THE HOUSE GUEST Part Two
by Paul Curtis 5/17/2010 / Short Stories
We were almost at the end of November and Julie had made so much progress she was hardly using the stick in the house even to get upstairs although she still took it with her whenever she went out but it was extremely unlikely that she would ever be free of it entirely.
She had made progress in other ways as well, she seemed less frightened of the outside world and had started to take a daily newspaper again and one morning a radio appeared in the kitchen.
We had taken to spending every evening together where we spent the time playing chess or cards and we would chat casually on a variety of subjects though I would often try and steer the conversation into areas I wanted to explore as part of my long term strategy but quite often we would just listen to the radio.
It was during one of these very pleasant evenings that I came to enjoy greatly that events took a change of direction.
There had been a ferocious autumn storm battering the cottage all day, the storm was so bad we had to switch the radio off because the reception was so poor and it was as we were sitting playing chess when there was an almighty rumble and crash outside.
"What the hell was that?" Julie said gripping the arm of the chair until her knuckles went white.
"I'm not sure" I said standing up. "I'll go and investigate"
"Well be careful Harry"
"Unless it's the Ghostbusters I think I'm probably safe" I said giving her a bemused look.
I transported myself outside and for the first time since my death I was not sorry to be dead the weather was just awful with a fearsome storm was blowing the rain horizontally and I was grateful not to have to feel it
It didn't take long to find the source of the almighty crash; the gale had uprooted an old horse chestnut tree and dumped it into Julie's garden missing the cottage by a few feet.
I walked the full length of the tree to find the root end and which sprang up out of the darkness about ten feet the other side of the crushed wooden fence that marked the boundary between Julies garden and the land owner responsible for the removal of the fallen tree, Paul Warwick.
I smiled to myself and then looked up to the heavens and nodded in admiration.
When I reappeared in the cottage the room seemed to be empty.
"Is it safe?" Julie asked.
I couldn't see where the voice was coming from at first then I found Julie hiding behind her armchair wielding her cane like a weapon.
"What are you doing behind there?" I asked incredulously "Of course it's safe"
Then she came out from her hiding place suddenly feeling rather foolish.
"I was scared" she added meekly.
"Well there's no need to be" I reassured her
"What was that noise then?" She asked urgently
"The storm has brought a tree down and the good news is it missed the cottage but your shed is only good for firewood"
"Is that all? I knew it would be something simple like that" Suddenly confident again.
"What should I do now?"
"Well have a mug of cocoa and go to bed" I said.
"No about the tree I mean"
"There's nothing much you can do about it tonight, just have a good nights sleep and phone Paul in the morning"
"Paul?" She asked coyly.
"Yes Paul Warwick, it's his tree, he'll arrange everything"
"Oh" she said disinterestedly
"But don't worry you wont have to see him he'll do everything by phone"
"Oh" She said trying to hide her disappointment but failing.
The next morning Julie and I went out to inspect the damage in daylight, Julie in her dressing gown and wellies and me in my revolting red jumper, though Julie couldn't get very far due to the tangle of branches so she went back inside.
When I had finished my inspection I went back inside myself and found Julie standing in the kitchen, her mobile phone in front of her, tapping the counter with the edge of a business card.
"He wont bite you know" I offered "Unless you want him to"
I laughed to myself but she apparently didn't hear my little joke.
"I said he wont bite you know"
"What? I'm not worried about talking to him that's a preposterous suggestion"
"So what's the problem?"
"There isn't a problem; I was just thinking that's all"
Then she picked up her mobile and keyed in the number.
"Hello Its Julie Molesworth here is that Mr Warwick?"
All the time she was talking she was fiddling with her hair with her spare hand which amused me greatly.
"I'm fine but I have a bit of a problem I have a rather large tree laying in my garden"
She noticed me watching her, scowled and turned her back to me.
"No the house is fine"
"Oh Yes that would be fine"
"Ok thank you bye"
She switched off the phone and put it down.
"Well that sounded quite amicable, not scary at all" I said.
"I wasn't scared to talk to him" she retorted.
"So what was the outcome?"
"He's coming round this morning" She said matter of factly "in about an hour"
"Excellent" I said. "That is good news"
Julie nodded her agreement.
"And I think he's just going to love your outfit"
She gave me a puzzled look, then glanced at her dressing gown and muddy wellies, and looked back at me again though the puzzled expression had been replaced by panic.
