Stranger

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">The wedding went well. There weren’t any big problems or mistakes, we all walked in the right direction and all that. Yeah, it was alright.The wedding went well. There weren’t any big problems or mistakes, we all walked in the right direction and all that. Yeah, it was alright.

I never was overly comfortable with the idea of getting married abroad, purely because it seemed a bit strange to be saying my wedding vows in a country that I don’t speak the language of. That and the fact that it meant that the people that were coming had to travel a long way and couldn’t just pop in to the reception after work if they couldn’t get the day off.

The hotel was just over the road from the place we’d actually said our vows in. It was funny how much she stood out, sitting on the floor on the plaza outside the hotel. I looked up at my new husband in disbelief.

“She came?”

“You invited her.”

“Yes, but I didn’t think she’d actually come.”

It was difficult to contain my excitement, but at the same time I felt myself slowly fill with anticipation.

“Will you talk to her?”

He looked at me like I’d just asked him to sell everything he owned.

“Why?”

I pulled him close to me by the lapels on his blazer and pressed my cheek onto the knot of his tie.

“Because I’m scared.”

After a little while he stepped back and looked at me with his icy blue eyes before heading over to her. My heart flipped in my chest for the first time that day, but I focused myself on being nonchalant, looking in every other direction to give off some impression of either having not seen her or at least not cared if I had. How had this happened? I’d never even met her. Come on, she might not even be nice. How. Just how. Maybe I should stay away, this has got very weird very quickly.

After he spoke to her I dragged him to get some drinks, purposely turning my back on her so she’d never know I noticed.

“Are you not going to say hello after all that?”

“It’s too weird.”

She’s still there isn’t she. She brought people with her as well. Well, I guess she had to. This is not normal. I’ve ignored everyone because I’ve been looking at her and I’ve ignored her because I didn’t want her to know.

“Hey!”

Oh no. This is it then. Why the hell did I do this to myself?

I was right. Or wrong, depending on how you look at it. This girl is hilarious. Her friends are hilarious. I spent the rest of my wedding day on the floor outside the hotel emptying beer bottles with the stranger I knew so well. I don’t know where my husband and all the guests even went. I just very suddenly became aware of the fact that there were only the five of us – me, her and her three acquaintances – left. It didn’t take long for the excitable conversation to die out and the coldness of reality to set in.

“What’s going on with all this then anyway?”

“What?”

“Well, you haven’t seemed to interact much with your husband at your own wedding, so-”

I slumped down more than I was already, and my shoe fell off.

For a while we watched the locals wobble in and out of a pub on the corner of the road. It had an almost magical feel, like it had been trapped in a time capsule and placed back 50 years later. The wooden building coupled with the glass tankards of beer being clumsily spilt down simple clothes covering hairy chests reminded me of the classic film scene, you know, when the protagonist ends up in some pub full of rowdy men but they all turn out to be big softies. If I spoke the language, I think I’d have joined them. I’d do many things to avoid heading up to the honeymoon suite tonight.

I tried to wrap my head around this day. It was meant to be the happiest day of my life, of course, and it absolutely was. The dress, the decorations, my family and friends, saying vows, the food, my now-to-be-called husband… None of that mattered. This was the best, sitting here on the floor in a white dress with my head nested on her shoulder, trying to get my shoe back on by only moving that one foot with the help of one of her friends who I’d never met but felt like I’d always known, while he laughed lazily.

“I don’t know.”

I thought about him. He was probably waiting for me now, if he hadn’t already given up waiting and gone to find someone else to keep him company in the meantime. I’m deadly serious, I’d absolutely not put it past him to do that. It didn’t matter really, did it. We might both be in this for our own reasons, and they are the wrong reasons, but they’re reasons. He’s got lovely eyes, and his smile just has a way of winning you over. He knows the right things to say and he plays the part of the perfect man if I need him to. This might be a good thing, you never know. I just can’t quite accept the fact that this is it now, and she isn’t helping.

I wore her long, plaited hair like a scarf, twisting the ends through my fingers while we talked about the world. She came here today because she just knew it was important, whatever that was supposed to mean. She travelled here to come to the wedding of two people that she didn’t even know existed. Weirdo.

The empty bottles around us grew in number until we were begrudgingly ordered to move inside by the hotel staff. I dragged myself up to the room that would contain either a suspiciously happy or devilishly angry husband, and put on a plastic smile.

It would be nice to say that things went downhill, but they didn’t really. He just got a bit more careless. He was untouchable now, because so was I. I didn’t need to work or go anywhere, I could be at home with him or waiting for him.

I thought about her a lot, and what she meant by each little comment she made on that strange night we spent on the floor outside that colourful building. I’d almost convinced myself it hadn’t happened until I found one of her hairs on my dress when I’d taken it to be cleaned. Unless I’d made that bit up too. Part of me wanted to reach out and continue this mysterious friendship, but I just didn’t have the courage. She saw through him, and that would be a problem. He was always so good at looking like a prince and I argued with anyone that said otherwise, even myself.

