Tuesday, April 1, 2008

a spirit in the dust

rosa, Frau Karl DrschkiMy hotel room in Helsinki was unusually voluble during hours of darkness, with soft thuds, chattering and distant tumbling sounds, none of which could be put down to neighbourly nocturnal activities. I guessed they came from the minibar, the air-con system and the ice-bucket - it all seemed amicable and out of sight.

My paternal grandmother’s house had areas that one didn’t see. They weren’t specifically out of bounds, you just didn’t go there (tins, drawers, an ottoman, cupboards, shelves, rooms even). The front of the house never seemed to get any sun and this was made all the worse by the thin grey soil, weakling grey forget-me-nots and ancient scrawny black-barked rose trees that in spite of never seeing secateurs and grandma’s pursuing the milkman for his horse’s steaming droppings, never seemed to grow any larger. I can't ever remember even seeing weeds growing there. There was a cold and game-less park beyond, walled-in by enormous plane trees. However, the back garden was a sun-bathed haven of colour from early Spring to late Autumn (there was and there was a wish-you’d-paid-for overpowering scent of lilies-of-the-valley on humid April evenings), all save for a sycamore corner that played home to an aerial sprit. I rarely stayed over. When I did, it was always in the large front bedroom – I refused the smaller room as only I knew that it was also evilly haunted.

The sycamore corner lay below the gable-end of the neighbour’s outbuildings. It was guarded at ground level by a perimeter fence of cat-shit – the cats ventured no further than this communal warning. The malevolently shaped gable whined even when there was no wind. This was not a threatening spirit, it lived over the fence and was just a back garden annoyance that was best ignored. There was also an almost life-size Venus which peered over the fence from the garden of the adjoining house, and which, to my uneducated eyes, looked as if it were waiting to be moved to a cemetery to join its owner when she eventually left this life.

The small front bedroom was home to an evil spirit that lived in the dust on top of the wardrobe – sleeping by day, but chattering, scraping, whispering and puthering by night. I spent just one terrifying evening there until darkness finally drove me out, and having to threaten to sleep under the clothes mangle in the garden shed allowed me to be ushered into the sanctuary of the ‘guest bedroom’ next door. From then on, whenever I could (not often, as this room became one of the places one did not visit), I sought to terrorise the spirit by sneaking into its room in daylight hours and beating hard on the wardrobe, threatening with a duster and shouting at the top of my voice. My grandmother could never understand this behaviour and held lingering doubts about my sanity right up until she left this world – “this house is not haunted!” While the spirit did its best (but generally failed) to be heard through the bedroom wall whenever I slept in the guest-room, for luckily it was sedentary – itself imprisoned on an inhospitable dusty plane in an abandoned room. I wonder if it is still there or whether it moved on with the house sale…

One of the ancient roses that occasionally struggled into bloom in the front garden was called Frau Karl Druschki (aka Snow Queen; first propagated in Germany on 1901). A near-white rose that belied my grandmother’s wars-worn attitude towards things German but itself abandoned in a sunless garden. I doubt it is still there - and Google Earth renders it in total shadow...

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