A snicket leads out of the rear of a cul-de-sac of 1930s semi-detached houses. Robert, aged seventy-five, has lived in number 17 for years. Recently an elderly man has been loitering in the snicket and each time Robert has tried to speak to him he’s vanished. Robert’s not alarmed but intrigued.
One afternoon Robert enters the snicket to find the man waiting. He asks, Do I know you?
Hello Robert. You won’t remember me, I’m Peter. We were close friends until we were eight.
Were we? Robert asks.
I let you down.
Sixty-seven years ago? What did you do that was so bad? Robert stares hard as Peter shimmers and seems about to vanish.
Are you a .…
Yes, I’m my ghost.
Sitting together in the kitchen Robert laughs, There’s no point in offering you a cuppa, is there? What’s troubling you?
Lots. I was surprised to find you still living here.
Me too. After mum died in 1954, me and dad sort of pulled up the drawbridge. After the summer holidays he sent me away to school to give me a new start. I never married, and when dad died I retired here. What is it you want?
It’s about your mum.
What about her? Robert demands.
Can I explain?
That summer, when your mum died, my mum took me to the Odeon to see ‘Three coins in the Fountain’. I didn’t know why then – it wasn’t a western. Now, I think she just wanted a lovey dovey film to escape everything and be happy. Then, when Frank Sinatra sang, ‘Three coins in the fountain …. Which one will the fountain bless?’ she lost it and started to weep. Holding me tight she whispered, My best friend, your friend Robert’s mum, has died. Then we both sobbed all the way through the film; God knows what the audience thought.
Was your mum called Alice? Robert asks.
I remember now. Auntie Alice. She was lovely. Dad couldn’t understand it. She didn’t even come to the funeral. Now I remember you too, Peter. We played together lots. Then you stopped. It was the summer holidays and you never came once. No one came.
I’m sorry. My mum could never cope with illness and your mum’s sudden death …. She was never the same again. I was told to stay away. It was if something was wrong with you that I might catch.
She thought you might catch our grief, Robert says. We had enough of it here.
You were treated like a pariah. It was unforgiveable. You’d done nothing wrong. I’m so sorry, Robert. I’ll go now.
Wait, don’t go …. Of course you’re forgiven; you did as you were told. You’re dead and I’m too old for grudges. Where do you live – if that’s the right word?
Stay here. Let’s be friends again. We’re both alone. We could share our life stories. What do you think?
I’m cheap to keep. I’ve no material needs.
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© Phil Cosker 2022
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.