I saw a ghost once. I was about 7. He stood outside my grandma’s house. It was about 9 o’clock at night, the time of year when the sun’s death is a lingering one. His face was hidden by the shadow of his broad hat. My grandmother was asleep and my mother was having dinner with my Aunt. I watched him standing there, just looking at the house. After 5 minutes I went out to speak to this figure.

Who are you?” I asked, wondering if he was a friend of my grandmothers.

A Ghost, just a ghost.” He replied in a soft tone. His words left a soft scent in the air, of smoke and petrichor.

Why?” said I, to this figure before me, because like most children I was curious.

It’s better that way.” Said the Ghost.

I nodded and walked back into the house. I didn’t wait to see where he went or if he had more prophetic words to speak. I hadn’t understood what he meant. I was only seven and children let the manic world of man run by them. Only a child can watch a dragonfly for 20 minutes, but ignore the words of prophets. I just remember thinking that he was a Ghost and that he was standing outside Grandma’s house. That’s all I took from it. I remember no fear though. It wasn’t harrowing, just somewhat sad. I had a feeling I’d met him before, but I lost that in childish thought.

Some years later I remember sitting in my grandmother’s living room. My aunt was visiting at the same time as me. She was making tea for us. Grandma’s hands had been strong when I was a child, now they seemed so weak. But I was only 13; I had too many hormones rushing through my body that I didn’t notice. It was somewhat sudden, a flicker in the corner of my eye and a brief recollection.

Grandma?”

Yes?” she replied smiling, her pleasant smile was the one thing time couldn’t take.

Have you ever seen a Ghost?”

No, my sweet. Have you?” she asked in that patient way of someone of so many long years.

Yes but it was many years ago. He was stood outside your house.”

Really? What did the Ghost look like?”

He was tall, very tall. He was a big man, very big. I remember that.”

What did the Ghost say?” she said in an urgent tone. I didn’t think to ask why she asked what he’d said before I’d said he’d spoken. I was just a child.

He said ‘I’m a Ghost’ and when I asked him why, he replied ‘It’s better that way’” I told her. I watched then, as for the first time in my life since my sister had been born, my Grandma cried, a single tear and then a steady stream. My aunt came in at that point and stared at my grandmother. She turned to me and asked what had happened. I told her the same story and suddenly these two women who had been so strong were holding each other tightly and sobbing.

A good few years passed. I was working for a large company, on a graduate scheme. Grandmother had gone to sleep and not woken up. I drove to her home. My mind used the grief to fool me, as I pulled into Grandma’s drive I thought for a moment, just a fleeting heartbeat that the Ghost was there. He wasn’t. I stood with my Mother, my Aunt, my Sister in my black suit with thin black tie. I turned, for no reason except to turn from the eyes of my mother and aunt who looked at me for reassurance which I could not provide them. There, at the back of the church, in a dark pinstripe suit stood the Ghost. My mind didn’t instantly connect him with the Ghost outside Grandma’s house. I had never thought Ghosts got older. This one did. His hair was going grey around the edges, and his beard was silver bar a few orange hairs. He cried, deep silent sobs. Then at the end I went looking for the Ghost and I found him, leaning against the wall of the church. He was smoking a rolled cigarette but it was him. His trousers bottoms were caked in mud. His boots were polished though. He looked deep into my eyes.

Who are you?” I asked, wondering if he would reveal more.

A Ghost, just a ghost.” He replied in a soft tone. His words left a soft scent in the air, of smoke and petrichor.

Why?” said I, to this figure before me, because I’d kept that childish sense of curiosity.

It’s better that way.” said the Ghost. I turned after he said this too see my Aunt walking towards us.

Can you see him too?” I said in excited tones turning to look at the Ghost again. He was gone and all that was left was bird song and the sound of a single tear drop hitting the floor behind me.

I’m forty three now. I see my Aunt most weeks; she’s turning into the image of my Grandma. Strong yet soft, firm yet loving. I’ll say sometimes, “Auntie, can we discuss the ghost?”

No.” is her reply every time.

Why?” I’ll ask her.

