Reaching into the Gaps
by Mike Hickman



The possessed linen bin stood on the landing between the ottoman and the wardrobe. It was only right, I think now, that odd notions occurred to people there, because that’s where time and history and incident had gathered in the house. The ottoman containing every school uniform any of us had worn going right the way back to the early 1980s. And the rickety wardrobe that, for the longest time, contained Pete’s stuff after his room had been emptied. When he’d not exactly moved out but had stopped coming home of a night. Any night.

It’s like they say, those people who’ll tell these tales: memories and emotions get stored up in the floors, walls, and ceilings. In the very bricks of the building. And once stored, if you are receptive, and if you know how, they can be replayed.

So why shouldn’t there be memories and emotions stored up in a sticking plaster pink linen bin alongside the used underclothes and the snotty hankies?

You’d want the evidence, of course, and I understand that. I do. And it comes in a form that your sceptical self is, I appreciate, unlikely to find as compelling as photographs or documents. It’s in the reaction. They say that children and animals are more receptive to echoes from the ether, and we saw that. We did. John standing there, four or five years of age, staring at nothing on that landing. We’d seen it in the cat, too. Sooty, freaked, his tail frizzed like a sparkler, in precisely the same spot. But this was different. Not least because John could speak.

Oh yes, we could have asked him what he was looking at. I’m sure mum did. Just as I’m sure he answered her. But there was also what he said without prompting. The conversations he had with the man he saw standing there.

“It’s dark,” the little boy said one time, and if that’s not enough to already have the hairs uprooting themselves from the back of your neck, I don’t know what is. “Why is it dark?”

Before you ask, the light was on. I wouldn’t go up there without the light on. None of us would after a few instances of Conversations with the linen bin Zuul.

We’d have to guess what the replies were, of course. Like listening to one half of a phone conversation. They do say, you know, that there is nothing more distracting than hearing half a phone conversation. Your brain tries to fill in the gaps, no matter what ought to be more important at the time.

So, yeah, I’d try and fill in the gaps. Perhaps we all did. Maybe some of what we learned was reassuring. It’s not the kind of thing we talk about much, you know?

The man by, or even in (why not?), the linen bin clearly told John it was safe. That he had nothing to be frightened of. And, yeah, the first few times we heard one of these spectral tête-à-têtes, it was clear that John was reassured by what he was saying.

It was dark, but no harm would come to him. There was a way out. A line John repeated, almost to the point of mantra. There was a way out. There was.

It didn’t matter that his mother hadn’t heard him. That she hadn’t come running. The man said that, too, even when she was standing right there, listening to her son’s response. When I was standing beside her that time, too.

It didn’t matter that it was dark and they hadn’t come. It would be alright, the man was saying. I was as sure of those words as I could be, reaching into the gaps in the conversation, watching the boy sometimes mouthing the reassurances back at the spectral denizen of our over-sized plastic washing basket.

It would be alright.

But, no, no, you’ve not got it, have you? That wasn’t the reaction I meant. Admittedly, a kid seeing something beyond our realm is a trope we all understand. If such a thing happened in front of us – provided we didn’t suspect he’d been put up to it or had seen stuff on the telly he really shouldn’t – we would all move that bit closer to believing. But that’s not what I mean.

I’m surprised you didn’t read about it. It was in the paper.

When the wardrobe toppled.

That’s the reaction I mean.

When we found John too late, but he was so sure things were going to be alright.



a line


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