The day dragged on and on. I wanted to just skip class and find Patrick, but I didn’t think he’d be at the tree if I turned up early. So like a good girl I went to all my classes. Even Monsters. They were still talking about ghosts. I was not in the mood. I was full of joy and love. The last thing I wanted to hear about was ghosts, and how they visited the living in the hopes of talking their souls with them.
It was raining outside. I’d never before had reason to attribute emotions to the weather. Not until today.
Skipping lightly between puddles and dodging through the sea of umbrellas with my little see-through plastic umbrella, I made my way after class to the tree. I wondered where Patrick and I would go instead, once we’d met up. We couldn’t stay out in this rain.
Looking ahead, I couldn’t see him at the tree. Damn. He wasn’t there yet. That would mean a little bit of cold wet waiting in the rain. But at this stage, nothing could get me down.
I reached the tree and turned around, and scanned the park. No Patrick anywhere. It was okay. I could wait. I had waited over twenty years for this feeling. I could wait a little longer.
Half an hour later, cold, with wet feet, I was fed up. I stomped back to the bus stop, and hid my tears beneath my umbrella. He hadn’t come. I’d stood there for half an hour, waiting for him, and he never turned up.
Had I dreamed him up? Had yesterday even happened? I had felt so connected to him, and yet he had just stood me up. Was he playing me for a fool?
Once again, my parents didn’t even notice my mood when I entered, even though I slammed the door. This time the sky was so dim and grey that there weren’t even pretty lights to cheer me up in my room.
After crying myself to sleep, I found myself dreaming, and well aware I was dreaming. But I didn’t snap out of the dream, as I usually would in these circumstances. I was standing before the tree, and the park was covered in fog. I threw my umbrella down angrily. It wasn’t fair. Even in my dreams I couldn’t escape the despair of not knowing where Patrick was.
Suddenly all the fog cleared, revealing a flat grassy landscape that went on forever. The sky was filled with stars. Behind me, the tree still stood, a lone shape in the flat landscape. The moon shone in the sky, and its beam, like a theatrical spotlight, shot down to highlight the approaching figure of a man with a guitar.
I was too mad to face him, even in a dream. Especially in a dream. I hated that my dreams were tormenting me with his unreal face. What I couldn’t have in real life, I shouldn’t be cursed with in dreams. But even as I tried to walk away, I found him before me.
‘Mary, I’m sorry.’
‘I’m not waiting for you again. I feel such a fool!’
‘Mary, please! Wait for me again, tomorrow. Give me another chance.’
‘You’re just a dream. You can’t ask me to do anything.’
‘Then maybe I’m a message. And the message is, wait for me again.’
‘A message, in my dreams? You know I don’t believe in magic.’ I sighed, exasperated. ‘No, what am I saying? You don’t know. Patrick, the real Patrick knows that I don’t believe in magic. You’re just a figment of my mind.’ I tried to walk away.
‘Then why can’t you enjoy my company, even if I’m not real?’
‘I’m hurt,’ I said, spinning back around. ‘I believed so much in you. I felt like we had something strong, something... I dunno. I don’t believe in past lives –‘
‘Maybe you do –‘
‘No, I don’t. I don’t believe in past lives, but if I could describe meeting you, it was like meeting someone from a past life.’
‘Don’t worry. I know for certain we didn’t meet in a past life.’
I screamed in frustration. I wanted desperately to wake, but I couldn’t. Why was my head doing this to me?
‘Please, Mary. I’m so sorry.’
‘What do you want?’ I sneered at him, keeping my eyes closed.
‘I want to play you my music.’
I opened my eyes and stared at him wildly. He stood, looking slightly frightened by my glare. ‘What?’
‘I want to play you the songs I wrote you, even before I had met you.’
He sat against the tree and gently touched the strings of his guitar, checking they were in tune. They were, perfectly, and the notes rang so clear, as if there was no barrier of skin or ear to muddy the tone. It was in my head.
Though only seconds ago I had been defying him, now I tamely sat beside him, and looked at him neutrally. He avoided my gaze and focussed solely on the guitar. He began to play.
I relaxed against the tree and felt a gentle breeze roll over the starlit plains. He just played and played and played. I hadn’t expected him, or anyone indeed, to put so much feeling into simple notes. But he could, and he did. I could tell he’d spent years composing, practicing, perfecting these pieces of his. They merged into one another seamlessly. I wasn’t sure how long, in real time, we spent there. It seemed like it was forever, and yet, when it was over, it was far too soon. I fell asleep in my dream world. But just before I did, I was sure I felt his lips press against mine.
