Little ghosts

27 08 2014

There’s always something a little ghostly about a small child padding through the dark house in the night, her pale nightgown (or footie jammies, more often) glowing in the dim light of street lamps or ceiling-projection, perhaps because they seem so out of place. Small children are sunny creatures, made of and for daylight; at night they should be limp, sweaty forms in small, pastel beds, safe and still and snoring.  They also always bode the possibility of a little bit of horror–is the child only awake for a drink of water, or is it feeling unwell, and is on its way to find you so as to vomit elaborately all over your bed? (A few nights ago, our ghost tumbled out of bed onto Daddy’s head (he’d fallen asleep on the floor after putting her back in after the last tumble), breaking his nose and making a bloody mess of our night, literally. For example.). But for the most part, they’re friendly ghosts, for the most part, much more evocative of Caspar than Poltergeist, although they can be startling.  In the dark, too, they’re hard to recognize–and time seems a little more bendable anyway–so at first glance they always might be some other child you knew, once-upon-a-time, or the flickering leftover image of some child you didn’t know, but who happened to live in this old house long before you did.  Last night’s ghost was just a weeping toddler in glowing blue footies, still in bed, mumbling something about bananas before succumbing to a little snuggle and a return to sleep.

The half-awake night-walker is not the only kind of ghost we have, though.  For two years, the room right beside our bathroom door was Evanny’s room (it was the nursery, planned for her, before she had a name, so it was technically just “the baby’s room” for a while, but the idea is the same). Now, suddenly, since she’s moved down the hall, and Tabitha is still a tiny baby in a bassinet in our room, it’s nobody’s room, and the door, normally shut against the cats, and shutting in the soft repetition of her wave-maker and sleep-song, is open, a dark and silent maw gaping in the night when I go for a mid-night wee. (During the day, it’s a different kind of horror, a mess of mixed-sized clothes and half-empty boxes that I’ve been trying for weeks to sort out and store, and am still completely failing at.). It’s a relief in some ways–we spent innumerable hours tiptoeing past that door, paranoid about the click of the door latch, the rattle of the towel-rack, the flick of the light switch, the whir of the fan; for over a year we didn’t dare flush the toilet at night. And yet in our new freedom, something precious is absent, missing, gone-from-the-world, and its sweet but domineering little spirit haunts that space. I’m one of those instant-risers who rarely wakes up muddled. Even in the middle of the night on miserly Mum-of-newborn sleep, I know where Evanny actually is and that she’s totally fine. But there’s a pang every time, defying the logic of that knowing, telling me something is amiss and my baby is GONE. The open door, the silence: it could be kidnappers. And in its own way, it is, of course, so it’s no wonder the toddler down the hall doesn’t quite negate the feeling. The kidnapper’s name is “time.”





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