"Oh God" She exclaimed then kicked off left boot so it flew across the kitchen, a technique she was unable to employ with the other boot due to he bad leg.
So she sat down and lifted her foot off the floor and shouted.
"Alright calm down" I said as I removed her boot.
"Yes calm" she took a deep breath "Calm is good"
Then she jumped up and rushed out of the kitchen, she was still unable to run despite the progress she had made but she covered the ground quite swiftly anyway.
She reappeared forty five minutes later looking much more presentable in a smart skirt and blouse and I noticed she was wearing makeup.
"Is that better?" she asked.
"Very smart but you really didn't need to go to all that trouble for me"
"I didn't" she replied shortly.
"I did it for." She tailed off
"For Paul Warwick? Is that what you were going to say? Why on earth would you care what he thinks?"
"Shut up" she said and tried to punch my arm playfully but not for the first time her hand went right through me and she nearly fell over.
"That's really annoying Harry" She said when she had straightened herself up "I hate it when that happens"
A little over ten minutes later Paul Warwick's Landrover pulled up in the lane outside the cottage.
Julie was looking out the window as he got out of the vehicle and opened the gate but instead of coming to the front door he went straight to the site of the damage and out of her line of sight so she went into the other room which afforded her a better look and she watched on as he clambered up onto the fallen tree and then he disappeared down the other side.
"I don't think he's going to come in" she said still trying to catch site of him amongst the branches.
"Oh he'll be in when he's done" I said
It was obvious, if only to me, that he hadn't rushed round to the cottage on a job he could quite easily have delegated only to go off again without fulfilling the real purpose for his visit which was clearly to see Julie..
Julie spent the next five minutes craning her next to get a better view then she moved away from the window and headed back to the kitchen just in time to see him heading back up the path to the gate.
"He's off now" She said unable to hide her disappointment.
She went back into the sitting room and sat down in her chair and I just didn't know what to say I couldn't believe I'd got it so wrong I would have put money on it.
I sat down in the chair opposite her and tried to think of something clever to say.
"Well it's probably for the best; it was bound to end in tears"
"That's not helping" she said flatly
I was just about to say something full of wisdom when there was a knock at the door.
Julie opened the door to find a rather dishevelled Paul Warwick the other side of it.
After a brief exchange of polite greetings Julie invited Paul into the kitchen with the promise of coffee and then she turned to look in my direction and mouthed "Not you"
So I sat alone in the sitting room for the next twenty minutes trying to decipher words from the low rumble of conversation interspersed with small bursts of girlish laughter.
I had just come to the conclusion that as I was a ghost I could have been in the room with them all along and she would never have known when the kitchen door opened and Paul walked through.
"So the guys will be here first thing tomorrow" He said as he opened the front door.
"And I will see you later in the week"
"Ok thanks Paul bye" Julie said then closed the door.
"Well?" I said
"Like you weren't in the room eavesdropping all the time" She implied
"No I was not" I said suitably indignant even though I would have been if I'd thought about it sooner.
"Oh sorry Harry"
She went on to fill me in on the bones of the conversation doubtless leaving out any of the flirtyness.
Paul was sending a crew round to cut and clear the timber which due to the size of the tree would take two or three days.
Then he would return and assess the rest of the damage to the garden, something else that could easily be delegated.
The next day was the 1st of December and the men were hard at work cutting up the fallen tree.
I thought to myself as Julie came down the stairs that she looked like a different person, her body had been getting stronger day by day for weeks but now there appeared to be a new spark within her, a new hope.
I just hoped I was right about her and Paul because I feared if that spark were to be extinguished again it would never relight.
I had just returned to my reading when she said "Hi Harry they're a bit noisy aren't they?"
When I didn't answer she picked up her cane and poked the book I was reading.
"Oh Hello" I said.
"I've been talking to you, are you deaf?"
"Not exactly I turned the sound off so I didn't have to listen to the racket outside"
"You can do that?"
"Cool" She said "Unfortunately I can't do that so I'm going shopping for the day"
"Great don't forget the decorations"
"Decorations for what?"
"Christmas" I said "It's the 1st of December the advent calendars go up today"
"No, no, no" She said firmly "I don't do Christmas"
"Why not?" I said shocked
"Why don't you like Christmas?"
"Well let me see, it's a waste of money for one thing"
"The whole thing is just a sham, people don't even believe in what they're celebrating and if you believe what the papers say half the country don't even believe Christ existed" She stated angrily though at the time I was unsure quite what she was angry about whether it was the season itself or peoples ignorance.