When I woke I felt so peaceful. Exactly how he had wanted me to feel.
Now, I told myself. That’s crazy-talk. That wasn’t really him in the dream. That was my imagination.
But the dream was still so vivid. I could still hear the music he played. I could still remember the major motifs of the pieces. That was odd. I could remember. I’d never been a composer in my life, but if I had been I would have written down the music as soon as I could. But all I could do was hold on to those sweet notes for dear life.
And so it was that my dream had completely obliterated my anger and, unbelievably, convinced me to wait once again for Patrick Finnegan Lloyd. I got out of bed and opened my curtains. The sky was clear. This made me feel a little more confident.
I could hardly eat that day. I was so nervous about turning up again at the tree, only to be left alone. I was so worried about being made a fool of. Had he hypnotised me the other day only to make fun of me from some hiding place?
I hardly paid any attention to my classes, and left my last one early, unable to contain myself anymore. The sun shone down as I very nearly ran into the park. Hardly looking around myself, I made my way, crushing daisies as I went, to make it to the rendezvous point.
He wasn’t before the tree. I stopped at the trunk, breathing heavily. I didn’t want to turn around. I wanted to keep running.
‘Mary!’ the most familiar and beloved voice in the world called softly from a small distance behind me.
I waited for him to approach me. I could hear his breathing and feel a tingle in the space between our bodies as he stopped, his feet making hardly any noise. ‘Mary, I’m so sorry about yesterday. Will you allow me to explain?’
‘Yes,’ I said coldly, still not turning. ‘Yes, I think I deserve an explanation.’
He walked before me, catching my hand as he did, and he sat. I sat with him, a little reluctant. He kept a hold of my hand as he stared into my coldly angry eyes. ‘It’s another weird thing.’
‘I’ve come to expect that of you.’
‘Well, I hope you understand then, in this case. I’m a little bit obsessive-compulsive sometimes.’
Oh yes, I understood. How couldn’t I? I had only spent all of those Shakespeare lectures hating his guts for sitting in MY seat. I could hardly concentrate because I was so mad. But that wasn’t because I was OCD, at least medically speaking. It was because I was an angry bitch, plain and simple. ‘Well?’
‘I have this thing with rain. I hate it. I really, really hate it.’ He looked very genuine, and very vulnerable. ‘Do you understand?’
I took a deep breath. ‘Yeah. I do.’ He smiled, but he still looked as if I was going to hurt him at any second. ‘Why do you hate the rain so much?’ I asked.
He shook his head. ‘I can’t explain. I just really, really do.’
It was fair enough. There were things I couldn’t explain either. Like why I was so damn angry all the time. But Patrick was fixing that. And I couldn’t explain my strange and insanely fast attraction to him.
‘I was so hurt.’
‘I thought you might be. I’m so sorry. I wanted desperately to be here. Honestly. I was trying to find a way to get to you in one of your classes. I looked for undercover walking. I looked everywhere. I couldn’t find a way to get out of the music school and over to the English department. Next thing, it was time to meet you, and all I could do was stand at the door and feel torn.’ He laughed, but it was a sore, hurt kind of laugh. ‘I must sound ridiculous.’
‘Not at all,’ I said, quite honestly. I shuffled over to sit at his side, so that just our sides were touching. He looked at my shoulder with that odd look again. The one where he looked as if he was amazed I existed. ‘I understand your hang-ups, Patrick Finnegan Lloyd.’
He pulled me into him with one arm. I could easily forgive him his strange habits. He had OCD, the poor thing. Besides, that was over. Today, there was no rain, only sunshine, and underneath his protective arm I felt my anger and pain dissolving already.
There was a lot more talk that day, but I can remember hardly any of it. He listened to me talk about my classes, which ones I liked, which ones I hated. He was surprised that I hated so many of them. I didn’t tell him about seeing him in my dream the night before. I didn’t want him to think I was crazy. I was beginning to think I might be.
Only one thing happened to sully my sweetness that afternoon. Climbing through the far reaches of park, obviously in a rush to get to class, a girl came shooting past us and heard us talking. She turned around and gave me the weirdest look ever, like she thought I was crazy. And, remarkably, she just stood there staring at me.
Patrick’s calming influence suddenly vanished from me. ‘What the hell are you looking at?’ I snapped at the girl. She ran off, looking disturbed. Patrick pulled me back to him.
‘Mary, Mary... leave the kid alone, forget it,’ he gently chided.
