This story was told to me by my mother, and it is a true story – it happened to a friend of hers.
Lizzie’s brother Bobby died suddenly.
Bobby was what everyone called the oil man. One day an oil tank he was filling exploded, killing him instantly. A few days later, he came to visit Lizzie.
She was in the kitchen, doing dishes. It was dark outside and deathly still. It was a new house, a new build, surrounded by fields and trees. The kitchen window faced onto the back garden but she could see nothing in the glare, just her own reflection, staring out. A loud rap at the window shocked her out of her thoughts. She thought it was maybe her husband come home and forgotten his front door key but as she stood there, there was another rap.
Lizzie fell to the floor, paralysed with fear. There was only one way around the house to the kitchen and it was a gravel path. She lay on the floor waiting, waiting until she heard footsteps crunch their way back around the house again, but no sound came. Nothing.
Her husband came home half an hour later and found her in the same position too shocked even to cry.
But Bobby wasn’t done. The next night, he came again, this time as Lizzie slept. She woke up to find him sitting on the bed beside her, in his oil man overalls, his face pale and sweaty.
“Lizzie,” he said, “Lizzie, I’m awful cold.”
Then he got off the bed and went out the door. The eiderdown on which he had been sitting regained its shape after his weight left it. Lizzie said she sat and stared at the space he had occupied for quite some time.
Sudden death, when you don’t even know it’s coming, they say, leaves so much unsaid. People still want to say their goodbyes, but it’s difficult to find a way. Bobby said goodbye after his funeral, in a phone call where he said “Lizzie” twice in ghostly static. When she spoke his name, the line went dead.
My mother said she had narrated Lizzie’s story to her own mother, a woman who grew up in a world steeped in myth and mythology. My grandmother knew Lizzie, knew her well enough to know she wasn’t prone to making up ghost stories, but instead of being as wide-eyed as my mother, she snorted and carried on doing whatever it was she had been doing.
Eventually she admonished, “Well, what did she expect, building her house over fairy trees?”
(Note: A Fairy Tree, in Irish mythology, is a hawthorn tree. This is deadly serious stuff, a whole motorway was re-routed in Co.Clare to avoid destroying a Fairy Tree. )