I haven't seen it, not yet- but I can feel it here like the beginnings of a headache. It wasn't here when I bought the house, a house old and ugly enough to have many ghosts, it moved in after I did like a stray cat who can spot a soft touch. Whoever it is, they must know that I'm the kind of person who takes in lost souls, dead or alive.
I first felt it about a month after I had moved in to this quiet London neighborhood. I was finally painting the sitting room, listening to The Big Breakfast on the telly, all the windows wide open to let in the air. It was the third color I had tried on these walls, the other two being completely unsuitable for the feeling of the room. Something about it seemed to absorb color and the pale subtle shades I had chosen at first just seemed to disappear. But this latest, a cheerful yellow the color of American mustard thinly spread on white bread seemed to be perfect. It should have been gaudy, and yet somehow the house seemed to welcome it. I was dipping the roller into the tray when I suddenly sensed
At first I thought someone had knocked on the door, although I had heard nothing. It was the same feeling you have when you wake suddenly from a sound sleep, certain the phone has been ringing- stopping just as you woke. I paused with the roller halfway up the wall and looked around the room. All the furniture covered with the white drop cloths looked like pranksters waiting to jump out at me and yell "BOO!". I felt a prickling at the nape of my neck and I had to stop myself from calling out "Who's there?". The utter silliness of it, I had lived on my own for quite a few years and have never been the nervous type. I told myself if I wasn't jumpy living alone in one of the crime capitols of America that I shouldn't be getting goofy like this in the middle of the day on a peaceful street in an upper-class part of London. I shook myself and went back to my painting. When I had finished, I cleaned up a bit and decided to take myself off to the pub on the corner to celebrate. It wasn't until I was walking out the door I noticed that at some point the television had gone off.
After that I had the feeling of not being alone several times a day. At first it was very disturbing, but after a week or so I began to get used to it- like how a missing tooth begged for your tongue to feel the gap left behind when you were a kid, but then after a few days you didn't notice it anymore, until the new tooth began to grow in. I felt no malice or ill will from whoever- or whatever- it was, so the practical side of me decided to accept it like I accepted the small patch of damp on the bathroom ceiling.
I've now been here in the house for two months and it's starting to lose that "just moved into" look. It's presentable enough for me to invite people over, and my first formal guests are to be my friend Dee, her boyfriend Paul, and their small daughter Katie who are coming for Sunday lunch. I decided I'll do a fried chicken dinner, a real Yank treat for my very British friends.
They arrive exactly on time, 1 o'clock, and we open a bottle of wine to sip while the rolls were baking. We're chatting cheerfully while four year old Katie plays in the back garden, everything is like an article out of House and Garden until she comes in to use the bathroom and wash her hands for lunch.
When she returns and sits down at the table she takes a big gulp of her usually forbidden soda and then announces matter-of-factly- "There's a man living in here too."
"No Katie- Jess lives here on her own, I told you that before," Dee scolds gently.
"Oh, no- there is a man, I sawed him and he talked to me just now- in the toilet. He didn't come in until I was done going tinkles though."
Paul gives me an apologetic smile. "Now Katie love, remember what we told you about the difference between pretend and real?"
Katie has always been an imaginative child, the one who would choose a made up bedtime story over one from a book, one who had elaborate histories for her dolls and teddy bears. She and I have always gotten on well because she reminds me so much of myself as a child.
"Daddy," she says in a tone of weary indulgence, "I know about that. This man is real, I sawed him. He has lovely black curly hair and he dresses like a Prince. He telled me he likes to live here with Jessica, and he hopes she isn't ascared of him. Mummy- do I eat this chicken with fingers or my fork?"
"Sorry, you know what she's like," Dee says to me. "She's always talking to somebody we can't see."
I ignore her and instead ask Katie, "Did this man say what his name is?" I thought Dee and Paul gave me slightly dirty looks.
She nods. "He telled me he's name is Lucy."
"But Katie, Lucy is a girl's name."
She shrugs, the oddities of grown ups beyond her 4-year-old understanding. "I don't know, that's just what he telled me. And he telled me he was kilt by them bastards at the tabern and they took he's horse and all of he's money."
"Katie!" Paul exclaims, while we all try to stifle laughter. "That is a bad word and you know it, you stop being cheeky."
"But daddy, that's just what he telled me."
"Well, I think we've heard enough about Lucy for the moment, just eat your lunch now and be quiet."
But I'm not sure if I've heard enough about this mysterious black haired man myself. Considering the feelings I have been getting in this house I'm not so certain it was all just a kid's overactive imagination after all. But, well- Lucy? I know there are men named Carol and Tracy and Gwen, but could Lucy really be a man's name? I put it out of my mind and enjoy my lunch.
After the meal we go to The Crown for a couple of drinks, and we sit and chat lazily while Katie plays with a little boy she's found, her strange encounter with the black haired man all but forgotten. By the time I've come home I've just about dismissed it all as too many story books. After the homey atmosphere of the pub it all seems so silly. For some reason in my old age I've just gotten antsy about living alone, that's all, and rather than admit that, I've invented a ghost.
"I mean really," I say out loud, "a black haired Prince named Lucy. Not very likely is it?"
I decide to shower off the smoky beer scent of the pub, and linger in there, enjoying the hot spray. When I finally emerge I've steamed up the bathroom pretty good, so I open the window to clear the air a bit. I can hear the comforting sounds of the light traffic coming up from the street, people walking past on their way to the Crown. I'm drying my hair and humming a little tune to myself when I see it out of the corner of my eye.
