Thursday, July 09, 2009

room 43

Mrs Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Wilson, ninety-one not out, sits with her hands cupped in her lap, neatly perched on the edge of a plump and flowery sofa, her head wrapped in a bandage. She fell over in the bathroom and cut the back of her head; the bandage is there to hold a dressing in place whilst we wait for the paramedic practitioner to glue the wound here at home and keep Betty out of hospital. As the wound is right at the back of her head, the bandage has to take a couple of turns under her chin, too, otherwise the whole thing would gradually slide upwards.
‘You look like a proper Mummy,’ her son Jeremy says. ‘Or Marley’s ghost.’
Then he slaps his knees to spur himself into action, and goes off into the kitchen to make us all a cup of tea.
‘I saw a ghost once. Twice, actually,’ Betty says, leaning forwards and squeezing her eyes shut, smiling indulgently like a tipsy nun. ‘I used to work in an old hotel, a very, very old hotel. A coaching hotel, in fact. I looked after the linen. Well, I had a little office in the oldest part out the back, and I was out there one night doing the books, when I felt something strange in the air. Nothing frightening. Just different. Out of the ordinary, you might say. And when I looked up, I saw a man walk across the room and go up the stairs.’
She sits back up straight again and looks at us. After a pause, in which the only sounds are the heavy rain thrumming against the windows and Richard clinking cups in the kitchen, I ask:
‘So - how did he look?’
‘Just odd. Completely different.’
Frank wades in.
‘How do you know he was a ghost and not just some geezer staying at the hotel? Was he transparent? Head under his arm?’
‘Oh no. Nothing like that. He just looked - extraordinary. The outline of a person. All ripply. But I wasn’t afraid. Things like that don’t scare me. Why should they? It’s just the way things are. Like the clouds, or the rain. When my husband died he came back to me about a month later. He was just a smiling face, drifting across the room when I opened my eyes one night. He was saying: Don’t worry, Betty. Everything’s going to be fine.’
Jeremy comes in with a tray of tea, and takes up his seat again on a matching flowery pouffe at Betty’s side. We sit sipping our tea in a semi-circle, the rain booming down outside. Betty’s bird song clock suddenly cuckoo’s the half hour.
‘I heard a good one from some guys at another station,’ says Frank, replacing the delicate, rose-patterned cup on its matching saucer with the self-conscious precision of a navvy in a china shop.

‘They turn up to a resus in a hotel. They charge into the lobby and a guy on the desk says Room 43 – which was what they’d been told anyway. So they pile up the stairs to the first floor, find the door to Room 43 and knock on it. A guy comes to the door and says: “What do you want?” and they say: “We’ve been told there’s a sick person here.” And the man turns round and says: “I think you have the wrong room, mate. There’s no-one like that here.” So of course they say sorry and all that, the guy shuts the door, and one of them gets on the radio to ask if Control can check the address. Meanwhile, the manager appears at the end of the corridor and says: “Thanks for coming so quickly. I’ve got the key.” And they say to him: “Well it’s not Room 43. The guy there says he doesn’t know anything about it.” So the Manager gives them a funny look, leans past them, swipes his key card and pushes the door open. The same guy who answered the door to them just a minute ago is lying on the floor, and he’s been dead at least twelve hours.’

‘That’s a good one,’ laughs Jeremy, taking a swig of his tea. ‘I like that one.’
‘I know what you’re thinking, but they’re stand up guys, those two’ says Frank.
‘Stand up comedy, more like.’
‘All I’m saying is, there’s more to life than just what you see on the surface,’ he says, sitting back on the chair and looking round the room, as if the framed photos and needlepoint pictures could be covering something altogether more terrifying than a floral print wall.

There’s a sudden, urgent rapping on the door.

‘That’ll be the paramedic practitioner,’ I say, getting up to answer it.

‘You think?’


petrolhead said...

...And was it the paramedic practitioner?

