The light was blazing in the front room. Minty went a little way in there, retreated, and, standing in the hall, put her hand round the door jamb and snapped off the light switch. Her eyes had closed of their own volition while she performed this action. Now she was afraid to open them in case Jock's ghost had taken advantage of her temporary blindness to seat himself in the chair once more. With the chair pushed up against the table, perhaps he wouldn't be able to. She opened her eyes. No ghost. Should she tell Sonovia about it? Minty couldn't make up her mind.
The street doors in Syringa Road opened on to tiny rectangular front gardens. Minty's garden was paved all over, Auntie had seen to that, but next door's had earth and flowers growing out of it, masses of them in summer. Sonovia saw Minty coming and waved from the window. She was wearing her new red trouser suit and a long scarf thing in powder blue that she called a pashmina. Her lipstick matched her suit, and her hair, newly done, was just like the shiny hat on the toby jug Auntie had brought back from a trip to Southend.
"We thought we'd go on the bus," Sonovia said. "Laf says there's no way he's parking the car down there and maybe getting it clamped. He has to watch his step, being in the force."
Sonovia always said "being in the force," never "being a policeman." Minty was disappointed about the car but didn't say so. She missed being taken about in Jock's car, though it was old and what he called a "boneshaker." Laf came out from the front room and gave her a kiss. His name was Lafcadio but that was a bit much of a name to go to bed with, as Sonovia put it, and everyone called him Laf. He and Sonovia were still only in their late forties but had been married since they were eighteen and had four grown-up children, who'd all left home now and either had their own places or were still at university. Auntie used to say you'd think no one else had ever had a son a doctor and a daughter a lawyer, another daughter at university, and the youngest at the Guildhall School of something or other, the way Sonovia went on about it. Minty thought it was something to be proud of but at the same time couldn't really comprehend it; she couldn't imagine all the work and study and time that had gone into getting where they had.
"I've seen a ghost," she said. "When I got in from work. In the front room, sitting in a chair. It was Jock."
They had never met Jock but knew whom she meant. "Now, Minty, don't be so daft," said Laf.
"There's no such things as ghosts, my deah." Sonovia always said "my deah" like that when she wanted to show she was older and wiser than you. "Absolutely not."
Minty had known Laf and Sonovia since they came to live next door when she was ten. Later on, when she was a bit older, she'd babysat for them. "It was Jock's ghost," she said. "And when he'd gone I felt the seat of the chair and it was warm. It was him all right."
"I'm not hearing this," said Sonovia.
Laf gave Minty a pat on the shoulder. "You were hallucinating, right? On account of you being a bit under the weather of late."
"Heed the wise words of Sergeant Lafcadio Wilson, my deah." Sonovia glanced in the mirror, patted her hair, and went on, "Let's go. I don't want to miss the start of the picture."
They walked along to the bus stop opposite the high wall of the cemetery. When she had anything worrying her Minty never trod on the cracks in the pavement but stepped over them. "Like a little kid," said Sonovia. "My Corinne used to do that."
Minty didn't reply. She went on stepping over the cracks; nothing would have induced her to tread on them. On the other side of the wall were tombs and gravestones, big dark trees, the gasometer, the canal. She'd wanted Auntie buried in there but they wouldn't have it, there was no more room, and Auntie was cremated. The undertakers had written to her and said the ashes were ready for her to collect. No one asked what she was going to do with them. She'd taken the little box of ashes into the cemetery and found the most beautiful grave, the one she liked best with an angel on it holding a broken violin kind of thing and covering up her eyes with her other hand. Using an old tablespoon, she'd dug a hole in the earth and put the ashes in. Afterward she'd felt better about Auntie, but she hadn't been able to do the same for Jock. His ex-wife or his old mother would have had Jock's ashes.
Excerpted from Adam and Eve and Pinch Me by Ruth Rendell Copyright 2002 by Ruth Rendell. Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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