Richard was out on a house call leaving Claire sitting up in bed reading her book before settling down to sleep. But though she was following the words across the page she wasn’t seeing them, her mind was elsewhere, at Cleo’s house and the extraordinary hour she’d spent there that afternoon. She’d wanted to tell Richard all about it but he’d come in after a long busy day but almost as he’d finished his dinner he’d gone straight back out on an emergency call. The life of a local GP and that of his family was anything but regular!
So Claire was left with all her thoughts jangling around in her mind leaving no space for reading, all she could think about was ………………..
‘Ouch!’ Claire whirled round, her hand went straight to her bum where she had just felt as she’d been pinched. But there was no-one behind her. Cleo was coming through the door carrying a tray with of tea and biscuits which she proceeded to try and put down on the coffee table that was covered with papers, books, pens etc. ‘did I just hear you say ouch?’ she said. As Claire nodded while making space on the table Cleo carried on, ‘I guess you’ve just met Henry, don’t worry, he’s harmless, just a little mischievous when I have visitors. Henry, behave yourself or you’ll frighten Claire away. She’s a friend and you must be nice to her’. Turning back to Claire she said, ‘help yourself to sugar and biscuits’, as if nothing was at all odd!
‘Thank you. Er, who’s Henry and er, where is he? I can’t see anyone, haven’t seen anyone.’ Claire helped herself to a cup of rather strong looking tea adding a spoonful of sugar to help with the taste, she didn’t normally drink tea or take sugar in her drinks but if offered tea and especially strong tea it was more palatable with a little sugar.
‘Oh you won’t see him, Henry’s a ghost, he lives here in the metre cupboard,’ Cleo said pointing to a little cupboard low down on the wall to the side of the fireplace.
Claire’s eyes followed the pointing finger. A ghost, a ghost named Henry who pinched bottoms. Mmmm.
‘Er, how long,’ she cleared her throat, ‘how long has er, have you er………….,’
‘how long have I lived with Henry? Is that what you’re asking? Most of my life. I was born here and Henrys’ been here ever since I can remember. I was an only child so Henry was my playmate when I was growing up.’
This was becoming more surreal by the minute. A ghost called Henry who pinched bottoms, lived in the metre cupboard and had been a lifelong friend. She began to wonder at Cleo’s mental state!
‘Can you see him? What does he look like?’
‘Oh no, I’ve never seen him’.
‘well how do you know when he’s, when he’s er, in the room with you?’ Claire was having great difficulty asking any questions and indeed felt a little nosey doing so but she was strangely fascinated by what was happening. Nothing felt real.
‘I can smell him’, replied Cleo. ‘he’s not too fond of soap and water, I have told him about it, that he’s got BO’, Cleo whispered the last bit as if it would embarrass Henry to have everyone knowing.
A ghost called Henry who pinches bottoms, lives in the metre cupboard and smells because he never washes! Claire could feel the giggle deep down inside getting stronger that was now in danger of bursting out throwing her good manners to the wind. This was too much, Cleo was winding her up, playing a practical joke and she was very good at it. Her face was as open and honest as ever, she was quite relaxed which was more than Claire was.
She’d felt from the start that Cleo was a ‘bit of a character’, all those beads and bangles, the kaftans and scarves, a colourful character who had brought a breath of fresh air to Claire’s life since the day she had walked into the village hall to join the art group.
That first session had been spent firstly drawing circles freehand to loosen them up and to see that it was impossible and not necessary anyway to draw a perfect circle. They had then progressed to apples. Claire had started looking at apples differently since that day, not one was perfectly round, they were all sorts of shapes on a roundish base and she noticed the colours too. She’d always looked at apples as either red or green but now she saw other colours too as well as the blemishes, the shadows, the dip in the top and the stalk. Over the weeks of that first couple of months she’d started looking at everything differently, noticing colours, trees, flowers, buildings in a way she’d never noticed them before and she’d lived in the town all her life.
‘He’s been a very good friend to me has Henry and great fun to be with. He’s made you smile, and a proper smile too, the first I’ve seen since we met’.
Claire must have looked puzzled at that because Cleo went on to say
‘true, you smile but never with your eyes, until now. Henry might be rather a naughty boy but he brought a smile to your eyes.
Sitting in bed with the unread book on her lap Claire mulled over Cleo’s words. It was true she realised. Since Bentley had died she’d lived in a bit of a bubble of grief. Since she’d started the art group and met Cleo she’d gradually stopped thinking of Bentley every hour of the day, in fact she hadn’t thought of him for a few days now and when she did the pain in the pit of her stomach was not there now. She could think of him without feeling teary. And yes, she could again smile and do it with her eyes.
From 'East Coker' - TS Eliot
3 years ago