THE RETURN OF THE REPRESSED
My father used to be a Sunday School teacher before the war. He was a Godly young man, but his religion took its colour from his florid background. He believed in ghosts and the spirit world. The family would often hold impromptu seances of a Sunday afternoon, swearing afterwards that they had received a private message from Granny about the whereabouts of her missing jewellery.
He had a bad war, and the brutalities and tragedies that he witnessed destroyed his faith. Jesus was no good: but the spirit world was a con too, and for years he mocked my mother for her church-going, and both of us for our little trips to fortune-tellers and mediums. He began to practice an arid form of materialism, and also took to rather savage practical jokes. He could do as he liked, he argued, because there was nothing and no-one beyond the world of things.
Towards the end of his life, though, something changed. He began to see things. He worked in an estate agent’s office, and one day he saw a colleague, Bernard Disney, who had been off sick for some months, come through the door and walk through into the strong-room. When my father followed him through to the strong-room, he was no longer there. There was just a small screwed-up piece of paper with figures on. It transpired that Bernard had just died, and, as my father said nervously, it was as though he had come to check some final ledger. There were many incidents like this, which he robustly dismissed, but which clearly worried him a lot.
The worst, the very worst, was when my Aunt Ethel died. She was a large woman, who gave marvellous children’s parties, and she was rich and extravagant. Like all my family, she was a savage drinker, and had under-floor heating installed to keep her warm when she fell over in her cups. When she died, we cleared her penthouse flat, weeping all the while. We had all loved her a lot. We went downstairs to wait while he took a final look round. Apparently he said: “well, that’s it then. Goodbye, ducks” quite loudly and it reverberated round the empty room. Then he knew for sure that she was there, and she spoke (though he never told us what she said). He ran down the stairs to us, panting and wailing.
He died the year after that. In the last few months, he took to talking to people we could not see, and telling us with some urgency that he had been mistaken about “all that”. His last words were not of my mother and me: they were “Ethel. Ethel”. He is still around though. I once saw him driving round the Hilsea roundabout, and I followed him for a good 5 miles down the M27. Another time I saw him at a party, but by the time I had struggled through the crush, he had gone. He has been quiet lately. I think he disapproves of what I have become. Sometimes I can smell his cigarettes and hear the clank of his bottles. He is waiting for me, perhaps. I’m coming, Daddy. Soon. Soon.