A Place To RestBy Jules Craig
Being a ghost is somewhat like being a theatrical. Here today gone tomorrow, I hear you say. Indeed, and a tendency to wander from place to place with no fixed abode, no connections, commitments or tie you downs. In both cases a well- timed appearance can produce a desirable emotional response from the audience. I am presently the former, the ghost, that is, and latterly, as it were the latter, being in life an actor, mainly of the Shakespearian variety, with some short stints in Panto and the odd unknown melodrama. But I am not, nor ever have been a theatrical ghost, in the sense that I do not 1) frequent theatres, being as they are crammed full of ecto -plasmic egos, or 2) put on a dramatic show with clanking chains and over extended vowel sounds. And I was never one of those spirits who masqueraded as one of the living, although belief me a lot of them exist, many more then you would care to imagine. I have kept a low profile and have always had a penchant for railway stations, delighted by the thrill of adventure, of moving on, of new opportunities and better roles. Although, I accepted a long time ago that I will never play the Dane and that I am more suitable casting for his dead father, even though alack, it is highly unlikely that anyone would hire the Real McCoy. But on the subject of stations, they provide such people and such stories, and although many would disagree, the train has evolved so very much from my day, no more steam and pistons, it is quite a different beast, yet still superbly thrilling.
It was on platform 6 at Brighton Station that I first saw Mary Malone. She was disembarking the nine thirty arrival from London, on a moderately mild spring day in April. A plain woman of no more then forty years, with fine porcelain skin, and dark circles under her eyes. She wore an oversize fur coat, and carried several bags of the modern plastic throw away variety, and a very fine, albeit worn, leather suitcase. It was the case that made me follow her. I was always partial to a well -crafted piece of luggage, an essential in my profession, given that I was repeatedly required to cart my life around from one theatrical venue to another. I was delighted that very soon after catching sight of this suitcase I was able to examine the interior, for Mary Malone had barely set foot on the beach when she tripped on a discarded chip wrapper and was left in an unceremonious heap. Her elegant portmanteau was thrown wide open and the contents were scattered amongst the pebbles. The interior was quite unexpected. It was divided into numerous compartments shaped for an eclectic collection of artefacts. One such item was a well-used chisel, which once dislodged from its place, flew several yards and hit a tall spindly-limbed gentleman on the shin.
Mary gasped. ‘I’m so sorry,’ She tried to sit upright ‘It’s my grandfather.’
The gentleman picked up the chisel, and wiped a little blood from his leg. ‘Your grandfather?’ He asked and held out his hand to help her up.
‘It belonged to him,’ She ignored his offer. ‘Its what remains of him, I always think of it as him.’
‘So your not planning a robbery or to get someone out of jail?’
She looked at him for a moment but not making sense of his comment busied herself with checking a nearby teapot for damage. He smiled.
‘Grandma’ she nodded.
‘And this?’ he passed her an ivory and silver comb
‘Mother!’ she said.
It was quite fascinating, a jigsaw of her life. Each space an object, each object a significant person. There was a toy car belonging to her brother, a note from her father, and assorted pieces of jewellery from Aunts and cousins. But there was one space, a few inches square, lined with red velvet that remained empty.
The gentleman reached to touch the material, ‘what fits here?’ He removed his hand just in time before the case slammed shut.
‘ That’s mine.’ She began to clamber to her feet ‘Thank you for your help. Goodbye.’
I was distracted for a moment by a familiar tune drifting from beneath the green tarpaulin that covered the fairground ride. The sign above read ‘V .Varmouth Proudly Presents the Golden Gallopers’. And there she was, sweet Varma, statuesque and sassy in her boots and breeches.
As Mary gathered her belongings, Varma called ‘You alright there ma’am?’
‘Yes, I’m…’ Mary shivered a little.
‘In need of a hot sweet tea’ Varma smiled.
‘Yes, a cup of tea.’ She had been hypnotised by Varma’s charm.
I came to my senses and realised that the tall fellow had left the scene and had walked quite a way. I don’t know what possessed me, but I caught up with him and stood in his path. Although he was unaware of my presence, he stopped and Varma’s yell, ‘Hey mister’, lassoed him and pulled him towards her.
Tea was served underneath the arches, where wooden horses nursed broken legs, and Bill Posters from a bygone era rotted in corners. The Gentleman, whose name was Bill rummaged around the storage area and unearthed a sign with a painted picture of a fortuneteller? He looked at Varma.
‘Is that you?’
