This story is by Veronika Jordan and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Ellen had just turned forty-two and knew deep down that love and life had passed her by. She was destined to be an old maid with a cottage in the country, two ‘we-are-Siamese-if-you-please’ cats called Ming and Koko and a recently deceased, blue and white budgie who had never said a word.
She knew she was a cliché, a spinster – what a dreadful word – making love potions and knitting tiny matinee jackets for other people’s snub-nosed, gurgling babies. She was unremarkable to look at, although not unattractive. Long, fair, wavy hair with a life of its own, tied back with a silk scarf – too long her mother would have said for a middle-aged woman.
She still felt young but her peri-menopausal body clock told her otherwise. Her skin was smooth, her figure quite trim and any cellulite was well-hidden beneath her ubiquitous knee-length shorts. And a floaty top can hide a multitude of bodily anomalies like stretch marks; only she didn’t have any as she had never had children. She would have given her right arm for those stretch marks.
She had inherited her cottage in the fall of 2014 from a maiden aunt named Lydia that Ellen had never met. She was her late father’s sister. Maybe her aunt chose her because she recognised a kindred spirit. The cottage needed a lot of work – she should have sold it really – but Ellen adored the garden. Her aunt had grown herbs and vegetables and there was an abundance of roses.
Ellen’s mother, Sarah, was very fond of roses. Her favourite variety was called Ena Harkness, so she planted a rose bush and a climbing variety and dedicated them to her. There was also a William Morris, a Benjamin Britten, a Shakespeare and a Wise Portia. She knew her mother would approve. In fact she would have preferred to have had a rose named after her than the OBE she received for services to the Government. She hardly remembered any of it these days. Ellen faithfully cut roses from her garden once a week and took them to the nursing home, but Sarah rarely recognised her daughter any more. Sometimes she even called her Ena Harkness.
Ellen’s patio overlooked the rose garden. At this time of year, her second fall in the cottage, when the leaves are turning gold and brown, the scent of roses was overwhelming. She used the rose petals in her favourite silly love spell. She kept a list of the ingredients pinned to the cupboard door. Rose petals from her favourite rose bush, honey and sugar for sweetness, her favourite drink and a pink candle. She read out the spell.
‘Place the rose petals in the shape of a love heart, put your hand over it and say: “Me and my love shall be together, as I love him so he loves me, so shall it be.”
‘Placing the petals into a glass, tip the drink over them, letting them soak for a few seconds. Finally, pour the drink into another glass, sprinkle some sugar into it and a drop of honey for sweetness. Sending your energy into the drink say the name of your beloved over and over.’
It obviously never worked. Maybe it was the Prosecco (her favourite drink) or that Ellen never remembered the pink candle. Or that she didn’t have a beloved to name.
One night she sat in the garden on a balmy late September evening and made up the potion. She knew in her heart of hearts that it was only fantasy but she could still dream. She drew a sacred circle in the dirt with a stick and called on the four elements to give her power. This time she remembered to light the pink candle, placed the rose petals in the heart shape, made up the ‘magic’ potion and chanted the rhyme.
Almost at once, the fallen leaves began to rustle. She could smell the scent of the roses in the borders and on the wind as it blew towards her. Somewhere above her an owl hooted. Tiny lights twinkled in the trees and bushes. Pop went the light. Pop went another. And another. Then just as suddenly they ceased. But she knew something had happened. Something new and different. She had awoken for the first time.
It was about a fortnight later that she heard a voice. Softly at first but then louder and clearer. His said his name was Jack.
From then on she made up the potion every night. She drew the sacred circle and called on the four elements to give her power. She never forgot the pink candle. Sending her energy into the drink she said the name of her beloved over and over. Jack. Jack. Jack.
She had fallen in love with a ghost.
‘I’m sorry to intrude. I live next door. I heard voices. I thought I heard you say the name Jack.’
The man was tall with dark hair, just starting to grey at the temples, and the complexion of someone who works out of doors a lot.
‘My grandfather Jack died nearly thirty years ago,’ he continued, ‘We scattered his ashes at the bottom of our garden only now they are in your rose garden. When you inherited the cottage from Lydia you inherited the last ten feet of our garden which she bought off my dad some years ago so she could plant more roses.
‘My dad was never sentimental about stuff like Jack’s ashes. He said he was long gone. But I used to sit and talk to him when I was a boy – Jack I mean. I would never have told my Dad. He’d have thought I was nuts. Oh and just to warn you, his beloved Jack Russell Amber died six months later so her ashes are there too.’
‘Ah! That would explain the occasional barking. I thought one of the neighbours had a new puppy.’
‘Amber was sixteen and a half.’
‘I’m not an expert on canine barkology.’
‘Clearly. Anyway, don’t I get a cup of tea or a glass of Prosecco with sugar and honey?’
‘You’ve heard it all then.’
‘Don’t worry. I’ve seen and heard it all. I was a merchant seaman for a few years. I can even show you my tattoo.’
‘Another time maybe. I’ll put the kettle on.’ Ellen could hardly keep from blushing a mottled pink which rose all the way from her chest and up to her cheeks, leaving her looking like a packet of mixed marshmallows.
‘I make pots now,’ he called after her from the garden. ‘Out of clay and stuff. I work in the garden mostly but I have a kiln in the kitchen where I fire them.’
‘Somehow I didn’t expect you to be a stock broker or an estate agent.’
‘Good job too. I’m crap at figures. Oh and I’m thinking of getting a puppy soon. I hope you don’t mind.’
‘Will it be a Jack Russell like Amber?’ Ellen was very confused. It was like talking to Jack only it wasn’t Jack.
‘No I thought I might get something white and fluffy with a pink bow in its hair.’
‘Now you sound just like Jack. Teasing me I mean.’
‘My dad always said I was like him. Arrogant, flighty, handsome, but with a wicked sense of humour. That’s why my second name is Jack. My first name is Arthur by the way – thanks for asking.’
’Just joking. But you can call me Art. Like Garfunkel. See you around Ellen.’
That night Ellen couldn’t sleep. Life was a mystery that’s for sure. Having given up on love a long time ago she couldn’t work out her feelings. She had trusted Jack. Loved him even, if it’s possible to love a ghost. But he wasn’t real and Art was. She would ask Art for a photo of his grandfather next time she saw him. She bet they looked the same.
Then an awful thought struck her. Was it really Jack she had been talking to? Or was it just Art playing around?
No matter. She knew something had happened. Something new and different. She had awoken for the first time in years and this time she wouldn’t let it go.
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