Photo by Teddy Kelley on Unsplash
I wrote this bit about six and a half years ago for a writing assignment but ended up writing and submitting a story I liked better. This one has stayed hidden away until now.
In humble tribute to the poet James Thomson
The ghost, who was not a fellow to presume on anyone, slid into the room. The room, once bright and filled with the vestiges of its occupant, now lay empty. Its door, once opened and shut with purpose, stood permanently half-open, a testament to the house’s emptiness. The ghost took advantage of this, funneling himself through the crack. He didn’t want to be a nuisance, but he wanted company.
In the half-lit dimness the chairs crouched around the bed, and the writing desk creaked aimlessly. Melted candles stood here and there; bulbous wax clung to them. An errant draft lifted the curtains. The ghost drifted in, casting melancholy eyes around. He ran his long fingers through his hair.
“Oh bed!” he whispered. “Bed, won’t you tell me your story?”
The bed was silent a moment. “But you’ve heard it before,” it grumbled. “I’ve told you at least ten times in the past month. I’m old and worn out you know!”
“But I am lonely,” said the ghost. “Tell me.”
“Very well.” With a groan and a heaving sigh, the bed began.
“I was made one hundred years ago, in a carpenter’s shop, the finest carpenter in all of Virginia. He gave me a special place in the back of his shop, and he worked on me day and night, for I was commissioned by a certain young man for a wedding gift for his new wife. She was lovely, she was! Her hair hung down nearly to her knees when it wasn’t coiled and curled in top of her head. So many gowns she cast on me, when I was newly settled in their house. I lived in a room at the top of the house, in a place where sunlight hit me every afternoon. I didn’t mind, though some other beds might have complained about bleaching; for it was such a lovely thing to be there and to be used. And how they used me! I saw many things there, many things that not even you, ghost, have seen in your lifetime. Do you know what it is like to feel the weight of a pregnant mother, to hear her screaming, to feel her shake and shift on you, and then to hear the crying of the infant as it is born? To feel the two nestle on your mattress, to sleep? This and many things have I known. I have heard her laughing with delight at the charm of her newborn, and I have heard her singing it to sleep. How many nights have I heard this!”
“But I wax too sentimental, I fear. It is a sorry habit of mine.”
“No no!” said the ghost, curling himself closer into a transparent knot. “I like it. Do go on.”
“Very well. It was I who welcomed her first and second and third child, and it was I who welcomed them in the night when storms came and they were afraid. It was I also who felt the dreaded presence of illness creep into the room, reaching for the Woman with its crippling grasp. I felt it, and I rebelled, but what can a bed do? It found her and laid her out, and I received her.”
“Laid her out?” The ghost fiddled his fingers nervously.
“She died. Within a week. It was quite sudden. I heard the master talking about it. She was never well after the fourth one was born, and I never knew why. It is a strange thing how beds always seem to observe, but they can never explain.”
“But you’re explaining now,” interjected the ghost, in a timid mutter.
“I’m telling you my story!” insisted the bed. “May I continue?”
“Please,” replied the ghost, and subsided.
“She died on the third day of December. I felt her weight sink into me when she died. Shortly after it was gone, and I was alone here with all the chairs and all the mirrors reflecting the emptiness. He didn’t want to come in for a while, master didn’t, and I don’t blame him at all. It is a hard thing to enter a place you’ve been a thousand times before and realize what is missing and that it will never return. He loved her dearly, that I know. I’m only a bed, after all, but I do see things. You know I do.”
“Of course,” answered the compliant ghost.
“He came back after a while, he did. Along with two stone-faced females with dusters and cloths, who tackled the place and gave such a good rubbing, I can still feel my boards sometimes where they polished me. Such vigorous arms, those women had! Have you ever met such women, ghost?”
The ghost, who had been gazing out the window, snapped back and murmured a barely audible no.
Thanks for reading!