Chasing Ghosts

Hugh Blackthorne
Feb 23, 2019 · 4 min read
Photo by Adam Wilson on Unsplash

Ever since you left, I can empathise with ghosts, even fall in love with them. Unattainable, distant, fantastical ghosts — my favourite.

Time is supposed to heal all wounds, but only if you’re lucky. The unlucky carry wounds in weary hearts and minds that a lifetime, or several lifetimes, are not enough to overcome. Perhaps it’s a weakness, this vulnerability, but at least I can feel love, grief, and murky things slipping by: dark shadows in deep waters.

Can you still feel too? You did, once. Too hard to look old wounds in the eye, acknowledge them — leaving the void of us behind, footprints lined with salted tears.

The East Coast Main Line snakes north, through the rolling green landscape sweeping down to the sea beyond my window — through memory, toward our lonely ghosts caught rough on the glowing sandstone of Edinburgh’s Georgian buildings.

Ghosts are in the crags beneath the castle, perched up on Arthur’s Seat, blustering down Rose Street, stuck in the cracks of Stockbridge’s rain-dampened red tenements. They hide between the rounded cobblestones in front of quaint mews houses around the corner from your flat. They tread the paths we once walked on warm summer evenings.

Early summer sun dazzles off the water, casting off winter’s piercing shroud, but even so, I shiver.

The train draws into Waverley Station with its high Victorian ridge and furrow glass roof, providing shelter from weather, but not from time. Spectres of our reunions linger in train stations across Britain. Here, your kisses still bite my lips.

Now, I’ve come for respite. For peace. Returning to this place, a pact can be made with our history, to make space for living.

But oh the taste of you and oh the burn of you and our urgent days and more urgent nights imprinted in my skin. Muscle memory. Crisp shirts and silk ties fall.

Do you remember? The ghosts do. I’m coming home — coming home to you.

We used to kiss and burn and melt at the station. One mile on foot, and an indulgence with the taxi to allow for wandering hands and impatient kisses.

The din of the city falls away and it’s you and it’s me and nothing between us.

And we’re in the flat, caught in each other, sinking down to the broad Persian carpet in front of the hearth, and all I see is crimson and you clutch me while I pull you close, closer — closest. We’re blurred round the edges, undefined.

Oh those ghosts peek in your window, over the rosemary hedge beyond, tap-tap-tapping on the glass.

After comes the basking and poetry, Heaney and Lorca. We take turns reading languid words. I browse the dusty classics lining your shelves. You look through my European Neolithic archaeology books.

Spanish wine and jamon fuel us, sharp cheeses from the shop up the street, sweet grapes from the market. We live on picnics, survey Edinburgh at night, and dream before shadows creep.

‘Hello,’ we say to Sir Walter Scott’s statue, keeping sentinel.

We’re by the water; we’re in Old Town. We sit beneath painted ceilings, drinks in hand. Though there’s no need for aphrodisiacs, oysters on our tongues, lost in I-love-you’s.

Pacing Edinburgh a decade later, I say hello again to a damp Sir Walter Scott, who waits with our ghosts. They walk with me as I do the rounds.

‘Go on,’ he says. ‘Go on.’

Do you feel the pull of me, come from two oceans away? What would time have done to us if you hadn’t disappeared? More rainy afternoons with newspapers and coffees? More stories of my digs and your legal cases? More dreams of travel to dusty ruins — Italy, France, Spain again?

Bittersweet nostalgia has left me adrift in stories and unintended consequences, recalling Cambridge spring, Spanish summer, Edinburgh autumn, Canadian winter. Punting, rioja, festivals, ice.

I dream of Andalusian nights together in cotton sheets, midnight blues molten over Cordoba.

So, mine is an official haunting — an affinity for ghosts and lonely walks and the ancient, silk and cotton and rosemary.

Look how far my life has taken me from the one imagined.

I try to find a way through this, through so many things I can’t bear. Through things I suspect you wouldn’t have been able to face — because you were a ghost yourself by the end, translucent and ephemeral, nothing but a pale face in my dreams.

Ghosts compel me to write about you. Maybe it’s a certain sort of madness, a fixation. I know this official illness well now. Certified.

My objective mind is pragmatic: forward motion is progress.

My artistic heart is primal: without feeling, there is no life.

How can I trust this madness that’s taken so much of me? Where is my ghost? Lost and wandering in Edinburgh, Cambridge, London? Visiting Spanish cathedrals with yours?`

Even so, I’ll take the cost of you, the pull between worlds and whispers and dreamy days together. Go on and mourn this thing, this fabulous thing that once lived. Go on and embrace our spectres. Now, I’ll walk alone down rain-splattered Rose Street, amid the fragrant botanical gardens, linger in the hum of Old Town.

I’ll keep on falling in love with unforgettable ghosts a world away — another lifetime away.

I’ll tell our story.

Back on the train to London, gliding south, there’s no respite even after days of walking in Edinburgh. Ghosts are caught up in me, carving deep marks in my bones like rings in ancient cedars, lost in mist. They leave me new, impossible lovers who come and go at will.

‘Go on,’ I whisper to our ghosts. ‘Go on.’

I’m left searching and roaming, waiting for something I had years ago, waiting for surcease, waiting and wanting once more for love.

The Mad River

Hugh Blackthorne

Written by

Likes the words and old things.

The Mad River

The Mad River is a literary journal of the strange, the faerie, the insane, the experimental and occasionally snarky. Poetry, writing, stories, and flash fiction brought by the river from the deepest part of the forest. Let water, words, and madness flow.

Hugh Blackthorne

Written by

Likes the words and old things.

The Mad River

The Mad River is a literary journal of the strange, the faerie, the insane, the experimental and occasionally snarky. Poetry, writing, stories, and flash fiction brought by the river from the deepest part of the forest. Let water, words, and madness flow.

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