The front door opened with a bang that bruised my floral wallpaper, and a gust of air that sent my sheet music flying. The perpetrator stood framed in the doorway, almost completely obscured by the tatty cardboard box in their arms labelled ‘living room’. They half staggered inside under the weight of it and dropped it on the bare floorboards. It left a wound in the soft wood. The invader was a woman dressed in black, and every visible bit of her skin was adorned with tattoos. She looked like a sideshow attraction. For thirty years I’d kept my house pristine, just as I’d left it. I’d be damned if I was going to let this latest intruder come in and destroy it.
I quietly observed for the rest of the day as the woman brought in box after box and piled them up, one on top of another. She was careless with her own belongings, but when she picked up my sheet music she was so careful she was almost deferential. I needed to know who she was. I needed to know what her weaknesses were. Once all the boxes were inside she poured herself an enormous glass of red wine and sat on the sofa to read a rag with ‘Paranormal Magazine’ emblazoned across the front of it. The glass was half empty when a shrill ringing erupted from her pocket. She flinched wildly, sloshing the deep red liquid out of the glass and onto the floor. I winced as the floorboards drank it up.
‘Bloody hell Mara, you gave me a heart attack!’ She said once she had fished the phone out of her pocket and brought it to her ear. ‘You know how loud noises make me jump, text first next time!’
I watched her all evening until she finally went upstairs to bed. I waited a while longer until the house was smothered by the kind of darkness and silence that only comes when it’s residents are sleeping, and entered the room where she lay. My bedroom. The hideous antique mirror that had been a wedding present from Jack’s boss still dominated the far wall. He’d insisted we hang it up. She had positioned the mattress she was asleep on beneath it, with her bedframe still in pieces in the corner. Still, she was managing to sleep soundly, and making a sound like a rooting pig as she did so. I took the rusty nail I reserved for such occasions and stood over her. Slowly, I scraped it down the mirror with a squeal that I would have felt in my bones, if I had any. Her body jerked upright while her eyes were still closed. She forced them open and looked blindly around in the darkness before finally having the presence of mind to turn on the cheap metal lamp beside her and fill the room with yellow light. She looked straight through me with eyes that were wild and afraid. I smirked. She reached down beside the makeshift bed to grab her phone and jabbed at the screen. White noise spilled out of that tiny electronic box, followed by the unmistakable sound of a nail being scraped down the surface of a mirror. She grinned.
‘Gotcha,’ she said.
The next morning she woke early and immediately blasted the radio. She danced about the house and sang off key as she made herself a cup of instant coffee. She poked at the pristine white tiles above the belfast sink. A small hot ball of anger ignited in the centre of my chest. I loved those tiles. I’d spent months tracking them down. She picked at the corner of one of them and a flake of colour came off, revealing the naked ceramic behind it. The ball ignited and grew, spreading through my chest and filling my entire body until I couldn’t contain it any longer. The lights grew dimmer and bursts of static electricity leapt from the radio. My interloper smiled slowly, and dimples formed in her pale cheeks. I picked up a plate and threw it at her head. She ducked and it smashed on those perfect white tiles. The angry ball grew heavy and cold as more shards of white came away from the wall and revealed the ugly sand colour behind.
‘Well hi there ghostie,’ she said, standing up straight again and smoothing down her pyjama top. It had a cat on it.
That evening, I was ready. I was going to terrorise her so completely that she couldn’t bear to stay in my house. When she came up to bed, I was waiting for her. I began by slamming the door behind her. She spun around and tried the handle only to discover that I had locked the door. Her breathing was rapid and shallow. I concentrated all of my anger and hatred into the walls and slowly thick red blood began to ooze, running over the faded wallpaper and onto the carpet below. Adrenaline, or at least what would have been adrenaline if I still had the glands for it, coursed through me. I winced as the carpet fibres began to soak up the blood. It would be ok, it would just take a little bicarbonate of soda to clean it. The bare lightbulb flickered on and off as I moved my attention towards it.
‘How are you doing this?’ She asked. Her eyes shone. She reached out to touch the blood, and even sniffed at the small red droplet that came away on her fingertip. What was wrong with her? Didn’t she know that was how you caught diseases? The adrenaline subsided a little. I sagged, feeling heavy. I had to beat her. I made my next move and showed myself to her. The flesh version of myself at least. She watched as my pretty porcelain face melted away revealing the dirty skull beneath. She saw my eyes rot, and maggots crawl in the empty sockets. She saw my pretty white dress grow torn and filthy. My hair turned from a sleek black bob to wispy strands that could barely cling to my bare skull. I wanted her to scream and retch.
‘Ida, I know who you are,’ she traced her collarbone with a finger. ‘I moved into this house because I knew you were here. I want to know you. You can’t scare me off.’ I hadn’t heard my name since Jack said his final farewell to me. Before everything went dark.
‘What happened to you… it was terrible.’ She looked me straight in the eye, despite there being no eye there for her to see. ‘I’m April, by the way,’ she said before I vanished.