It’s better that way.” She replies. I haven’t mentioned it in a few years. It’s best not to talk about the Ghost because his footsteps bring sadness and his words break hearts again. Though like the saddest things in life, tinged with some unknown emotion of happiness, they come back.

I married my wife in my forty fourth years. We’d known each other a while. It wasn’t a romantic relationship nor was it an unloving one. We married because it was the next logical move in life. As I stood there and watched my beautiful bride walk towards me, I saw him. The Ghost, at the back of the church. He had his hat in his hands and he had grown older still. His long grey hair had diminished. He stood and watched me marry, I was in a grey suit and he was in his black pinstripes with a button missing and a dirty red handkerchief in his pocket and he cried.

I stood with my family, my mother, my Aunt, my sister and her husband and my new wife. I turned after the first flash of the bulb and saw him, the Ghost, with an arm around my aunt. They looked much younger.

After the photos I found him, beneath a tree rubbing his feet. They were bare.

Who are you?” I asked, wondering. I mainly wondered if he was staying for the reception, but that was the logical part of me, the adult part.

A Ghost, just a ghost.” He replied in a soft tone. His words left a soft scent in the air, of smoke and petrichor.

Why?” said I, to this figure before me, because I’d kept that childish sense of curiosity though the adult me had tried to hide it.

It’s better that way.” Said the Ghost. I watched him walk away, that scruffy, bare footed Ghost.

Two years later we welcomed our son into the world. He was a fine son and so sweet. My Aunt was ill, but she made it to the church for the christening. She was in a wheel chair by this point so she sat at the rear of the church. As I turned to smile at her after the first dribbles of water had touched my infant son’s crown I saw him stood there. The Ghost from outside Grandma’s house. His hand was on my Aunt’s shoulder and her hand was upon his. They looked so old and yet so young in a mocking mimicry. They both cried.

After the service I found them together outside. He was using the churchyard wall to lean on and my aunt was using him.

Who are you?” I asked, with a feeling of knowing that he would speak at last.

A Ghost, just a ghost.” He replied in a soft tone. His words left a soft scent in the air, of smoke and petrichor.

Why?” said I, to this figure before me, because I knew I had to push him.

It’s better that way.” Said the Ghost. “But this is it my boy, you won’t see me anymore. It’s time my feet were rested and my back is getting sore. But to you I must remain, the Ghost. Don’t ask why because you know.”

Some months later my dear Aunt died. A stroke took her and she lay and died for weeks. She never smiled, spoke or showed any recollection of any of us. Though one night towards the end when we sat alone, in the semi-darkness. She spoke, just once.

Him?” she said in her slurred voice. I held her hand and knew who she was asking after. I told her what he had said about his time to rest his feet. She cried and sobbed in a mournful way. I held her hand until she fell to sleep. Whether she gained consciousness I do not know but I remember the story the Nurse told me some months later when I returned to the same ward with my wife. Her mother was ill.

Excuse me Sir?” said the nurse in a quiet tone. I turned to look at her and she smiled. “I thought it was you. I remember you being here a lot with your aunt.” I smiled and shook her hand. “Do you mind if I ask who the gentleman was?” I went cold. In a split second I was struck dumb. He'd come to see her.

Was he tall and scruffy? Long hair and a beard? In a suit which was damaged and stained?”

He was tall, yes” she replied. “But he was well dressed and looked young. His hair was short and he was clean shaven. Maybe we're thinking about a different person?” she said in bemusement. “When he'd gone I went to her bedside and all I could smell was smoke and that smell... the one after rain? When everything has been cleared away and things can start again” I asked when he'd come and she said he had been with her when she died. I smiled. The Ghost had come for her, to take her for a final walk.

Oh he was a Ghost.” I said softly.

'What?” she said in a mix of shock and laughter.

He was a Ghost and it was because it was better that way.”



I told my son this story for he’d never seen a ghost. When he asked me years later what It was I’d known. I said “He was a Ghost.”

Why?” my son pestered me. “Do you know dad? Do you?”

Yes son I know why he was the Ghost. It was better that way.”