A Christmas Ghost Tale

Granddad was sat on the back step. His smoke mingled with his breath in the air and drifted away as I sat next to him.

It’s not going to be a snowy one again.

I shook my head at him. I’d never had a snowy one. It was a thing of myth and legend.

It’s late, he said, you shouldn’t be up. Your Mother will be angry with me if she catches us here.

Sorry. I thought I heard something.

Heard something?

He looked at me over his glasses. Took a deep lungful of his cigarette and held it. When he spoke next the words were mixed with smoke and his voice was higher, scratchier somehow.

Heard something? he asked again.

Yes. Something on the landing. Footsteps maybe, the floorboards were creaking.

He smiled at me then. Warmth. He put his big arm around me and pulled me closer to him. The night was bitter, but he was as warm as a radiator. He smelled of smoke and alcohol. He smelled of my Granddad.

Are you sure you just can’t sleep?

No, there was definitely something there.

If you’re not asleep before Father Christmas comes you won’t get any presents. You know that don’t you?

Yes. Can I just sit here with you for a while?

He checked his watch. Then the glass by his side.

I need to top this up, he said, shaking his empty glass, the ice rattling about inside it.

He stood up and I followed him into the kitchen.

I’ll make you a cup of hot milk, should help you sleep. Would you like that?

Yes please.

He opened the fridge, his face lit by the glow from inside. He poured the milk into a big mug and put it into the microwave, opened a high cupboard and took down a bottle of what I now know was bourbon.

My medicine, he said, tapping the bottle with his index finger.

He poured the amber liquid into the glass and we listened to the hum of the microwave for a while. It pinged and he opened it, tested the heat of the mug with the back of his hand. He put it down on the work surface in front of me.

Careful it’s hot. Now. Tell me about the noise.

I don’t know, it sounded like footsteps on the landing.

It’s an old house son, it makes noises. It’s just the house breathing. You don’t need to worry about it. I like it. It keeps me company.

I miss Grandma.

I said it suddenly, without meaning to. And then it was there between us. He was quiet. Wouldn’t look at me. Studied the ice in his glass instead.

I do too. I do too. Let’s not get all sad about it now though eh? I don’t want you to think of me as a lonely old man. It’s lovely to have you here at Christmas. Really lovely.

I’m pleased I’m here too Granddad.

Good. Even with the creaks?

Even with the creaks.

I sipped my milk. There was a skin on the surface, it stuck to my lips as I drank, but underneath the liquid was boiling hot.

You don’t think it was a ghost then?

As soon as I asked the question it sounded foolish and childish and I wanted to swallow the words down with the milk.

He smiled at me, gave a little laugh in his throat and took a sip

of his drink. He smacked his lips and shook his head.

No. There’s no such thing as ghosts, he said.

That’s not true. Of course there’s such a thing as ghosts. People at school have seen them.

No. People have got it wrong all this time. What we think of as ghosts are really something totally different.

They are?

Really. And I can prove it.

He checked his watch again. I knew it was late, could feel it in my itchy eyes and heavy limbs.

I’ll tell you this story, but you have to promise to go straight to bed afterwards. Ok?

Ok.

I pulled my seat closer to the table and rested my head in my hands.

You never met my mother, your great-grandmother. She was an amazing lady. Fierce. She had to be to run a house full of boys. I was her favourite I think. She spoiled me. Just a little, but enough. She died when I was young.

I wished I had met her.

I wished you had too. Anyway. I was ill when I was a kid, just a bit older than you. I was in bed for a long time. Touch and go for a while I’ve been told. Didn’t know it at the time of course. It was a night a bit like this; when the floorboards creak. This was about a year after my mother died, but that night I swear I could feel her in the room. I could smell her as well. The room smelled of lavender. Just like her. Then she stroked my forehead. As real as this…

He leant across the table and ran his rough hand across my cheek. I shivered.

And you know what?

What?

I got better the day after. I swear it. Hand on heart.

Was it your Mother’s ghost?

No. It was my Mother alright though. She is my angel.

An angel?

I promise. She’s looked after me ever since. Just like Grandma is looking out for you.

So there are no ghosts, just angels?

That’s right. Just angels.

He held his empty glass up to the light and took my mug away from me.

Come now - bed. Or you won’t get any presents.

Ok, I said, clambering down from my chair.

At the door I stopped and turned back. He was putting the mug and glass into the dishwasher.

Granddad?

Yes son?

The noises, could they be Grandma wishing me Happy Christmas?

Yes. I think they might just be.