After that I whirled around the house with no purpose, except to hide from April. I was distracted, suddenly overwhelmed with memories of who I had once been. I watched April spill drinks on my floor. I didn’t care. I even started to like some of her tattoos. Her left shoulder was adorned with a red rose that was like the one Yeats wrote about, simultaneously proud and sad. I wondered if she knew the poem. I had no idea how long this malaise lasted, it felt endless and at the same time fleeting.
One night an indeterminate amount of time later, all of the lights in the house were off. I felt safe in my solitude, so I ventured into the kitchen. It had always been a place of peace for me. I clambered up over the belfast sink and sat on the wide windowsill that overlooked it. From this vantage point I had a perfect view of the moon peeking out from between the two fir trees at the bottom of the garden, and of the owl who had perched himself on one of them. I had always sat here looking at the moon when I was waiting for Jack to come home, wondering if he was looking at the same moon as me, wherever he was. I started to sing to myself, finding comfort in the sounds that escaped my lips and massaged my throat.
‘When I’m alone and blue as can be, dream a little dream of me…’
‘You sound just like her. Like Ella Fitzgerald,’ April’s voice came from the dark hallway. Part of me was pleased she was there.
‘I wanted to be a singer like her,’ I said. ‘More than anything. But then I got married.’ April switched on the lights. I stayed where I was. I let her see me. The me I was.
‘You’re so young,’ she said. ‘You look so glamorous.’
‘The most glamorous housewife on the street,’ I said. I looked outside again as the owl flew away.
‘Your voice is beautiful. Will you teach me? To sing, I mean.’
‘Of course I will,’ I said. Singing was my one true love, and like all love it was designed to be shared.
Two days later I gave April her first singing lesson. I had tasked her with singing a song she knew well so that I could gauge her level. She chose Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday. Her voice was sweet and soft.
‘Why did you choose that song?’ I asked.
‘It’s always spoken to me, it’s just… so sad. The image of those people swinging from the poplar tree, it’s horrendous. Thinking about it makes me so angry that I don’t know what to do!’
‘And that’s what you need to embody when you sing it. You need to use your voice to bring that anger and that sadness to your audience.’
‘I heard a recording of you singing,’ April said. ‘I actually cried, it was so beautiful.’ I busied myself rearranging my sheet music, carefully avoiding her gaze. ‘I’ve admired you since then, the way you followed your dream even when your husband made it so difficult for you.’
‘He just wanted a wife, he didn’t want a singer,’ I said. My throat constricted. ‘I was stupid. I knew he’d never let me leave to take up that record contract.’
‘So that was why?’
‘We were arguing while I was in the bath. He told me that I had a duty to stay with him. I told him that I didn’t care, that I had to follow my dream. He grabbed me, held me under the water. Everything went black. And I’ve been here ever since.’ April reached for my hand but it disappeared under hers, like smoke. We locked eyes.
‘I came here because I wanted to help get justice for you,’ April said. ‘I’ve been obsessed ever since I heard your story.’
‘Thank you,’ I said.
April and I lived together for the rest of her life. After that first singing lesson we quickly fell into a weekly routine that I cherished. Tuesday and Thursday evenings were reserved for April’s singing lessons. At first April was self conscious so we would switch out the main light and stand next to the fireplace in the living room, building a fire in the winter months and standing long white candles there in the summer. Illuminated only by flickering firelight April would sing, and each week her voice grew more powerful, carrying with it all that she felt as she sang. After only a few months she was ready to sing with the light on, and then another few months after that she felt ready to join a choir. It was there that she met Danielle. Danielle quickly became April’s girlfriend and spent almost all of her time in our home. I loved her almost as much as April did. She was a tiny woman with a thick Scottish accent, a nose ring and a love of brightly coloured scarves. She also made it her business to listen. I quickly found myself revealing the story of my life and death to her, there was something about her that compelled me to bare my soul. She always sat and listened quietly as I spoke, her eyes urging me to continue but never pushing me.
When Danielle moved in it was only natural that the three of us collaborated on the project of telling my story to the world. April was a wonderful writer, and Danielle had a knack of drawing truths out of me that I didn’t even know were buried. We were a great team. As we worked on the book over the subsequent years I felt anticipation building within me. Finally, everyone would know what I went through. The image of the doting and caring husband that Jack had carefully cultivated for everyone else would be shattered, and I would have justice. On a windy August day five years later the book was published, and it was a hit. It was even turned into a film. April and Danielle enjoyed fame and notoriety and I felt… nothing. I was still angry, and the world knowing my story hadn’t changed that. Even on happy days as I sang with April and Danielle in our kitchen, or helped them to pick out new wallpaper, I could feel the anger clawing at the back of my mind. It was always there. It was there while I watched April and Danielle build their lives together, as I helped them get through arguments and disagreements, as I watched how happy they made one another. It was there as I watched age creep up on them, first wrinkling their skin, then greying their hair. It was there as April lost her mobility and Danielle began to lose her mind. It was there as first April, and then Danielle, were taken from me by the ceaseless rolling ocean of time.
Then it was just me again. Me and the house I made beautiful.