Varma didn’t look up, ‘Yes.’ She was producing china cups and tablecloths from the bottom of an old tea chest. ‘A long time ago.’
Bill perched on a life-size wooden clown, which was resting on its side. ‘Was that here, by the sea?’
‘No, Elsewhere. All over. With the fair. I had snakes.’ She laughed. ‘I knew a few too’ She looked straight at me. There was no hiding from Varma.
She served the newly met couple, French fancies, hot teacakes and earl grey. I miss a good afternoon tea, one that follows closely on the footsteps of a hot beef lunch and precedes the promise of being lodged firmly between the thighs of a strong woman. Give me a robust woman any day, someone that one can wrestle with and who will often win. I was wrestling with such a woman when I died. Only sixty-five, but I was a large man with a delicate heart, too fond of roast dinners and carnal exercise. Mary Malone had a fragile heart too, but that I warrant was her disposition not something she had developed through a life of debauchery. As they ate, Mary spoke very little but managed to explain that her mother had died a matter of weeks ago, and that she was hoping to make a new start. Bill suggested that she could stay with his Aunt for a few days. She had a bed and breakfast and being so early in the season, she still had vacancies. Varma’s eyes sparkled. Those eyes, a colour coming from somewhere between the forest and the sea. She took the situation in hand. How fortunate it was that they had all met, how it must have been written in the stars, and that it was imperative that they came to lunch on Sunday so that this time she could prepare a proper feast. As they left the archway, Bill offered to carry the suitcase. Mary declined, keeping it pressed closely to her chest.
That evening I visited the West Pier to watch the circling of the evening starlings. The theatre here was magnificent, I played the Christmas season 1925. Bluebell in Fairyland. I, of course did not play the lead, but the more interesting and challenging role of the Organ Grinder. I have seen the grandeur of this pier and watched its elegant decline, and now, as comes to us all, it is stripped to its bones. A bench, at my bequest, was placed here with a plaque that read-
Will I set up my everlasting rest’. The bard’s line of course, not mine. But the truth was that I never settled anywhere in life or death. I only ever had one true home.
And there she was.
‘Augustus Penniworth, you old devil, you’ve been watching me!’
How I loved it when she called me by my full name.
‘Varma Varmouth, you still can’t help meddling in the lives of the living.’
‘You know me, I need something to do, I get bored, even on the other side, and you must agree they make a lovely couple.’ She seemed nervous.
I surveyed the devastated pier. ‘Is this anything to do with you?’
‘Now Augustus, that was not done by any means on purpose. It was more a case of spontaneous combustion. I came here to be alone, to think about my death, the fire, the trauma of trying to save my precious gallopers, and the snakes, and before I know it, I’m fire, I‘m raging, I’m as destructive as the blaze that finished me off.’ She hesitated ‘I came here a lot after you died’
I sighed ‘I know I’ve said it before, Varma but, she meant nothing to me!’
‘You meant a lot to her. You died on her, which is one thing on stage but a very different thing in bed. It took them two hours to lift you off. She never recovered. She left the country and worked as a missionary.’
I had a desire to get on one knee and take Varma’s hand ‘You were always the one’ I said.
‘Augustus Penniworth’ she laughed, ‘Even in death you are a terrible ham. Do you think I’d be here if I hadn’t forgiven you? Shut up and enjoy the sunset.’
Many months have passed since these events occurred. Varma came to me today and asked me to follow her. I have no will where that woman is concerned. We hovered above a small workroom. Bill and Mary were below us. Mary was hemming a small piece of velvet. The elegant portmanteau was open on a bench next to her. Bill sat in front of a flame, in which he was twisting something that looked remarkably like barley sugar.
‘He’s a glassmaker,’ whispered Varma ‘he’s making Mary a present’
‘The missing piece?’ I said. But I couldn’t make out the shape. And Varma was gone. I could here her calling; she had engulfed herself in the flame.
‘Come Augustus, be brave.’ I saw then what Bill was creating, and when it was almost complete I saw Varma enter into the precious object. There was no question of remaining behind, I threw myself into the flames and was pulled inside the hollow glass heart. I was still at last. At last I was beside my love.
This delicate heart is the final piece of the jigsaw. It sits in its compartment in the suitcase. Mary has placed the cloth around it. It is full to the brim of love, and of Varma and myself. There is nowhere else we need to go, nothing else we need to do, no-one else we need to concern ourselves with. We have found a place to rest.
This page was amended on 09/04/2014