It made sense to me that I would haunt the lighthouse. I always thought that people’s souls would stay where they felt most at home during their lives. That is, if there were such a thing as ghosts, which I was by no means sure of during my life. I was a very sensible sort of woman.
After the initial shock of realising I had died in the night, I was not surprised to see I was still in my bed in my room at the top of the lighthouse. Despite not having any physical form I could see, I found I could still do most things as normal, including eat and drink. It wouldn’t have been much of an afterlife without tea and cake, after all. I went about my morning as I always do; I made a cup of coffee and toast in my little kitchen and took them up to the gallery deck to watch the water before starting work. I was not brought up to let things like your soul passing across the veil get in the way of everyday life.
I’m not a lighthouse keeper. All lighthouses are automated now, mine included, but there was still a living space was for rent. I moved here after George died. Not, as you might imagine, just so I could be alone with my grief, staring out to sea and thinking of him like in a bad film. I did miss him of course, but I moved to the lighthouse for me. I’d spent my entire life looking after people. I had four children to bring up, a husband who was generally incapable of washing his own socks because he only ever thought about music, and then an ill elderly mother. Then all of a sudden mother was in a care home, and then gone, and my children left and got lives of their own and didn’t need me, and George died suddenly. It was quite a shock. George that is, not the other things. Mother spent years dying – she always was a stubborn woman- and it’s the lot of every mother that she knows from the start she can’t keep her children with her forever. That’s how life goes.
It was strange at first- being so alone and so free. For the first time in as long as I could remember, no-one needed anything from me. Suddenly there was no reason not do what I’d wanted to since I was girl, and go and live by the sea. Specifically, in a lighthouse. It’s funny which dreams come back around to find you in the end. It felt like a mad indulgence, to pack up my bags and just go. It felt like a luxury beyond imagining to have the sea just outside the window. I was angry, sometimes. Angry at death for following me through so much of my life, and George for leaving me after I did so much for him, and myself for spending too much of my time smiling and saying ‘yes dear’ and sacrificing myself until it made me a little bitter. I knew there should only be one artist in a marriage, but George was gone, and I had come to write. I spent hours working at my novel, every day, and that felt like self-indulgence too for a while, until I got it through my head there was nothing else for me to do. Nobody needed picking up from somewhere or feeding or listening to or something washed and ironed for tomorrow or accompanying to a concert, and the party afterwards, or to be told honestly but only in positive terms what their latest composition was like.
The morning after I died, my book was what weighed heaviest on my mind. I’d sent it to my agent only yesterday, and I doubted he’d be willing to take on a novel written by somebody who would soon be known to be dead. I watched the friendly fisherman who came to visit me sometimes ground his boat on the island, and knock, and wait, and eventually come back with more people who broke down the door. I watched my own body carried out on a medical stretcher by people in high-vis, and my children talk quietly while drinking tea in the kitchen, and my youngest Sarah sobbing a little histrionically. She has George’s artistic temperament. There’s always one like that. All of these things troubled me, and even made me cry a little, which I didn’t ever do when I was alive. No actual tears of course, but I could feel it. But it was my book that I couldn’t stop thinking about; what a waste it was. I remembered things I’d heard about people coming back as ghosts due to unfinished business.
Then, after a while, I saw him. At least, not exactly saw, but I felt him, and it made pictures in my mind. I wondered if I might, what with us both being dead. I heard his whistling first, coming from the kitchen. No surprises there. He always was whistling, but it was the melody from a piece he wrote for me when we first met. I went into the kitchen, and saw him there, making a cup of tea.
‘Hello’, he said, cheerfully.
This made me a little cross, and I told him firmly ‘You’re dead’.
‘And the same to you’, he replied, and kept whistling. I remembered hearing him play that piece for me for the first time. We’d snuck off during one of the parties he used to have, with lots of quite annoying arty and intellectual types. He had a tiny flat, but a whole room dedicated to his piano. When he was done, he looked up at me, and I fell in love, and that was that.
‘Do you have some sort of message?’, I asked, a little more cross.
‘Oh yes’, he said.
‘Care to share it with me’?
Then I knew he was looking right at me, and I felt that he was smiling, and it made my heart soar, like it always did.
‘It’s about your book’, he said, simply.
‘What about it?’
‘You should get Sarah to finish it. She’s good, you know. A good writer. And she’s your daughter.’
‘You think she wants an e-mail from her dead mother with an unfinished novel attached? What should I say- “please finish this. Remember to brush your teeth. Love mum”?’
‘Sarah can handle that’, he replied. ‘She’s tougher than you think. She’s like you. And she’ll know what to do.’
‘I suppose so’, I conceded.
‘It’s good’, he said.
‘I suppose it’s not a bad plan’.
‘No’, he shook his head. ‘Your book. I read it. It’s good’.
‘Thank you.’ Trust George to wait until we’re both dead to validate my lifelong dreams.
‘You know, I came here partly to escape you’, I told him.
‘Yes. Sorry I was a bit of a pain’, he winced. Then there was a pause.
‘You loved me though, didn’t you?’, he asked, suddenly worried.
‘Yes. I rather think I always will’.
He smiled again, and said something only George would have.
‘The feeling’s mutual.’