"Well that's just nonsense we know from the Romans that Christ existed, they were great record keepers the Romans, people might argue that he isn't the son of God or that God himself doesn't exist but they can't deny Christ's existence" I said but I don't think she was really listening, it would not be the first time I'd lost the attention of the person I was conversing with, boring conversation was a bad habit of mine throughout my life and apparently after my death as well.
"And what do you believe?" She asked more calmly.
"I believe in the whole nine yards, Father Son and holy ghost" I said trying to lighten the mood without success.
"What about you?"
"I must believe in him because I hate him so much"
With that she slipped on her coat and picked up her bag.
"I'll see you later" she said and left.
I knew from the start of this exercise that she had some serious issues in her life but what I didn't know was that Christmas was one of them if in fact it was.
Perhaps her dislike of Christmas was actually masking something deeper, only time would tell unless I were to push the right buttons.
Two days later the last of the timber was removed revealing the full extent of the damage to the boundary fence, the garden shed and what used to be the lawn, miraculously the wishing well sustained only minor damage.
Paul was on site and talking on his mobile organising the next phase which would be to remove all the debris and replace the fencing erecting a new shed and generally tidying up. The new lawn would have to wait until spring and the replacement shrubs and plants would be replaced at the same time.
Julie went out into the garden just as he was finishing his phone call.
I was standing by the remains of what used to be the shed, the shed erected by my own two hands, I was amazed it had lasted twenty years I never did master DIY.
I was too far away to hear what Paul and Julie were saying but they were headed back inside the house.
I was already in the kitchen when they arrived.
"We're cutting Christmas trees on the estate at the moment I will have them cut you one by way of an apology, what size would you like?"
"I don't really do Christmas" She said "It's just an empty commercial festival"
"But thanks anyway" She added.
"Oh and when did you become so cynical?"
"From the moment I discovered Father Christmas doesn't exist"
"Who says he doesn't?"
"Ho, ho, ho" she said sarcastically
"I think everybody has a little bit of Christmas in their heart" Said Paul
"That would be tiny in my case"
Paul looked a bit deflated after she said that but perked up when she added.
"A meal would be a perfectly acceptable apology though"
It was a week later when Paul picked Julie up and drove her over to Abbotsford for their meal I would say their date but Julie kept insisting it was not a date.
It was quite late when he brought her home and I was a little disappointed when the evening ended on the doorstep with a peck on the cheek.
I had high hopes but Julie was holding back for some reason.
"Good night" Julie came in and closed the door.
"Nice evening?" I asked
"Yes very nice"
"Good meal? Good company?"
"Yes to both questions"
"I really like him but I don't know if I want to go through it all again"
"Nothing ventured nothing gained" I said
"I've done my share of venturing in the past and I haven't yet gained"
"I'll probably just screw it up again Harry so it's probably best if I stop it before it starts"
She waved away any protest from me and went up to bed.
"That won't do at all" I said myself.
The next day before Julie was up and about I sent a text to Paul from Julies mobile.
It was quite exciting I'd never done one before even while I was alive.
I was quite surprised that it was more difficult than it looked and really rather complicated to get the letter you wanted and then it kept changing the word.
I came very close a number of times to throwing the damn thing across the room.
Eventually I managed to write:
"Thank you Paul I had a wonderful time last night I really would love to do it again. Julie x PS Just ignore me if I play hard to get lol"
Within a couple of minutes I got a reply.
"I had a wonderful time too I will call you soon. Paul"
Then I quickly deleted my text to him and his reply and then put the phone back in Julie's handbag with minutes to spare before I heard Julie coming down the stairs.
I felt very pleased with myself and my subterfuge and I thought it was just a matter of time before the two of them got together again, however when a week had passed and nothing had happened I was not so confident.
There had been a couple of texts which I didn't get to see before she deleted them and there had been a phone call but it didn't last long.
So it was to be another evening of chess and conversation.
I set up the board as Julie entered the room from the kitchen carrying a glass and bottle she opened a bottle of wine the first she'd had for several weeks.
I frowned at her and nodded in the direction of the wine.
"It's ok I haven't taken any pain killers for three days so this is by way of celebration"
"Excellent" I said "I wish I could join you"
"Bad luck" she said taking a long sip
"I would prefer Christmas ale"
"Oh don't start on Christmas again"
"Why do you hate Christmas so much?" I asked
"How long do you have?" She replied without humour.