She still managed to make me laugh everyday until it became too painful and I cut it all off. It was for the best, this was my life now, inside these walls with this perfect monster.

His grip got stronger. Maybe it was because each day was like a workout for the muscles he used to do these things. But it reached a point that I realised it couldn’t carry on, not for me but for him. What would he go on to do if I wasn’t here to take it?

I’d managed to reach for a window handle, air jumping from my lungs with each blow. There was someone coming past, she had a gentle face. He was too preoccupied by his fists to notice at first, so I flung the window open and screamed to the stranger. I begged her for help, to call someone, do something. She scowled at me and grabbed the hands of her two little girls.

“I’ve got kids out here!”

As my only hope strutted off down the road with a child in each hand, I spotted someone I recognised instantly – my own mother. I panicked. This was my precious husband, my Prince Charming. She’d paid for the wedding. He stopped and went to open the door and act like the gentleman he always did but it was too late. I pulled up my sleeves and revealed the purple spots and red lines that he’d lovingly decorated my skin with.

She went mad, shouting angrily. How dare I. How dare I allow him to do this. How dare I then take it upon myself to broadcast it to the whole town. She’d never be able to look at him the same now, because of me. Yet she’d have to act like nothing had changed, because everyone liked him. 

Until death do us part.

Pyramid Scheme

A friend of mine once got in touch to ask me to take part in a book exchange. It would start with one person who would pass on their name and address to as many other people as wanted to take part. Those people would give that name and address to as many other people as they could find that also wanted to take part. Those people would post a book, any book – old or new, to that original person’s address. They would then find more people to take part, and pass on the address of person before them. Everyone sends only one book, yet there was scope to receive hundreds, from people they don’t know, in genres they may never have considered.

It sounded like a fantastic idea, and I soon set to work looking for friends and family who wanted to take part – after all, it was only if they wanted to and all they needed to do was post a book. But it wasn’t long before I got a lot of negative reactions, many of which claiming that I was a scammer, this was a pyramid scheme and these are illegal in UK businesses. Unfortunately I’m no expert on UK Business Law, but this was by far the kind of thing they were referring to. It is a very similar concept, and works in the same sort of way – but there is no monetary investment and no promise of return. Just sending a book to someone who wants to branch out their reading list.

So, in the end I didn’t take part at all, which was a real shame. I did, however, end up in touch with a man from New Orleans, US. He had a little boy who was curious about books, and I had in mind gathering these for a young relative of mine so we exchanged addresses and sent each other a local cookbook and our favourite books as children, mine for his boy and his for my relative.

It wasn’t the large number of books I’d had in mind when starting off this process, but it was a thousand times more valuable. We both put a little bit of ourselves, of our lives and of our love for our younger generations in those envelopes, and when I eventually posted it after driving around for a few months with it in the boot of my car, it felt like a very small but very real accomplishment – sending some well-chosen words (Enid Blyton’s, to be precise) across the Atlantic to be enjoyed by someone who’d never before known of lashings of ginger beer or mattresses made from heather.

I wonder now and again whether the young boy liked, or even read, that book, but I’m going to just say that he did, and he loved it.

Rational Explanation

I’m not a massive believer in the paranormal, but in all honesty I’ve never been able to convince myself that ghosts aren’t real. Personally, I think that it’s something that I’m not meant to know about, if it does exist, so I’ll keep my distance, but there are a few things that I’ve experienced or heard about that have no scientific explanation, should I say.

I tell some of these stories quite a lot when the topic comes up in conversation, but the ones that aren’t my own experience may need to be taken with a pinch of salt, and the ones that are may be anxiety-fuelled, so this is no confirmation of anything existing or otherwise.

My dad works as a nurse, and he’s had a few weird things go on whilst on the graveyard shift in a hospital with a very old building. There was one particular night that he was working on a geriatric ward. On this ward, in the bed nearest the window and furthest from the door, was a lady with a catheter that needed emptying every hour. My dad (let’s call him Josh) and his colleagues were taking it in turns to do it, because that area of the ward gave them the creeps, for lack of a better term. One of the other nurses went first, and said she felt something strange, like there were things running past her while she was crouching down to do the catheter bag.

When it was Josh’s turn, he hesitantly crept through the ward, past all the sleeping patients. He crouched down, and experienced the same thing as his colleague had described, but when he turned around there was nothing there. He wished away the seconds and began to make a speedy exit when he saw one of the patients sitting bolt upright, smiling.

Josh stopped and asked the lady sitting up if she was okay.

“Yes, I’m fine. I’m just watching the children play”.

Josh went on to do a bit of asking around, and found that a few people had mentioned seeing children in old-fashioned clothes running around playing in that ward. He later found out that back in the 1930s, it was in fact a children’s ward.

