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Bright Young Things

Ghosts, light humour and serious beliefs, item 10

Gardner was known in our quiet village as a man with a peculiar interest in ghosts. I would see him sitting in the window of the pub as we walked past on the pavement, a drink in his hand, looking quite the gent. My mother, a woman deeply afraid of anything not contained with the walls of her home, would bow her head and walk in the street if she caught sight of him. With a quick little shuffle she would step off the pavement, grinding the joints of my hand in her white knuckle grip. I would turn and wave, stumbling over my feet as my mother dragged me down the street behind her.

He would always tip his hat and smile.

Our village had the basics: green-grocer, butcher, chemist; but by the time I was a young man, you had to travel for proper kit. Saturday morning half the village would walk to the station for the early train into town. Though by that time it had been several years since Mr. Gardner had been able walk further than the shops near his home.

I have no idea why I stopped. I stepped off of the pavement and onto the porch without a thought, pounding on Mr. Gardner’s door like I had a right to be there. Had my mother known she would have pitched an epic wobbler, pinging off the walls like some demented pinball only to take to bed with “nerves” after.

He wasn’t the least surprised to find me banging down his door, seeing’s how he opened it with a hand-written list and a fistful of notes.

I returned to Mr. Gardner’s home that evening, skint but loaded down with books and packages from across London. He met me at the door with a smile, doddering as he led me from the front to a half-buried kitchen table at the back. I left him his things and was well on my way to the door when I turned back. “Why? What got you started in all that?” I pointed to the bags and packages from Treadwells, Atlantis, Watkins and half a dozen other places I am never able to remember.

He grinned. Over tea he told me the story. “I had a beautiful car. A 1962 Ford Anglia. Lovely little thing. I was driving along Longcross Road with the windows open, nice summer’s day, when I came ‘round the corner to find myself head-on with Delage Tourer packed with bright young things in their finest. Three of them were standing with their heads and shoulders above the windscreen, all in fresh, new uniforms and evening suits, scarves blowing in the wind. And they were singing. I swerved onto the verge and came to a bumping stop just to see their car weave across the road inches from my fender and slam into a tree. Before I could get out of the car they had disappeared.”

“Come on, now. You’re just taking the…”

“No,” he held a trembling hand in the air, “I swear it. Never drove after that. Every time I came near the car I would see that Delage Tourer smashed against thatt tree, those bright young things scattered across the macadam and then just… gone.”

It became a routine. Every other Saturday I would stop, take his list and notes into town and get a story in return. Eventually though I would drift off, first college, then university. I was a grown man, back in the village to for a long put-off visit, tugging my own uncooperative son down the pavement when I saw Mr. Gardner again. I stared at his unlined face as he brushed passed, his wool suit fresh in the summer heat.

I stopped dead on the pavement, turned my head and waved.

He tipped his hat and smiled.

Ghost, Spiritual Or Historic Stories For Pubs And Restaurants