including the blue satin dress, were there. I spent the night and the whole of the following day alone. It was early evening when I saw her. I’d decided to take a stroll through the village and had almost reached the bus shelter when the 34 pulled in. Leonie and another lady climbed off, and they walked together to the main street until they reached what I took to be the other lady’s house. There they turned to one another, held hands briefly, then embraced. An embrace that ended with a lovers’ kiss, reminding me of our first meeting on the beach.
I knew the passion contained in that kiss, and I stood there frozen to the spot. She’s given me up as lost forever and found solace in the arms of another, I reasoned, as she turned and walked away without seeing me.
I reached the cottage before her, unclear at first what my plan of action would be when she arrived. There were tears in my eyes as I took the piece of blue velvet from my wallet and pinned it to her pillow—a pillow I knew I would never again share with her. I moved silently down the stairs in time to hear her phone conversation, a conversation that, in hindsight, I’d rather not have heard.
“I know you’re impatient, darling, but the Ministry haven’t confirmed his death. Still listed as missing in action as far as they are concerned…I know, my love, I can’t wait either. If he comes back…don’t scare me, Harriet…yes, I know, it’s a bind meeting like this but it’s better than the way we had to sneak around when he was here.”
She didn’t see me sitting in the corner of the bedroom as she undressed and pulled the duvet back to reveal the pillow and its message. I want to believe some of the tears were genuine, and I tried to forgive her for finding another soulmate.
I promised that I would never leave her, and I never will. She almost saw me yesterday as I reached out to clutch the blue satin dress when she passed me on the stairs. I didn’t really mean to scare her but I must have more strength than I realised. She definitely saw me today! I was looking out of the window when she walked up the garden path. She dropped her parcels on the ground and stared directly at the window. I moved away quickly, not wanting to alarm her. I just need her to accept my presence and my feelings for her, even though she took my favourite blue satin dress to the charity shop. I know she plans to move in with Harriet now that her husband has left her. Of course I’ll still visit her…a promise is a promise, after all.
I’m getting stronger each day. Last night I sneaked into the charity shop. I can’t wait to see her face when she sees her blue satin dress laid out on her bed.
© 2019 Brian E Guyll
Born just six months before WWII ended, Brian was fostered to his paternal grandparents in the North when he was barely six months old.