I sighed and bit back the small flame of anger that burned within me. I didn’t like being told what to do, but I guess Pat was right. With him it was silly to pay any attention to the world around me. And soon I forgot about the girl. Patrick barraged me with questions about myself. School life, home life. Whether I had a part-time job (I didn’t). Favourite music, favourite authors. I hardly got a chance to speak in between all his questions, and I hardly got to ask him the same questions of himself. But it didn’t matter. His presence was like a sweet kind of drowsiness, making me forgetful, calm, and warm.
I couldn’t believe I had found him. Bar the anger and sadness of yesterday, before I had met him I had been so frightened of life. I had no idea what direction I was heading in. But all I knew now was, he had to be a part of my life. I hadn’t known him very long. In fact I’d hated him only two days ago. But now, if I were to lose him, I’d feel as if part of me were torn away.
That feeling increased as time passed. Lucky for me, the rain made very few appearances over the next few weeks. I met Patrick every afternoon, and I came into university on the weekends, under the pretext of doing extra study. He was my secret alone. My parents never had any idea. I had no friends to confess in. But I didn’t mind so much. I liked him to be my secret. I never quite realised how big a secret he was.
We never did anything much. Sometimes he just held me under the tree while I read (or tried to read) a book I had to study. Sometimes he read over my shoulder, and sometimes, with play scripts and sometimes novels and poems, we would read different lines out in turns. Sometimes it was just talking, and somehow he always managed to get me to do all the talking, as he asked me all about myself. Quite a few times, it was purely silence.
It never struck me as odd not to have a cell phone number from him, or even a landline, or an email address, or a home address. We only ever met under the tree, except for a few times when he attended my Shakespeare class. It didn’t strike me as odd, these things, because I had been off the social scene for so long that the regular rituals of the present – texting your boyfriend, or ‘Facebooking’ him – those things just didn’t occur to me. I didn’t even have a Facebook account, and it had been a huge struggle for my parents to get me to use an email account and a cell phone.
But in a way, it was completely unnecessary for Patrick and me to communicate with phones. Because... though I felt crazy to think about it, I saw him every night in dreams. Always under the tree, and playing his guitar.
He was changing me. I realised after a while that his voice and his music were weaving a spell over me. He was making me into a calmer, sweeter person. During the day this dream-spell persisted. Over time, I hardly noticed the large crowds which amassed in important throughways. Once upon a time I would have been cursing them all black and blue in my head. But now I was so forgiving. His silent day-presence and musical night-presence were filling me with energy and healing.
Is this what he had meant by magic? Was he some kind of wizard? I was beginning to lose my conviction that magic didn’t exist, and the conviction that the Patrick I saw in my dreams was just a figment of my imagination. No way could my own head come up with the tunes he played for me every night.
I thought of a way to test him. I thought maybe I could hum one of the major motifs from one of his songs. I practiced a little, but my voice was hardly up to the challenge. I let go of the devious plan. I didn’t want to embarrass myself by humming an awkward and mutilated form of the beautiful music he had written... no, he hadn’t really written them... right?
I wasn’t sure any more.
And I wasn’t sure that it mattered. Because if there was some hidden truth underneath our relationship – if you could call it that – I wasn’t sure I wanted to know it. Our meetings, our embraces, our conversations; all this was some innocent kind of magic I didn’t want to break. So what if I was literally “under his spell”? Being enchanted was the best feeling I’d ever experienced in my life. No mere facts could touch that.
Not even the most horrible fact that I was to learn in that period of time. I went to the doctor’s appointment my mother had set up. The doctor ran all the tests. I went home, not expecting to hear any real news from the affair. But a week later the results were in. My parents both came to see the doctor with me again. While they cried, I simply stared at the wall charts in the doctor’s office, calmly staring at the exposed bones and muscles in a large diagram of the human body. They all thought I was on drugs, considering how calmly I took it.
I was considering not seeing him that day after the diagnosis. I didn’t want him to see in my eyes the truth I wanted to keep from him. But I wasn’t sure that I could make it through the day without him.
Then the choice was made for me. By the sky.
I sat through the last class of my day, listening to the distant roar of rain pouring on the roof. I was hardly concentrating, but that was okay, because today was a presentation day anyway. Some people had volunteered to act out scenes from Hamlet, and they were doing so down at the front of the class. I broke away from my reverie at the window for a moment to watch one particularly engaging group of actors speak.
One guy, rather short, sidled up to two other students and greeted them. “Welcome, Horatio: welcome, good Marcellus.”
