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Invisible Community

by Steve Moran 5 months ago in Short Story

You can't always believe your own eyes...

We all looked out of the window when Dad said, “He’s in the tree again.” As far as we could see there was no-one there.

“Who?” I asked him.

“You know. It’s that man in the flat cap. He climbs the tree, and sits on the branch.”

Dad would say things like this in a matter-of-fact way. He saw people that we didn’t, and they were his companions. He wasn’t upset by the fact that we didn’t see them, because to him they were so obviously there.

“That boy came into my bedroom again last night.” he said. He didn’t sound surprised. He was just updating us on what had happened in his life since we saw him yesterday. “He didn’t say anything. He just sat on my bed.”

“Has he been to see you before?”

“Oh yes.”

It didn’t require any explanation. The obvious never does.

We’d be talking about the family, about children and grandchildren, and Dad would look out of the window and say, “Hello, he’s on Mrs Atkinson’s roof again.”

“Who is?”

“That man who walks on Mrs Atkinson’s roof.”

“Is it the same man who climbs the tree?”

“No,” he would say, patiently and kindly, as though he was explaining something to a small child. “He’s a different one. I think he must have used a ladder to get up there.”

“Is he there often?”

“Just sometimes.”

We learned to accept these observations as though he’d said, “It’s raining today,” or, “Look, there’s a bus,” because there was no point in arguing. He knew what he saw, and the fact that we didn’t see it didn’t alter his perception.

Sometimes I felt like someone who was colour blind being told about colour. It must be there because so many people say it is, and the fact that I can’t see it didn’t take away from its reality.

“He’s waving now.” Dad waved back.

We did argue with him at first. “Dad, there’s no-one there.” “Where exactly do you see him?” “Are you sure?”

But there was no point in trying to be so overbearingly rational. He knew what he saw, and he didn’t doubt it.

So we would nod our heads in agreement when he said, “He’s walking though the long grass now” (there was a field next door, with long, uncut grass). And then we’d carry on with our conversation.

The appearance of these characters was regular and consistent. And none of them could be identified by us as being people he’d known during his life. If he’d said, “Oh look, Aunty Lucy is in the garden,” we’d have concluded that he was hallucinating about dead relatives that he’d loved.

But no.

These figures were anonymous. They were to him like people you’d pass on the street every day when going to work. You’d nod at each other, but you wouldn’t know each other’s names.

Dad had a diagnosis of early stage dementia. He would forget things and repeat himself, but he was still very much his own personality. However, to see the invisible neighbours who sometimes also came inside his house didn’t seem to fit with the dementia diagnosis.

So I came to suspect that what he was seeing were ghosts. That on his way out of his life the door to another world had been opened to him, and some of those who lived there were perceptible to him.

If he’d had any kind of control over it I’d have expected him to see Mum, the love of his life, and his sadly deceased life companion.

But he didn’t.

“He’s on the roof again.”

He either had an unusually creative mind, or he was seeing ghosts.

If he’d developed this talent earlier in his life then he would have been busy indeed. For over thirty years he was the landlord of a pub, in a building that had been a hotel since Victorian times. What ghostly characters might still be haunting that old sandstone building? It’s probably for the best that he didn’t see then what he was able to see now.

“They all came into the living room this morning.”

Was it his need for company? A gregarious man for all of his working life, he’d been alone in his house, incapacitated by illness, ever since Mum had gone into the nursing home. Was he creating the social life he craved? If so, I would have expected his creations to talk to him.

But he never said that they did.

“They just stood there. I don’t know what they wanted.”

Dad was a man of many words. As a pub landlord he’d spent his entire life in the public eye, talking to people, and he loved it. Everybody was interesting to him. He’d served royalty, prime ministers, famous musicians, local politicians, teachers, police, journalists, tradesmen and factory workers, and every single one of them was the same to him – a unique and interesting human being.

As a father he was rock solid, knowing who he was and what he believed in, and curiously, the greatest gift he ever gave me was that – beyond the age of fourteen - he never gave me any advice. At every stage of my education and my career he never claimed to know what was best for me. “Do what makes you happy,” he would say, and leave the choice to me. The outcome is that I have no-one else to blame for my life choices but myself. I had to come to my own decisions and make up my own mind. Dad never presumed to give advice outside of his own areas of expertise, which were pubs, beer, jazz, classical music and cooking.

Throughout his working life my Dad was too busy for close interactions with his eight children. I saw little of him throughout my upbringing, but when he retired – when I was in my thirties – I made up for it. For hours I would sit and chat with him, and I felt as though I was warming myself in front of a fire – or, better still, recharging my batteries from a master battery. He positively glowed with delight when in conversation. He had an inexhaustible supply of goodwill, of sheer happiness at meeting and exchanging with another human being. I can honestly say that the fathering I felt I missed out on when I was a child was more than made up for in the time I spent with him in his retirement. And it wasn’t just the anecdotes, the stories, the memories – all told in a professional and satisfying way – but it was also the glow, the radiance, the sheer bonhomie that radiated from him in the presence of another human being.

And now, in his old age, he was alone for the first time in his life. He’d grown up in a large family, married, and had his own large family. Then he’d retired with Mum, until she’d gone into care because of her dementia.

“He’s climbing the pear tree again. I hope he doesn’t break that branch.”

He didn’t.

Unsettling though these visitations were, after a while I began to feel glad about them. While he had (short) visits from carers three times a day, and (long) visits from family members daily, he was generally alone in the evening, and always at night. It seemed to me that the ghostly characters provided him with the company he so desperately needed.

“He’s on the roof again.” Then Dad would laugh and shake his head. What a character, whoever it was!

And if the ghosts visited him at night, he was none the worse for it. He would tell us about it the next day in the same way he might tell of a neighbour’s activities as seen through a window.

And as for the ghosts?

Maybe they needed a companion too. Maybe they, condemned to repeat actions connected with their lives, were happy to have an audience, were happy to wave at a human who could see them and acknowledge them.

But maybe it was more than that.

What if Dad, who gave so much of his warmth and companionship to customers, family and friends, was now, in the same way, giving of his substance to those who’d left this life, and who still craved human company, just as he did?

And maybe Dad, with his big, big heart, was happy to shine his comfort onto the ghosts just as freely as he did to the thousands of people who had bathed in his glow throughout his entire working and family life.

So is it any wonder that the ghosts actually wanted him to see them? That they showed themselves to him in order to share in his powerful presence, to bask in the attention which he so freely gave to all who met him?

But let’s take it one step further.

What if Dad was a magnet to them, to this incorporeal community, like a beacon that shines in the darkness? What if they were drawn to his warmth, to his immensely powerful personality, which radiated love, concern and interest towards all human beings, including those who were invisible?

And maybe they, like me, came to nourish themselves from the power of his regard, from his unwavering attention, and have their invisible soul-batteries re-charged from his own super-powerful master battery?

To you, Dad, we give our thanks, our deepest gratitude for all that you’ve given us – your children, your grandchildren, your great-grandchildren, and the invisible (to us) community that surrounds you.

Short Story

Steve Moran

I am a musician, actor, author, clown, artist and scientist. The whole world is my playground.

The written word is thinking made visible. When you read my stories you enter my mind. Please feel free to wander around in there!

Read next: How I Got My Powers

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