As she sat in the car outside, Susan tried to keep her breathing under control. So many times she thought of coming back but something always came up, a meeting, a holiday or the kids had been sick. There was always an excuse, a reason to change plans or re-arrange the visit, but tomorrow never happened and the moment would go. This time it was like the planets had aligned just for today. The Morgan meeting was cancelled when one of the directors broke a leg skiing. Jeff had booked a surprise trip to Paris for her Birthday but the airline went bust and they couldn’t go. Then Jenny, her strawberry curled six year old had woken this morning with a face full of measles. Turns out she’d been playing with a felt tip before she went to sleep, no measles!
So here she was, sat in the car, outside No 36 Pascal Avenue. She notched up the air con as tiny beads of sweat started to settle on her brow. She rested her head back on the headrest and waited for the CD to switch over. Nina Simone gently broke through the silence and a blanket of calm laid a veil across her thoughts. She didn’t fight the heaviness weighing down her eyelids, she just let them fall. A tiny shard of light hit the back of her eyes, like static from the TV late at night. Black and white images flickered in and then out again, never really forming. Just an aura of something, a sense of an image that she couldn’t quite catch; and a smell, a hint of something old, of beeswax and honey of lilac and soapsuds. Then the pictures became clearer.
She saw Sister Bernadette in her long flowing habit. She didn’t know if that was actually her name, it was just what she’d called her when she was small. The beads on her chain and its brown wooden cross a stark splash of colour against an expanse of white linen. The others followed, heads lowered, fingers locked in silent worship. She had been about six, the same age as Jenny was now, when she’d first seen them. She’d been terrified at first, so terrified that she had wet her knickers. She’d been about to scream when Sister Bernadette had looked back at her, over her shoulder, and lifted a long slender finger to her mouth. She’d immediately shushed.
Susan remembered the little procession passing by the window every morning that summer. It was the summer her mother had been found strangled in the park, her bloodied body hidden behind the pavilion. She remembered her Granny sat at the table, her head in her hands and her body shaking as she sobbed. And the police taking her father away in handcuffs. A crime of passion they called it. Susan had listened on the stairs, hidden in the darkness, where no one could see her. She hadn’t understood how her dad had loved her mum so much that he’d killed her, and she’d made a vow that when she grew up, she would never love anybody THAT much.
When her father went to prison, Granny had moved into Pascal Avenue and over time Susan began to tell her about the ghosts that walked past her window. Granny had said there was no such thing as ghosts, they weren’t real. They were just memories and echoes of things that stayed close. Each nun that passed was a little part of mum. A memory of something she’d shared or something she said; a tiny little echo that would always be around. So Susan had learnt to accept the visits. She gave them all names and whispered her dreams to them each time they passed. She couldn’t remember when they stopped exactly, perhaps when she was about ten or eleven. She’d forgotten all about them until today, she’d forgotten a lot of things until today, or buried them anyway.
Susan opened her eyes again and thought she caught a shadow of white disappear through the overgrown ivy. “Stop being daft” she chided herself. Then she started the car, rubbed a lone tear away from her eye and threw the newspaper over her shoulder onto the back seat. As the car moved off down the road the paper fell open on the floor, ‘Wife murderer released from Prison today’.