by Rosemary Johnson
weak ladylike tea in a dainty cup.
Miss Sophronia Ponsonby’s ghost leaps from her memorial in St Mary’s Church, Assingby, just I’m starting to read it.
“A-hem,” she says.
“Can I help you?” I ask, not because I can but it’s how they taught us to greet customers at McDonald’s.
“A-hem.” Her eyes bore a hole into my husband, Harry’s, back. “The first member of the family to visit for over a hundred years and he walks straight past me.” She sniffs. “Dead since 1900 and still the black sheep, I see.”
I don’t believe in ghosts and all that stuff, but this lady’s the most interesting thing that’s happened this Sunday. We’ve spent the whole day going around one antique shop after another in search of a sideboard. I didn’t know what one of them was until this morning, but we’ve got one now, wedged in the back seat of our car… but I digress. Here I am with Miss Whatshername; she’s wearing an old fashioned, frothy, white dress and a straw hat with blue ribbon around it. Her feet, in rather nice satin slippers, are hovering just above the ground. I have to say, if I did believe in ghosts, she’d be the genuine article.
“Er… Harry’s here to see his great-grandmother’s memorial,” I tell her. “He’s looking at it now.”
“Harumph. Lady Violet Hopewell-Tighe. My younger sister.” She cranes her neck to take a better look at Harry. “Yes, I see the likeness. Got Violet’s double-chin.”
“I’ll call him over for you.” But I realise that my husband’s now gazing at a stained-glass window, of a boy with flowing chestnut hair and a little tweety bird perching on his fingertips. I lean forward and speak in a whisper. “Afraid he’s looking at Art. He’s a dealer at an auction house in London.” For Harry, Art always has a capital.
She twirls her parasol and inclines her head to one side. “Don’t bother. I’ve a mind to travel back with you.”
I smile. She’s not serious, of course.
“Family, you know. Can’t turn me away.”
I smile again.
“Emma. Emma.” Harry is calling me over.
“Bye. Got to go.”
“Goodbye. I’ll be coming back to haunt you.”
Harry’s waving his hand at the stained-glass. “St Francis of Assisi… Pre-Raphaelite… Colour and texture... Light and perspective…” When Harry gets going on his Art, his voice becomes louder and booms, the better to fill an auction room, but his words go in one of my ears and out the other. At last, he announces that we should depart, to beat the Traffic. Harry’s Traffic also has capital. So we leave the church, the heavy wooden door crashing behind us, and shutting Miss Sophronia Ponsonby inside.
We set off home in the car. Another dull week stretches ahead, me looking at my phone and watching videos on TikTok. And Harry’s got one of his sad dinner parties on Tuesday. He’ll let me buy something new to wear, though. He pays my Boden account every month without question.
I gulp. Surely not?
How did she get in? I glance at Harry but his eyes remain fixed on the road.
I swivel around towards the back seat, from where the ‘A-hem’ seemed to emanate. No, there’s just the sideboard.
“I can assure you, my dear, that I’m quite comfortable.”
Then I do see her, perched inside one of the sideboard drawers, her long floaty dress dripping over the side.
She smiles a smug smile.
She was funny at the time, in the church, but this is different. I feel blood drain from my face, like water spiralling down a plug hole.
“You all right, Emma?” Harry puts his hand on my knee. “Look as if you’ve seen a ghost.”
I can't understand how Harry doesn’t notice anything abnormal – paranormal? – as we’re unloading the sideboard from the car and carrying it into the dining room. He doesn’t even hear her squealing “Wheee” as she rides on top.
“You can't stay here,” I hiss when she and I are alone, Harry having run off to pay one of his frequent calls of nature. “I'm taking you to the cemetery straight away.”
“The common cemetery?” She leaps from her wooden perch. The dust in her long dress billows around her in a dense cloud. “I, the daughter of a gentleman–“
“You can't stay here.”
“But I’m family.”
I glare at her and she glares back, her arms folded in front of her.
“Go away. Please.” I burst into tears. I can't help it.
She hands me a dainty embroidered handkerchief. “There, there, my child.”
“I should never got married.”
“I didn’t. I turned Sir Roger Hopewell-Tighe’s down. My sister, Violet, took my cast-off and I ran off to Paris with our dancing master. Not my best move. The following year he left me for a slip of a French girl, but… I lived to eighty-two.”
“He’s well old. He lied about his age on Tinder. And he has these awful dinner parties. I mean, anyone else in his job would have entertained their clients in posh restaurants on expenses, but – oh no – he wants his hearth and home and me sitting opposite him at the antique dining table. Arm candy, I am. At least he gets caterers in to do the cooking. But it’s so boring.”
“Dinner parties? There’s nothing you can tell me about dinner parties. Mama and Papa held the most tedious sort and Violet and I were trussed up in tuille for suitors' benefit. But I have an idea, several ideas. There’re things I can do to liven things up which I couldn’t do then. Er… are you cold, my dear?”
I’m hugging my arms around my chest. “I don’t understand it. We’ve got the heating on.”
She smirks. “We’ll have some fun on Tuesday.”
A plate – a posh Royal Worcester – vibrates in its place on the dresser then hurls itself to the floor.
About the author
WordPress blog: https://rosemaryreaderandwriter.wordpress.com.
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