The second thing I heard from Josh (which will go on to a more confusing story as well here) was about a phantom nurse with a veil. There’d be many unrelated patients who would ask when the nurse with the veil was coming back to tuck in their blankets. Word on the wards was that this was the spirit of a ward sister who took her own life in one of the side rooms in this part of the hospital. I did begin to think that this one was a bit of a tall tale, until something else happened that made me doubt myself.

A school friend of mine was an inpatient in the same hospital, and when I went to see her she told me about a stupid thing her mum had said. She told me that her mum had gone to the toilet, and when she came back she said to her that she’d seen a nurse wearing a veil, but when she went to speak to her she walked off and had disappeared. She thought her mum was just seeing things.

There were also the rumours that Josh heard and swore to be true, which I’m not convinced were anything more than rumours. The one that stuck with me the most, however, was a break room for the nurses on night shift to use for a nap if they wanted to. Apparently, any female nurses that slept in the room would wake up with their hair plaited. It went on so much and for so long that, apparently, management at the hospital had to lock the room up and it’s not been used in years.

Obviously, these are all stories I’ve heard, and while my dad maintains that he experienced them as described, I can’t swear any truth in it. I can, however, share one or two of my own weird experiences.

I’ll start with my university accommodation. It used to be a convent back in the day, and was a grade 2 listed building, so no works could be done to upgrade much of it, so it had that weird feel about it anyway. I was on the second floor, which was the top floor, of my house (which was a section of the building that was built in a square with a courtyard in the middle. On the ceiling in my room was a loft hatch, and one drunken night my friends and I decided to open it and see if there was anything up there. Ever since then, the house felt totally different. I’d wake up and see a person running out of the door, it was just generally freaky. Can I say I’m sure that this wasn’t because of my vivid imagination? Of course not.

The second place I lived at university was a funny old house with a 1960s style front. It had always felt unwelcoming as it had been left in a complete state and not professionally cleaned as promised. There was what looked like a large blood stain on the living room carpet, and all the furniture was in random rooms – two beds in one, three wardrobes in another, all sorts of crazy things. I was already feeling a bit weird about these things after the last palaver from halls, but a house that was only 50 years old was unlikely to have anything, right?

Well, my housemates hadso thought there was something there, and over time I did too. I had a project due to be delivered and it had been a nightmare making it from start to finish. I’m not the most organised person (which you’ll probably notice from reading my ‘daily’ poetry that definitely isn’t daily) so I laid everything out, the label I needed, the project, everything required in the correct order on my desk. I went to sleep and woke up the next morning to find it had gone. This happened to me a lot, which was why I had started to question things – my passport or documents, for example, would be one moment next to me and another moment gone and in some cupboard or drawer. I had convinced myself it was me forgetting I’d moved stuff, but after this I wasn’t so sure. I started panicking a fair bit, as that project had to be in at 9am on the dot for submission. I trashed my room looking for it, and eventually found it on top of my wardrobe, underneath a suitcase I kept there. I’ve never sleep-walked in my life, so unless that happened out of the blue, I have no real explanation for this one.

The next, and final, thing I found a lot harder to ignore. When I first met my wife, I was staying at her mum’s house a lot, sometimes on my own as we worked different shift patterns. When I was there alone, the cat would always come and sit with me and look around at something that wasn’t there. According to my mother-in-law, who rented the house out for about 20 years before moving back into it, almost every tenant that had passed through had made comments about strange goings on, and they were sure there was something there. When the family moved back in, they would find things would go missing and turn up in unexplainable places. Hangers would clang against each other in closed wardrobes, and there were sections of the house that always remained icy cold. She had eventually decided to have a confrontation, and announced that she didn’t mind living alongside whoever this was, but could they please welcome them as they now welcome her. Nothing happened after that, unless I was there alone, which I guess would make sense, as I wasn’t there when that was said, so I wasn’t included in the agreement.

There was one time that really was unexplainable. It was Hallowe’en as well, which I don’t give a lot of thought to as I am Christian, which is also part of the reason why I like to leave things like this alone, as they’re not for me to explore or understand.

So there’s the kitchen door opposite the bathroom door, and a mirror on the wall in between. I was using the mirror to put on some makeup before I went out, and suddenly a musky perfume smell wafted past. There was nobody in the house, and none of those automatic air fresheners to be spraying away. It seemed to come from the bathroom and go into the kitchen, and a few seconds later, the lid of a jar that was by the sink flew across the room and bounced on the tiled floor with a heavy clang. That was it, I went out with only one eye done.

Like I said, these are stories from word of mouth or my own experiences which may have perfectly rational explanations, I just don’t know what they are.

Birthday

Happy Birthday little one
Annual day filled with fun
Look at you now, no tiny bairn
Waiting to grow a year again
Celebrating as your life fleets by –
Don’t you remember that day, oh why
Will you keep growing as we all grow old
Keeping the things that you’ll never be told.
Like how you one dark, dark day became to be,
My whole world and my only priority.