Minty knew it was a ghost sitting in the chair because she was frightened. If it were only something she'd imagined, she wouldn't have been afraid. You couldn't be when it was something that came out of your own mind.
It was early evening but, being wintertime, quite dark. She'd just come home from work, let herself in the front door, and put the hall light on. The front-room door was open and the ghost was sitting on an upright chair in the middle of the room with its back to her. She'd put the chair there to stand on and change a lightbulb before she went out in the morning and forgotten to put it back. Her mouth tightly covered up with both hands to keep the scream in, she took one step nearer. She thought, What will I do if it turns round? Ghosts in stories are gray like the people on black-and-white television or else see-through, but this one had short, dark brown hair and a brown neck, and wore a black leather jacket. Minty didn't have to see its face to know it was her late fiancé, Jock.
Suppose it stayed there so that she couldn't use the room? It wasn't absolutely still. The head moved a bit and then the right leg. Both feet edged back as if it were going to get up. Minty squeezed her eyes tight shut. Everything was silent. A shriek out in the street from one of the kids that lived opposite made her jump and she opened her eyes. The ghost was gone. She put the light on and felt the seat of the chair. It was warm and this surprised her. You think of ghosts as cold. She moved the chair back to where it belonged under the table. If it wasn't in the middle of the room, maybe he wouldn't come back.
She went upstairs, half expecting to see him there. He could have got past her and come up while she had her eyes shut. Ghosts didn't like lights, so she put them all on, all good hundred-watt bulbs, and he wasn't anywhere to be seen. She'd loved him, thought of herself as married to him though she wasn't, but she didn't want his ghost about. It was upsetting.
Still, he'd gone now and it was time for a good wash. One of the things Jock had liked about her, Minty was sure, was that she was always spotlessly clean. Of course, she'd had a bath this morning before going off to Immacue and she'd washed her hair; she wouldn't dream of leaving the house without, but that was eight hours ago, and she must have picked up all kinds of dirt from Harrow Road and the people who came into the shop, not to mention the clothes they brought that needed dry cleaning.
It was lovely having a bathroom entirely to herself. She said a little prayer of thanks to Auntie as if she were a saint (which was a way Minty had seldom thought of her when alive) every time she went in there, for making that possible. Dear Auntie, thank you for dying and leaving me a bathroom. I'm ever so grateful, it's made a world of difference. Your loving niece for ever and ever, Araminta. She took all her clothes off and dropped them in the laundry basket with the lid. It was expensive having more than one bath a day. She'd have a shower put in when she could afford it. One day, though not as soon as she'd hoped. Meanwhile, standing at the basin on the bath mat, she used the big natural sponge Sonovia next door had given her for Christmas.
Like everything else in the bathroom, the nailbrush had been Auntie's. It was turquoise blue with a handle, which meant you could get a good grip on it. Minty scrubbed her nails. She had brought this hygienic measure to a fine art. It was no good just rubbing the brush across your fingertips, you had to insert the bristles on the outer edge right under your nails and move them rapidly backward and forward. She washed her feet last, taking care to get plenty of soap between her toes, then using the nailbrush on her toenails. It was Auntie who had said soap was disappearing from the shops. Mark her words, the time was coming when you'd not be able to find a decent cake of soap. It was all this gel and essence in bottles these days, and powder stuff and cleansing bars, not to mention the soap that wasn't soap at all but a cake of something stuffed full of rosebuds and seeds and bits of grass. Minty wouldn't have given you a thank-you for any of it. She used Wright's Coal Tar as she always had.
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.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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