"Dad, there are no ghosts," said Rachel, putting her book to one side. "You told me so yourself, remember; when I was a little girl, and frightened of the dark."
John sighed and stroked his shaking fingers through his thinning grey hair. He remembered all right. He remembered as though it was only yesterday. "I know," he said, slowly rising from his ancient overstuffed armchair, allowing the circulation to relieve the pins and needles in his legs. "But you wasn't really frightened of the dark, was you?"
"I was you know," replied Rachel, a faint smile teasing her lips at the nostalgic recall. "Until you came and tucked me in and assured me that I was safe I couldn't sleep because of the dark."
"Rachel; you were afraid of the things you suspected inhabited the dark. Creatures' unseen, snaking around under the bed. Unguessed horrors skulking in the wardrobe. Monsters created inside your own young mind, an overactive mind with so little understanding of the real world. The difference here Rachel; is that I possess a very good understanding of the real world and I'm not in the least scared."
Watching her aged father winding up the equally aged mantle clock, Rachel felt enormously sad. He had once been so strong, in both mind and body. Now, along with his increasing frailty, she also feared his mental faculties had somehow become untethered. They appeared to be roaming free, blundering aimlessly through the cerebral nether regions where coherent reasoning lingered beyond his grasp. Where logical thought processes had become discarded, unfamiliar, functions.
The clock fully wound, John looked back at his fair-haired daughter, her blue eyes so perceptive, observing him, and wondering if her old dad had finally gone senile. She was his pride, his beautiful golden girl. By achieving a university degree she had surpassed his greatest expectations and from this educational springboard she had gone from strength to strength. Admittedly, she was no spring chicken herself now; but she was still an attractive woman and still relatively young. Young enough to misunderstand what he was trying to say, but he wasn't worried. He knew how she felt. This time last year, when her mother, Louise, was still alive, he would have felt the same.
"Dad, would you like a drink before we turn in? A cup of tea perhaps? Or how about, hot drinking chocolate?"
"Drinking chocolate would be nice."
"You go on up then, I won't be long."
It felt good having Rachel to stay, thought John, taking the stairs one at a time. It was also much appreciated by him and of little inconvenience to her, now that her own children had flown the nest and her husband, Farrell, was working abroad. Although, he wondered if he had done the right thing by telling her about the ghost. He should have known she would react with unwavering scepticism. After all, she was his daughter and although open-minded, perhaps asking her to believe in a ghost was asking too much. He halted at his bedroom door and wondered what she would say if he told her the ghost in question was her mother.
"Probably send me to the funny farm," he muttered, glancing at the night sky through his bedroom window.
* * *
Rachel thought she was becoming over concerned; she had said as much tonight when Farrell had phoned. Apart from her father's definite lack of energy, he seemed healthy until he started on about his spectral visitor. Then he sounded incredibly foolish.
"Ghosts!" She exclaimed, reducing heat as the milk began frothing. Am I to blame though, through my own neglect? She asked herself, stirring the chocolate. It could all be related to loneliness, she reasoned, her clinical mind searching for answers. Since mum died, and he did miss mum, they all did, he had become very quiet.
"Dad," she said, rapping lightly on his door.
"I'm decent," replied John, dispersing the moonlight spilling into his room by flicking on his bedside lamp.
"Do you need medication?" asked Rachel, placing his chocolate beside him.
"Not tonight," replied John, "but I'd like you to sit with me for awhile, if you will."
Rachel thought she glimpsed the hint of a tear in her father's eye, but when she looked again, it was gone. "Of course I'll sit with you." She glanced around the room as a sudden chill rippled over her, making her shiver. "Are you warm enough dad?" she asked, fussing with his blankets.
"You know me Rachel, I'm hardly ever cold." His eyes wandered to the open curtains. "She only ever appears in here you know. Nowhere else: just in here."
Rachel nodded. "So; this ghost is a 'she,' is it?" Changing tack, she attempted to humour him. "And what does 'she,' look like?"
John sipped at his chocolate. "Well; she doesn't look like anything really. I'm not even sure I'm meant to see her. Some nights, especially when the moon is full, tiny dancing particles, glittering and sparkling, drift in through the window: always the window. I watch them, suspended in the moonlight like flotsam. Then, they wander towards me; shimmering and glowing with an incredible luminescent brilliance you wouldn't believe."
"Go on," coaxed Rachel, the hairs on her neck rising along with her intrigue. "Then what happens?"
"I try to touch them; but they're not really there, or don't appear to be, but as if sensing my need for contact, they float nearer. I feel them, puckering my skin, tingling, causing cold flushes, the sensation rushing up my face, making my lips feel icy and numb. And I sometimes experience a spiritual connection . . ." John realized he had already said too much ". . . that gladdens my heart." He casually averted his gaze and sipped his drink.
Rachel hardly knew how to reply. Still pondering, she went and stared through the bedroom window, her own ghostly reflection looking back at her, fading as the moon appeared from behind drifting clouds. She knew her father wasn't mad, but did he really expect her to believe such nonsense? "And you say, this ghost, always enters through here?"
"Always," said John, between sips of chocolate.
Rachel drew the curtains, shutting out the pressing night, already feeling more comfortable. "I don't know dad. I'm concerned about you."
"Don't worry Rachel. I'm okay, honestly. I know I sound like a rambling unhinged fool; but one day, you'll understand, and when you do, don't feel bad, will you?"
Rachel smiled. Kissed her dad lightly on both cheeks. "Now who's worrying about who?"
John drank his chocolate, trying to disguise his spreading grin. Rachel was a good girl, the best, just like her mother. They said goodnight and as his bedroom door closed, a tear did form in the corner of John's eye and trickled lazily down his cheek.
"If only she knew," he murmured, dabbing his eyes before flicking off his lamp.
* * *
Toast, decided Rachel, as she carried her father's early morning tea up to his room. That's what she would talk him into having for breakfast, toast, with thick cut marmalade.
"Dad," she said, knocking lightly and entering. "Instead of cereal; why don't-"
She stopped, just inside the door. Golden sunlight flooded the room, shafting through the open curtains that she had closed the previous evening. She walked to her father's side, the sun dazzling her as she passed. He looked pale: ashen.
"Dad?" she said, placing his tea beside the half consumed mug of cold drinking chocolate. "Are you all right?" she asked, not really expecting an answer. She sat on the bed and tentatively, rested the back of her hand against his cheek. "Dad?" she said again, her voice trembling. He was cold to the touch: very cold.
Big salty tears appeared in her eyes, brimming over as she clasped his hand between hers. A soft painful weeping escaped her aching throat as she sat there for an immeasurable amount of time, the sadness inside her equalling that she had felt when her mother died.
Eventually, she brought her emotions under control, released her father's hand, wet with her own tears, and said. "I love you dad."
To avoid further upset; she prepared to leave. It was then that she noticed, on the floor, something glinting in the morning sunshine. She stooped and hesitantly, picked up a ring. A woman's gold wedding ring, with an inscription on the inside, reading it, she mumbled. "Love eternal. John and Louise."
It was her mother's ring. The very same ring she wore when she was buried almost a year ago, and nestling, barely visible among the worn engraving, were tiny glistening particles that twinkled briefly, before vanishing altogether. Rachel began crying again, only now, her tears were those of a different kind.