Julie- Ann Corrigan
My mother though, has been dead for sixteen years.
I’d spoken only to my younger brother of her visits. I began recounting our mum’s late night drop-ins from the time he was a baby, and as he grew older it seemed natural to continue. Jason never questioned me; he always believed. It brought a closeness that was sometimes, lacking.
Theresa Molineaux died giving birth to Jason. I was fourteen and been waiting for a sibling for most of my life. Often I would wonder that if I hadn’t talked incessantly of wanting a brother or sister, my mum wouldn’t have had another child. And wouldn’t have died.
‘We both wanted another one, Angelina … it just took a while for the whole conception thing to happen to us a second time,’ Dad had said.
I was never sure if I believed him.
With Jason in my arms, I cried silently at mum’s funeral thinking, if you weren’t here, Jason, Mum would be alive. But I loved him, which was just as well because in all but name I became his mum. As I threw the wet, sticky soil onto the wooden box that held mum’s body, I promised her that I would look after him.
And that was the first time I felt the smooth cool fingers of my dead mum, pushing a rebellious brown curl back behind my ear. Afterwards, this only occurred at night, in bed, with the lights down and me in the twilight zone of semi- sleep. It always happened then.
I wish I hadn’t listened to anyone. Giving up work at three months pregnant wasn’t a good idea. I was healthy, full of energy, with far too much time – time that led me deep into my head. And that was a place I didn’t like visiting too often, because here was where I questioned my ability to be a mum.
I’d never been one for ‘going for coffee,’ but boredom and restlessness changed my habits. I was grateful when a group of women befriended me. It was the beautiful Brazilian, Giselle, who after pouring green tea suggested flippantly we try having an Ouija. As we all gulped the murky liquid, only I appeared reticent.
I don’t know how it happened, but it was decided that we ‘have a go’ around my house the next day.
Mum had visited every night since her death; but she didn’t visit the night before the Ouija.
My new friends arrived, making themselves very comfortable very quickly. They seemed at ease with each other, but suddenly my own home felt uncomfortable.
‘Shouldn’t we have done this in the evening?’ I asked.
‘It doesn’t matter … does not have to be dark.’ Giselle scanned my lounge. ‘Might be an idea to close the blinds though.’
‘Giselle, I’m not sure about this …’ It seemed a few of the other women had felt the same way. Only Giselle, Florence and Florence’s au pair, Miriam stood in my lounge.
‘Oh, stop worrying. It’s not serious. Now girls, is there anyone you want to get in touch with?’ Giselle said.
No one said a word. Giselle looked at me.
‘Angelina, seeing as you’re the hostess – you should go first.’
The other women nodded in vigorous agreement.
‘But I don’t know what to do … might be better if someone else goes first?’
‘No, we insist.’ Her gaze took in the other two women. ‘You first.’
It dawned on me this was the real reason I’d agreed to something I knew was wrong. I wanted my mum to speak. I wanted more than an ethereal touch. I thought of Jason and what he would say, bloody hell, Ange, you don’t mess with stuff like this. Sensible Jason.
Giselle ignored my hesitance, understanding my deeper need. She was already pulling out the board from her designer metallic bag.
‘Have you got a wide-rimmed glass? Giselle asked.
I rushed into the kitchen, beginning to understand how domineering she really was but obeying anyway. I wanted to tell them to go, to leave. But I couldn’t. Forever the follower. My hand touched my growing stomach. I hadn’t wanted a baby, not yet, but everyone told me it was a great idea, ‘something of your own.’
My lounge looked eerily different with the blinds closed in the middle of the morning. Giselle produced a candle from the bag, placing it next to the Ouija. She then lit it.
‘We all need to be quiet.’ Miriam said, theatrically. The silent au pair was now leading the show. Because for me it was a show. That is what I kept telling myself, trying hard not to feel apprehensive. I thought of my motherless night. Mum never said anything on her visits. She didn’t need to; I knew it was her by the blast of spicy perfume that I’d grown up with; the calming presence and the sublime serenity I felt in the moments that she moved my hair.
Why hadn’t she visited me the previous night?
The four of us sat down and placed a hand on the glass.
Miriam’s face was blank. The flame of the candle grew in size.
