Despite my losing the “battle of the bonfire night party” I knew that the war was far from lost and that I had made great progress and what was now more important than anything else was to pick very carefully the battles I chose to fight.
A victory however small was still a victory and therefore was invaluable.
So, during the month I chipped away at the immovable object that was Julie, in small subtle ways and I felt I was making some progress, but as well as I felt I was doing I couldn’t quantify it.
I couldn’t measure my success unless I could get Julie and Paul in the same place at the same time.
I had absolutely no idea how I could manufacture a circumstance that would bring the two of them together and I was left with the feeling that it would take divine intervention to get them together and as it turned out I was right.
We were almost at the end of November and Julie had made so much progress she was hardly using the stick in the house even to get upstairs although she still took it with her whenever she went out, but it was extremely unlikely that she would ever be free of it entirely.
She had made progress in other ways as well, she seemed less frightened of the outside world and had started to take a daily newspaper again and one morning a radio appeared in the kitchen.
We had taken to spending every evening together where we spent the time playing chess or cards and we would chat casually on a variety of subjects though I would often try and steer the conversation into areas I wanted to explore as part of my long-term strategy but quite often we would just listen to the radio.
It was during one of these very pleasant evenings, that I came to enjoy greatly, that events took a change of direction.
There had been a ferocious autumn storm battering the cottage all day, the storm was so bad we had to switch the radio off because the reception was so poor, and it was as we were sitting playing chess when there was an almighty rumble and crash outside.
“What the hell was that?” Julie said gripping the arm of the chair until her knuckles went white.
“I’m not sure” I said standing up. “I’ll go and investigate”
“Well, be careful Harry”
“Unless it’s the Ghostbusters I think I’m probably safe” I said giving her a bemused look.
I transported myself outside and for the first time since my death I was not sorry to be dead the weather was just awful with a fearsome storm was blowing the rain horizontally and I was grateful not to have to feel it
It didn’t take long to find the source of the almighty crash, the gale had uprooted an old horse chestnut tree and dumped it into Julie’s garden missing the cottage by a few feet.
I walked the full length of the tree to find the root end and which sprang up out of the darkness about ten feet the other side of the crushed wooden fence that marked the boundary between Julies garden and the land owner responsible for the removal of the fallen tree, Paul Warwick.
I smiled to myself and then looked up to the heavens and nodded in admiration.
When I reappeared in the cottage the room seemed to be empty.
“Is it safe?” Julie asked.
I couldn’t see where the voice was coming from at first then I found Julie hiding behind her armchair wielding her cane like a weapon.
“What are you doing behind there?” I asked incredulously “Of course it’s safe”
Then she came out from her hiding place suddenly feeling rather foolish.
“I was scared” she added meekly.
“Well there’s no need to be” I reassured her
“What was that noise then?” She asked urgently
“The storm has brought a tree down and the good news is, it missed the cottage, but your shed is only good for firewood”
“Is that all? I knew it would be something simple like that” she said, suddenly confident again.
“What should I do now?”
“Well, have a mug of cocoa and go to bed” I said
“No about the tree, I mean”
“There’s nothing much you can do about it tonight, just have a good night’s sleep and phone Paul in the morning”
“Paul?” She asked coyly.
“Yes Paul Warwick, it’s his tree, he’ll arrange everything”
“Oh” she said disinterestedly
“But don’t worry you won’t have to see him he’ll do everything by phone”
“Oh” She said trying to hide her disappointment but failing.
The next morning Julie and I went outside to inspect the damage in the daylight, Julie in her dressing gown and wellies and me in my revolting red jumper, though Julie couldn’t get very far due to the tangle of branches, so she went back inside.
When I had finished my inspection, I went back inside myself and found Julie standing in the kitchen, her mobile phone in front of her, tapping the counter with the edge of a business card.
“He won’t bite you know” I offered “Unless you want him to”
I laughed to myself, but she apparently didn’t hear my little joke.
“I said he won’t bite you know”
“What? I’m not worried about talking to him that’s a preposterous suggestion”
“So, what’s the problem?”
“There isn’t a problem, I was just thinking that’s all” she said then she picked up her mobile and keyed in the number.
“Hello, its Julie Molesworth here, is that Mr Warwick?”
All the time she was talking she was fiddling with her hair with her spare hand which amused me greatly.
“I’m fine but I have a bit of a problem I have a rather large tree laying in my garden”
She noticed me watching her, scowled and turned her back to me.
“No, the house is fine”
“Oh yes that would be fine”
“Ok thank you, bye”
She switched off the phone and put it down.
“Well that sounded quite amicable, not scary at all” I said.
“I wasn’t scared to talk to him” she retorted.
“So, what was the outcome?”
“He’s coming around this morning” She said matter of factly “in about an hour”
“Excellent” I said, “That is good news”
Julie nodded her agreement.
“And I think he’s just going to love your outfit” I said, and she gave me a puzzled look, then glanced at her dressing gown and muddy wellies, and looked back at me again though the puzzled expression had been replaced by panic.
“Oh God” She exclaimed then kicked off left boot, so it flew across the kitchen, a technique she was unable to employ with the other boot due to the bad leg.
So, she sat down and lifted her foot off the floor and shouted.
“Alright calm down” I said as I removed her boot.