"I have as long as it takes I'm dead remember" I said trying to inject a little humour as I sat down opposite her.
"Where should I start" she looked around the room as if seeking inspiration.
"Christmas has been a disappointment all my life"
"I grew up with the constant disappointment of not getting the presents that I asked for" she said with a wry smile "Which I blamed Santa for"
I started to speak but Julie interrupted me.
"I know that's very childish and pathetic" she even laughed a little.
"When did you stop believing?"
"I believed right up until I was seven, that was the year I discovered Santa Claus was actually my drunken father" She took a long drink
"So with a drunk for a father and a violent bully for a mother my childhood was just full of Christmas joy"
"Not brilliant then" I added
"Then three Christmas's ago at one of our merry Christmas gatherings my own sister stole my husband and my mother took my sisters side" she paused thin lipped remembering the pain of it fresh as if for the first time she gathered herself then continued.
"My dear mother said if I'd kept him satisfied in the bedroom he wouldn't have strayed"
"Not that he had to stray too far with my slutty sister sniffing round him like a bitch on heat"
"What did you say to your mother?" I asked
"I said that if she'd kept my father satisfied in the bedroom he wouldn't have turned to drink"
"I haven't spoken to her or my sister since"
She took another drink.
"Then last year two weeks before Christmas a drunk driver ran a red light and broadsided me shattering my hip and putting me in hospital for months"
She reached out and grabbed her cane.
"And now I still have my trusty stick as a constant reminder of what Christmas means to me"
I wished I could have given her a fatherly hug but I couldn't so we fell silent after that and concentrated on the chess for a while.
I was out and about in the garden early next morning it was less than a week before Christmas and I was beginning to despair that as far as we had come together it was not going to be far enough to save us both.
But it was more than that, when I started it was about helping Julie in order to cross over and be reunited with Rose.
I had come to care about Julie more than I thought possible and furthermore I had come to realise just how much I had wasted the final months of my own life.
I had brought her back from the brink and I resolved that I would succeed in opening her heart not for my own sake but for hers.
I transported myself to the sitting room only to find it empty but there was the sound of cooking coming from the kitchen and perhaps more alarming the sound of singing.
When I appeared in the kitchen I found Julie frying bacon and singing along to an Eva Cassidy song playing on the radio.
"Are you ok?" I asked with false concern.
"I thought you must have had a relapse and your hip was hurting"
"Very funny Harry" she said with a smile.
"Would you like some bacon? Oh I forgot you can't eat can you I'll have to eat it all myself then"
"You can be a very cruel young woman" I said indignantly and tucked the newspaper under my arm and withdrew to the sitting room.
After she had devoured her bacon, which not only could I not eat but perhaps worse
I was also denied its smell, she came into the sitting room and sat opposite me and we started a tug of war over the newspaper.
"You're in a very playful mood today" I suggested after I had lost custody of the paper.
"I feel happy today, I don't know why I just do"
As she was in a good mood I decided to chance my arm and enquire as to the state of play between her and Paul.
"Have you heard from Paul?" I said directly.
"What? It was an innocent enough question"
"Hmm, well as it happens he did phone me"
"Really?" I said keenly
"He invited me out for dinner on Christmas eve"
"I declined his invitation"
"Look Harry I'm sure he really is a nice guy and I do like him"
"But, I am finally getting my life back on course, and that's due in no small part to you, and I don't need any complications"
"That really is a shame" I said sincerely.
"I just don't think I'm ready" She added
With that she handed me the paper and returned to the kitchen I left it ten minutes or so and then joined her just as Bruce Springfield's gravelled tones emanated from the radio and I dueted with him in a fine rendition of "Santa Claus is coming to town".
When we had finished more or less together I took a bow or two.
"Ha ha I do love a good Christmas song"
"Oh God protect me from the happy Christmas ghost" Julie was laughing.
"What is it with you and Christmas anyway?" she asked rhetorically.
Then she stood and looked at me, my portly build, white beard and the hateful red sweater, shaking her head despairingly.
"In fact come to think of it you even look like Santa in a rather jaded retired to the old folks home kind of way" Then she chuckled her rich velvet chuckle.
"Oh and why is that, just because I'm a jolly fat man with a white beard?" I said striking an indignant pose.
"No you have a fair point you would only qualify on two out of three" then her chuckle morphed into a full belly laugh and then I was laughing with her.
