Something About Ghosts


I went to be hall porter everyday in the Happy Valley Refrigeration Company because I simply didn't know what else to do, I didn't want to be a footman or a doorman or a tutor for some wealthy Russian family, I just ground it out and believe it or not much of the time with all good humour, laughing at myself even, as though surprising an intruder in the house in the dead of night, a twenty year old girl maybe, a waif of the streets, lean and hungry, or maybe shivering at the lack of a drug, her surprise almost a smile as she freezes under my sudden startling word before turning to escape back out the window she had broken in through.  Stop, I shout, come back here, I know you don't want to be a burglar, a thief, I know it's because you can't think of an alternative right now, after all who would want to be a footman or a butler or a tutor to a rich Russian family, only she doesn't stop to listen, she squeezes through an impossibly narrow crack in the window and leaps like a little deer back out into the night where her boyfriend is waiting in the rain.  I must remember to replace that lock on the front door and have the windows secured.  The nights these days are populated by roaming waif-like drug addicts, twenty-two-year-old girls shivering for a fix.  Sometimes unable to sleep I walk the streets of the city like a man thrown out on his ear, an old drunk.  Lonely and alone in town walking around and around, sometimes loud and crowded streets then a sudden turn onto a quiet, deserted way and I might turn into a bar and have strange encounters with other lonely men who would enthusiastically introduce themselves to me, nothing else to be done, then strange but lively conversations, don't ask me about what and one night in such a backstreet bar I saw my face reflected in the long mirror and thought, oh my God, I look like Samuel Beckett.  What are you laughing at? said my new found friend.  You won't believe it, I said.  What, go on, he said.  I looked in that mirror there and I saw a ghost.  But he didn't believe in ghosts though he had heard about them and another man said that he knew a fellow who said he saw a ghost, a poltergeist and he would be the kind of fellow you would believe, I mean that would not be making that kind of thing up and the other fellow said he knew a very intelligent man, in fact, an important man in society who believed that he had a poltergeist in his house only it was a good poltergeist and how did he know it was a poltergeist, well, things were moved around that neither he nor his wife touched and it was only the two of them, and how did he know that it was a good poltergeist and not a bad one, well, because he, the poltergeist that is had been moving things around for years without doing anything in the way of harm, I mean, the fellow said, that what he moved around created no real disturbance or damage.  Then I went home, time moves on like that, rain or not.  Maybe I'd make an effort to paint, the mind seething with ideas, buried in there somewhere.  Somewhere there is a painting with a beautiful symmetry.  It's mine.  I mix a few colours.  I try.  There's nothing, only a head full of bad air.  The day in the hallway of the Happy Valley Refrigeration Company had once again taken its toll.  I'd decide to write my memoirs or at least write everything that was in my system down on paper even if it ended up in the back of the fire, something about my constitution demanded that I write every little detail down and then destroy it.  The words would appear.  And for a moment I'd think here I have the words of a novel with flowing sentences, a tough, minimalist novel with real meaning and on the pages, somehow linked with novels I'd never read, novelists I've read and not a line remembered, tough sentences, tough with meaning and when I'd rouse myself to make the attempt to write them down the inoculating lethargy would grip me like I was paralysed by the events of the day, a paralysis that prevented the construction of one sentence on a less than taut page, not to mention a page of tough sentences.  My lungs felt like they were full of poisonous gas, the humours of the offices, sucked in when I went there with coffee and biscuits or to take a message to one of the clerks, the dead air clinging to my uniform like a viral infection making me wonder how they could stick it in there all day, at least I could get back to the hallway and stand in the doorway breathing the air flung up by the river and the traffic?  Instead of writing or painting then when I finally got back to my den, especially in the early more virile days, I'd be overcome with melancholy at the sudden appearance of a simple memory from a time that came and went as all things do.  In that way I am forever aboard an SNCF train heading out of Paris with Alejandra.  We are heading for Marseille; an overnight journey.  We could not afford a sleeper berth, the couchet, but we were lucky enough to find a carriage to ourselves.  It was the old fashioned kind of train with long narrow corridors and small compartments.  We slid back the doors to an empty carriage and immediately pulled down the blind looking into the corridor.  We threw our bags into the overhead net luggage rack.  We kept the bag with the wine and the bread and the cooked chicken on the seat beside us.  Then we nestled together with our legs up on the opposite seat.  The seating was of shiny brown leather.  There was room for four comfortably on each side.  There were photographs of Alpine resorts on the timber-panelled walls under the luggage racks.  I pulled the cork on the wine using the cork screw on my Swiss army knife.  Bravo, Alejandra said.  When the ticket inspector appeared he asked us to take our legs off the seat.  The creaking of the timber, the motion of the train sometimes gentle sometimes raging like a mad animal let loose to storm through the night.  Nestled together we dozed.  And forever we are arriving into Marseille an enormous red sun on the horizon, a sun like no sun I had ever seen before, the Mediterranean sun drawing up all these new sounds and smells and colours from the earth.  I was ecstatic.  I will never leave here I said.  I will never leave the Mediterranean.  She sat in a cafe in the station at 6:30 in the morning and she sent me off to buy fresh croissants in some nearby patisserie, there's bound to be one near the station, she said, there always is.  I went off to buy the fresh croissants.  I ran and bounded because I was incapable of walking at that moment.  The air smelt so different, the texture of the light so extraordinary.  I ran and bounded.  Anyway, I didn't want to be away from her for too long.  

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