“Yes calm” she took a deep breath “Calm is good”
Then she jumped up and rushed out of the kitchen, she was still unable to run despite the progress she had made but she covered the ground quite swiftly anyway.
She reappeared forty-five minutes later looking much more presentable in a smart skirt and blouse and I noticed she was wearing makeup.
“Is that better?” she asked.
“Very smart but you really didn’t need to go to all that trouble for me”
“I didn’t” she replied shortly.
“I did it for….” She tailed off
“For Paul Warwick? Is that what you were going to say? Why on earth would you care what he thinks?”
“Shut up” she said and tried to punch my arm playfully but not for the first time her hand went right through me and she nearly fell over.
“That’s really annoying Harry” She said when she had straightened herself up “I hate it when that happens”
A little over ten minutes later Paul Warwick’s Landrover pulled up in the lane outside the cottage.
Julie was looking out the window as he got out of the vehicle and opened the gate but instead of coming to the front door he went straight to the site of the damage and out of her line of sight, so she went into the other room which afforded her a better look and she watched on as he clambered up onto the fallen tree and then he disappeared down the other side.
“I don’t think he’s going to come in” she said still trying to catch sight of him amongst the branches.
“Oh, he’ll be in when he’s done” I said
It was obvious, if only to me, that he hadn’t rushed round to the cottage on a job he could quite easily have delegated only to go off again without fulfilling the real purpose for his visit which was clearly to see Julie.
Julie spent the next five minutes craning her next to get a better view then she moved away from the window and headed back to the kitchen just in time to see him heading back up the path to the gate.
“He’s off now” She said unable to hide her disappointment.
She went back into the sitting room and sat down in her chair and I just didn’t know what to say I couldn’t believe I’d got it so wrong I would have put money on it.
I sat down in the chair opposite her and tried to think of something clever to say.
“Well it’s probably for the best, it was bound to end in tears”
“That’s not helping” she said flatly, and I was just about to say something full of wisdom in response when there was a knock at the door.
Julie opened the door to find a rather dishevelled Paul Warwick the other side of it.
After a brief exchange of polite greetings Julie invited Paul into the kitchen with the promise of coffee and then she turned to look in my direction and mouthed “Not you”
So, I sat alone in the sitting room for the next twenty minutes trying to decipher words from the low rumble of conversation interspersed with small bursts of girlish laughter.
I had just come to the conclusion, that as I was a ghost I could have been in the room with them all along and she would never have known, when the kitchen door opened, and Paul walked through.
“So, the guys will be here first thing tomorrow” He said as he opened the front door.
“And I will see you later in the week”
“Ok thanks Paul, bye” Julie said then closed the door.
“Well?” I said
“Like you weren’t in the room eavesdropping all the time” She implied
“No, I was not” I said suitably indignant even though I would have been if I’d thought about it sooner.
“Oh, sorry Harry” she said and went on to fill me in on the bones of the conversation doubtless leaving out any of the flirtyness.
Paul was sending a crew round to cut and clear the timber which due to the size of the tree would take two or three days.
Then he would return and assess the rest of the damage to the garden, something else that could easily be delegated I thought.
The next day was the 1st of December and the men were hard at work cutting up the fallen tree and I thought to myself as Julie came down the stairs that she looked like a different person, her body had been getting stronger day by day for weeks but now there appeared to be a new spark within her, a new hope.
I just hoped I was right about her and Paul, because I feared if that spark were to be extinguished again it would never relight.
I had just returned to my reading when she said, “Hi Harry they’re a bit noisy aren’t they?”
“Harry!” she repeated then she shouted
When I didn’t answer she picked up her cane and poked the book I was reading.
“Oh hello” I said.
“I’ve been talking to you, are you deaf?”
“Not exactly I turned the sound off, so I didn’t have to listen to the racket outside”
“You can do that?” she asked, and I nodded.
“Cool” She said “Unfortunately I can’t do that so I’m going shopping for the day”
“Great don’t forget the decorations”
“Decorations for what?”
“Christmas” I said “It’s the 1st of December the advent calendars go up today”
“No, no, no” She said firmly “I don’t do Christmas”
“Why not?” I said shocked
“I don’t like Christmas” she replied
“Why don’t you like Christmas?”
“Well let me see, it’s a waste of money for one thing”
“The whole thing is just a sham, people don’t even believe in what they’re celebrating and if you believe what the papers say half the country don’t even believe Christ existed” She stated angrily though at the time I was unsure quite what she was angry about, whether it was the season itself or peoples’ ignorance.
“Well that’s just nonsense we know from the Romans that Christ existed, they were great record keepers the Romans, people might argue that he isn’t the son of God or that God himself doesn’t exist but they can’t deny Christ’s existence” I said but I don’t think she was really listening, it would not be the first time I’d lost the attention of the person I was conversing with, boring conversation was a bad habit of mine throughout my life and apparently after my death as well.
“And what do you believe?” She asked more calmly.
“I believe in the whole nine yards, Father, Son and Holy Ghost” I said trying to lighten the mood without success.
“What about you?”
“I must believe in him because I hate him so much” she retorted and with that she slipped on her coat and picked up her bag.
“I’ll see you later” she said and left.
I knew from the start of this exercise that she had some serious issues in her life but what I didn’t know was that Christmas was one of them, if in fact it was.
Perhaps her dislike of Christmas was actually masking something deeper, only time would tell unless I were to push the right buttons.