Our merriment was interrupted by a knock at the door and Julie was still wiping the tears of laughter from her eyes as she opened the door.
It was a smiling Paul Warwick who had knocked and his expression instantly changed to one of concern when he saw Julie's tears.
"Is everything alright?" he asked with genuine concern.
Realizing what she was doing Julie quickly dispelled his concern with a tale about something hilarious on the radio.
Suitably reassured Paul's smile returned to his face and briefly gathered himself before revealing the meaning for his visit.
"I know you said you didn't do Christmas" He began.
"But as I said everyone has a little Christmas in their heart"
Julie was about to cut him off in full flow but he put his hand up to stop her before she could start.
"So with that in mind" he said ducking down to retrieve something from the floor.
"I thought of this"
He was holding in his hand a small live Christmas tree in a pot, complete with tinsel and Baubles standing about two feet tall it was even topped by a fairy.
"A tiny Christmas tree for someone with only a tiny bit of Christmas in her heart"
He said as he presented the tree to Julie.
"That's so sweet" She said "Thank you"
"You can plant it in the garden after Christmas so it will keep growing and hopefully your love of Christmas will grow with it"
There were tears in her eyes again as she looked at the tiny tree and then Paul excused himself as he had some estate business that he needed to attend to which I later found out was delivering hampers to the homes of his workers.
Julie stood looking at the little tree with a silly grin on her face as Paul said goodbye and was heading up the path.
"I told you he was a nice man" I said.
"Yes" she said looking at me with tears welling up in her eyes.
"Oh God I can't let him go I have to talk to him"
"Well run after him then" I suggested
"I can't run" She said.
"Go and slow him down somehow"
Julie set off walking and I transported my self to the gate just as Pauls hand reached for the latch.
As he tried to open the gate I held it shut and no matter how much he shook it the gate didn't move.
Julie was only a few yards away now.
"Paul!" She called.
Paul turned around to see where Julie was calling from.
"Hi, you appear to have a problem with your gate" He said just as I let go of the gate and the gate swung open
"That's odd" he said.
"I'm glad I caught you" She said wincing a little at the effort of pursuing him.
"About dinner on Christmas Eve is it too late to change my mind?"
On Christmas eve I sat in the solitude of the cottage for what I hoped would be the last time, hoping that the person I had come to care so much for would not need me anymore while at the same time regretting that I would no longer be required to spend the long pleasant evenings in her company.
In the beginning I thought that I was left stranded on earth solely because of the way I withdrew from life and that my having to help someone escape my fate was my penance but in fact I came to understand that my predicament was less about a punishment for me but rather more about salvation for Julie and a last chance for her to find happiness.
In truth no matter how fond I was of her I did not belong there and though tinged with regret I hoped soon to be moving on
I became aware of voices outside and thought was this the moment a tender kiss goodnight on the door step but instead the door opened and Julie stepped into the darkness and my heart dropped and I thought we were back, perhaps not to square one but we had definitely gone into reverse.
Then the light went on and following Julie was the tall figure of Paul who closed the door behind him.
"Make your self comfortable while I get us a drink" Julie said before disappearing into the kitchen.
Paul headed in my direction and I had to move quickly before he sat on my lap.
I stood invisible in the corner by the stairs and observed as Julie came out of the kitchen with a bottle of wine and a glass, then she stopped in her tracks and turned on her heels and briefly returned to the kitchen before reappearing with a second glass. She smiled to herself at the force of habit and glanced around the room to see where I was.
Julie set the bottle and glasses on the table then before she could sit Paul stood up and took her hand and pulled her gently towards him and beside the tiny Christmas tree he kissed her tenderly and she kissed him back.
At the precise moment she returned his kiss on that Christmas Eve a bright light emanated down the stairs and I knew my moment had come.
I looked up the illuminated staircase and standing at the top was my dear Rose with her hand outstretched towards me.
I turned again to look at the embracing couple, Paul had his back to me and as their lips parted I allowed Julie to see me one last time.
"Good bye Julie its time for me to go now, have a happy life" I said and waved.
Then as she stood holding onto Paul her head resting on his shoulder she mouthed the words "Merry Christmas Harry"
I left the young couple and walked up the stairs and took Rose's hand and we were instantly in another place.
Now I spend most of my time with Rose and all those who went before me but. I still look in Paul and Julie from time to time, I can do that now I'm a proper spirit, but that is a tale for another time.