Giselle’s face became animated. I realised I knew nothing about any of these women who sat on my floor, used my house; understanding with a jolt of familiar emotion, which I hadn’t felt since my unhappy school days, they were using me and my home.
‘I can feel it, I can feel it,’ Miriam said.
The flame of the candle was now massive and the colour a strange green hue – as if someone had added sulphur. The aroma overpowered the strong smell of the Lavender flowers that sat in my windowsill. I got up to open the window; Giselle pushed me back down roughly. Then the flame returned to normal and the smell disappeared.
I looked up from the board. Not wanting to. Terrified of what I might see but hoping I would see my mum again.
And standing motionless at the back of my lounge there she was. My mum.
I took an intake of breath, trying to smell spicy perfume. But I smelt nothing, only the burning aroma of candle and a hint of sulphur.
The loneliness of the past sixteen years overwhelmed me and I registered my sorrow at what Jason had never had – our mum. But she was here now. Standing so near. Finally, I could admit her nightly visits were real.
Her upper body was shadowed by something that didn’t appear to exist. I was desperate to see her face and rose from the floor. The others were silent but when I glanced at Giselle, I saw a slow smile beginning to spread across her chiselled features.
My hand touched my stomach. I’d been waiting weeks for the first movement; then I felt my baby. The wriggling became persistent, almost punching me from the inside. I was aware of my baby’s distress. With a surge of quickening love I talked to my baby, using the same calming voice my mum had used with me.
But what was wrong?
Because something was wrong. Very wrong. As much as I needed to believe this thing in front of me was my mum, everything inside of me was telling me it wasn’t.
Whatever had been shadowing her face had now disappeared.
I didn’t want to look but I did.
I looked directly at her face and stepped back in sickening panic as I peered at what seemed to be … an undefined image of myself.
There was no spicy smell, no calming feeling. My baby moved rapidly inside my body – as if trying to escape. Although the feeling of dread was palpable – the fourteen-year-old girl in me waited for the apparition to raise an arm and touch my hair. It didn’t. And when finally I peered into the soulless, empty eyes, I knew why. This wasn’t my mum. The smile was alien; the demeanour unlike anything I remembered.
I looked towards my supposed friends. They smiled knowingly. They had done this before and knew how dangerous it was. I was their entertainment. Pampered women’s entertainment.
I yelled at them, and at the thing.
‘Get out, get out of my house. Leave me, and my baby alone.’
My baby moved violently again. The dim light began to fade. I had finally said what I wanted to say and inside my head told my child I loved and wanted it.
But then I lost sense of all reality.
* * * * *
I woke up in a small room. I knew I was in hospital – the melange of antiseptic smells was too strong for me to be wrong. My husband slept in a chair. I moved my hands towards my stomach. The memory of the demon, and the women, clear in my memory.
I had lost my baby. The demon had taken it.
And then in the room’s half-light I smelt the spicy smell. My sadness a thing alive and living within me.
For the first time in sixteen years I saw the face of my mother.
She sat on my bed and slowly stroked my lank hair.
‘Don’t worry sweet Angelina, everything is fine.’
I smiled through tears, ‘Mum, it really is you. This time it’s you?’
‘Yes, my darling. It’s me.’ She continued stroking.
‘My baby, mum, – it’s gone. Everything is my fault. Letting those women in my house … ’
She placed a hand on my stomach, ‘No, your baby is still here,’ she patted the mound, ‘and happy – happy that you will be her mother, Angelina, as Jason has been happy for you to be his mother – you’ve done a good job with him, Ange.’ Her use of Jason’s name for me made me smile.
‘But what about the demon…?’
‘The demon doesn’t exist – only in your head – the demon is you, and maybe your so-called friends. It, and them, represent your fears and anxieties, your insecurities. You won’t be seeing it, or them again, I can assure you.’
My mum visited me only once more after that night.
It was five months later. I watched as mum stroked my daughter’s unusual mop of hair. The spicy scent much milder than I remembered. No word was spoken.
I didn’t see or smell her again. My peace exonerated her from further visits. But she was always there, somewhere, on the edge.
Julie-Ann Corrigan has had a number of short stories published including one in Bridge House Publishing’s Devils, Demons and Werewolves. Two of her stories were chosen of the Best of Cafelit 2011 and she has been shortlisted and commended in short story competitions. Her first historical novel is currently seeking an agent and she is currently working on her second novel.