The bathroom mirror is completely fogged, except for a spot in the middle. It looks like someone has rubbed some of the condensation away, and I walk over to inspect it, puzzled. And when I see what it is my body grows suddenly cold despite the heat of the bathroom. It's a word- written in a looping script-like writing. It says:
I try to scream but nothing comes out save a feeble wheeze, and I turn and bolt from the room, bashing my knee into the doorframe.
I throw on some clothes, not even bothering with underwear, running my fingers through my still wet hair and slam out the door, grabbing my handbag on the way. I don't know where I'm going except out of that house. A feeling is one thing, but hard evidence is terrifying.
I end up at the pub, now full of the regular Sunday night patrons.
"Hiya Jess," the Irish barman, Tommy, says to me. "Back again so soon?"
"I just I need a drink Tommy. Whiskey please."
"Are ya alright? You look a bit odd there yourself Jess."
"I'm okay, I just-" I shake my head. I'm not going to get myself a rep as the American nutcase, not at this early stage at least. "It just gets a bit weird sometimes living on my own you know." Better he thinks I'm a weenie than a lunatic who sees ghosts.
"Sure but you've nothing to worry about round here, this is a quiet neighborhood, hardly any crime at all. Wasn't always that way mind ya. I guess until a hundred years or so this was a pretty rough part of London. It was really bad in the 1700s when the Highwaymen were out and about."
"How old is this neighborhood, Tommy?" I ask him, his homey manner starting to calm me down.
"Oh it goes way back to the 1500s so it does. This pub has been here since the 1650's itself, it was a tavern when this was at the outskirts of the city. A favorite meeting place for those highwaymen, so it was. Ah yeah, loads of good juicy stories about this place. It's always bein' written up in some paper's Sunday supplement."
"They had one of the more famous murders in London history here at the Crown," a man sitting at the bar interjects. "Very romantic story too. A young nobleman, a handsome fella from up North somewhere was all but set to marry the King's daughter, naturally beautiful and charming herself as Princesses will be. But on his way to the Palace to finalize the deal with daddy, so to speak, he stops off here for a pint or something stronger to fortify him for the negotiations. Before he can have his pint he runs afoul of some bad fellas who are trying to rob a lady of her jewels whilst she's getting into her carriage. When he tries to stop them they decide that he looks a more likely candidate and they run him through with a knife and make off with his horse, his purse, and the lady's jewels, leaving him to bleed to death in the dirt right out there in front of the pub. Very tragic, but that story has been very good for business."
I think I probably know the answer, but I have to ask the question anyway- "What was his name, do you know?"
"Ah yes, that would be Ian D'Lessi," Tommy answers, "that's him there."
He points to a small portrait hanging on the wall behind the bar, and when I lean over and squint at it he takes the frame from the nail and hands it to me. It's really a color copy from a book, I can see when I get a good look at it. But it's clear enough to see the man in it. A standard portrait pose of that era- a young man in elaborate dress, his faithful hound at his feet. But it's the face that you notice- he's stunning. The painter has made the face so lifelike, you have to wonder if the artist had some feelings for this boy himself. For that's really all he is, a boy- maybe 22 years old or so at most, allowing for the accelerated aging that those rough times imposed on people. He does indeed have black curly hair, worn long in the style of his day, and the most beautiful eyes I've ever seen. Large and dark, showing the Italian or Spanish ancestry that his name implies. His lips are full and sensuous, but somehow not effeminate. I stare at the portrait for ages, until the men laugh at me.
"Ah yes, I can see old D'Lessi has captured another heart, Tommy."
"He was very handsome," I say, handing the picture back.
"He gets all the ladies' imaginations stirred up, so he does," Tommy chuckles. "You can only imagine the effect he had on women when he was alive."
"Remember Betty Conway Tom?" says the other fella, and they laugh.
"Ah well, she was a bit off her head now."
"Why, what did she do?" I ask.
"Well, she swore on her life that Mr. D'Lessi's ghost was livin' in her flat with her."
Another pub patron speaks up then- "She wasn't the first to say that now- there have been several women on this road over the years who claimed they was haunted by him as well. Always single women livin' on their own though, so you have to assume it was a bit of wishful thinkin'."
"Yeah well- herself, auld Betty that is, she went so far as to tell everyone that her and Ian was doin' the deed."
"What, you mean she thought he was having sex with her?" I say.
"That she did. And said he was the best she'd ever had too. Of course why would you invent a lover and then have him be crap in the sack?" Everyone laughs. Everyone but me.
A bit later I walk back in my front door, much more calm than when I had gone out of it. I walk slowly into the bathroom and look at the mirror, the steam has cleared from the room and the word is gone. I go closer and inspect it, but there is no sign left of the writing. And I can't feel him here either, it's like a pleasant scent that has now dissipated. I turn and call out to the empty house- "I'm sorry. You just startled me." I get no answer, not surprisingly. I sigh and walk into the bedroom, remove my jeans and shirt, getting ready for bed. I start to think about those dark eyes and those full lips, and I run my hands over my breasts and down my belly. "Please don't leave," I whisper.
Then I feel a touch in the middle of my back, causing my skin to break out all over in gooseflesh. It feels almost intangible at first, like a gust of a soft breeze, and my heart starts to pound. It slowly grows more solid, and warm, and it becomes a man's touch, large but gentle hands caressing me. Then I feel a body pressed against my back, I can feel the soft velvet and rough lace on my bare skin, and then lips on my neck, hot and moist, very real. Then a deep voice, whispering in my ear- his breath tickles me- "I'm sorry too," and his hands come around to hold my breasts. I close my eyes and sigh again, my own heat rising as I reach behind me and tangle my fingers in the soft, thick hair.
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