I love ghost stories - I have a knack of terrifying myself so much that the next noise I hear, no matter how innocuous, will give me a heart attack!

I recently looked round an abandoned mental hospital with my friend. We went twice, once in the day and again that night. In the daytime it was fine, we were fascinated by the long corridors and furniture strewn about the place. Then we bumped into 3 chavs and hilariously it turns out we'd scared them earlier, they'd seen me through a doorway and thought I was a ghost! But the second time, at about 12.30am, we went into a room and the temperature suddenly dropped and we heard a crash at the other side of the room. Never have I had so much adrenalin flowing through my veins as I did that night, as we ran for our lives back to the car!!

Anonymous said...

I love stories like this! Properly sent shivers up the spine.

I find it easier to believe in this kind of spiritualism than any of the more prescriptive religions on offer.

I believe I have the spirits of family members and friends looking out for me and thats more comforting than anything a 'God' can offer me.

Chimera said...

love this too. Actually gave me chills..and I love the knocking at the door at the end! Superbly written as per.
tanvi x

Spence Kennedy said...

PH - It was the PP, thank goodness. Although it was a shame she was so quick getting there, actually, as we were having such a nice time, telling stories and drinking tea (and getting paid to do it!)

Love your abandoned hospital story. Whilst it's true that it's easy not to believe in ghosts in broad daylight, it's also true that they're much more difficult to resist at night in a place with history.

I suppose you could say that being in any abandoned building at night would be scary - not so much for the ghosts, but for the other, very solid figures you might also meet there.

Hey Louise!
I love that idea of family members looking out for you from the other side. So many cultures have made a big thing out of the worship of ancestors - there's obviously something powerful about it.

Hey Tanvi!
I love those ghost stories that feature a knock on the door. Did you ever read 'The Monkey's Paw'? There's some good knocking action in that one...

Thanks for all your comments mwa-ha-ha-ha...

Anonymous said...

Excellent story! I have never seen nor felt the presence of a ghost, but that's not to say they aren't around.

jacqui said...

I'm another ghost story lover, having seen a few things myself, I quite believe. Your patient sounds lovely, and mentally very good for 91!

Mum's the word said...

I like Betty and her ghost.
Again, brilliantly scribed.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks kmkat. I've never seen a ghost, either, but I've been spooked plenty of times.

Hi Jacqui
Betty was amazing for 91, living in a lovely flat with a son who could get there quickly in emergencies - altogether a great set up!

Thanks MTW!
I think it's my favourite thing when patients launch into a monologue about some story from their life. It doesn't often happen - they're either too ill, or we don't have the time. But it's a real plus when it does happen.


loveinvienna said...

I believe there are ghosts/spirits etc. There are too many reports, stories etc etc for there to be any doubt (in my opinion). Mind you, there are millions of people who also say they've been abducted by aliens, and I'm still not convinced (about the abductions, not the fact that aliens exist).

Hope I'm like that at 91!

Liv xxx

Eclipse said...

That was brilliant.

My dad still winds me up about the time I thought there was a poltergeist at the old police house we lived in. I was on my own one night as a teen and being a bit of a wuss I closed all the doors and windows to all the rooms and sat in the living room watching TV. Sometime later I heard a crash and slowly snuck upstairs to see what had happened. A glass bottle that had been standing on top of my wardrobe, not in a precarious place, had fallen on the floor... I have no idea what had happened, it wasn't a windy night and there was nothing that could explain why. It wasn't the only time it happened either...

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi Liv
She definitely was a role model for 91 year olds!

It was a lovely story she told us about seeing her husband appear to her like that. But I couldn't help seeing him as a disembodied head floating in the air like the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland....

Thanks Claire
I remember when I was about fifteen and off school for the afternoon 'sick' - when I got it into my head that there was a ghost upstairs. I spent the next couple of hours huddled in a chair clutching the nearest thing to a weapon I could find - my brother's Airfix model of the space shuttle.