They weren’t too bad after all. One of the two replied to him, “What, has this thing appear'd again to-night?” I wasn’t sure where they were in the play. I thought I had studied it to death with Pat. But maybe I was too distracted by his accent to hear the actual words.
The first spoke again. “I have seen nothing.”
I fought desperately to place the scene as the second spoke again;
“Horatio says 'tis but our fantasy,
And will not let belief take hold of him
Touching this dreaded sight, twice seen of us:
Therefore I have entreated him along
With us to watch the minutes of this night;
That if again this apparition come,
He may approve our eyes and speak to it.”
And will not let belief take hold of him
Touching this dreaded sight, twice seen of us:
Therefore I have entreated him along
With us to watch the minutes of this night;
That if again this apparition come,
He may approve our eyes and speak to it.”
Then the one who had not spoken yet said, “Tush, tush, 'twill not appear.”
But then I lost track of the scene, for an ingenious idea had come to me. I wasn’t sure if it would work, but I would give it a try. I had to see him.
As such I spent the rest of the class in a daydream, until finally, my heart beating just a little faster, the class ended. I couldn’t wait, and so I burst through the door with the rest of the lemmings. Once out of the building, my umbrella shot open and I was running, splashing through puddles, hoping beyond all hope to find Patrick today. I needed him today, of all days.
The music school was on the other side of the campus, but I got there, starry-eyed with hope. I’d never been in here before, but I was absolutely determined to find him no matter how long it took. In the shelter of the doorway I retracted my umbrella and approached the reception.
A kindly woman with a little too much makeup was there. ‘How can I help you today, dear?’
‘Hi,’ I said, a little breathless. ‘I’m not actually a music student. I was wondering if you’d know where I could find Patrick Finnegan Lloyd.’
The woman tipped her round face to one side and gave me an odd smile. ‘Oh,’ she sighed sweetly, still smiling at me. ‘You precious thing. Come with me.’
Her reaction was a bit weird, but I followed her as she came out from the reception desk and started down the right hallway. I followed, looking at the walls of the music school. Photographs, posters, awards. This was Patrick’s place. That thought cheered me. I wanted to come here more often. I decided I would do so on rainy days, if he’d let me. I wanted to be a part of his world.
It took quite a while, and the whole time, the receptionist didn’t say anything. But eventually we came to a large set of double doors. She peered through a tiny peephole. ‘Oh good, the room’s empty,’ she said. That seemed a little mysterious to me. I looked at the sign on the door. RECORDING STUDIO ONE. ‘Hardly gets used, this one,’ she told me as she pulled some keys on a lanyard from her pocket and unlocked the door. ‘Except by the most senior students.’ I smiled confidently. If Patrick was in here, then that meant he really was one of the top students here.
She held the door open for me, and I walked in, eagerness in my step. But the room was truly empty. I turned around to look at her. She pointed to a spot on the wall behind me. ‘There he is, dear,’ she said.
I turned to the wall again. After a moment’s pause, I approached the guitar mounted on the wall. It was painted in different colours and motifs, as if by many hands. I read the plaque on the left of the guitar. I looked back at the guitar. It was painted by all his fellow students. Soaring rainbows. Angels. Butterflies. Birds. Clover and leprechauns. The sun, the moon, the stars. Messages: ‘You were the best we ever had’ ‘I’ll miss you and your Bob Dylan impression’ ‘Forever loved’.
‘What happened to him?’ I managed to say, somehow, summoning some reserve of strength I had no idea I had.
The receptionist came to my side and stared up at Patrick’s guitar. ‘He stayed really late one night to record some songs he’d been working on for a very long time. This was the first recording studio to be introduced in the school. So unfortunately, some crooks set their sights on the equipment in here. They didn’t expect Patrick to be in here when they came to steal everything. In their panic, they...’ she paused here, and knew she didn’t need to finish.
‘Did they ever catch the burglars?’ I asked.
She nodded slowly. ‘You see, the recording equipment was still on when they entered. So their voices were caught on in recording.’ She tapped a shiny fake fingernail on a small electronic screen below the guitar. ‘The police took the original recording as evidence, but the song right before he was interrupted... it’s here. Would you like to hear it?’
I nodded tearfully.
She tapped play.
I knew already what it would be. But it was still a shock to hear that tune being played, from so many years ago. It was exactly the same as it had been in my dreams. I looked up again at the plaque, and the photo of him just above it, black and white, but him nonetheless.
PATRICK FINNEGAN LLOYD
1950 – 1973
I looked at his guitar. Around some of the painted dedications I could see the dents and scrapes of the struggle. It was the same guitar he had been playing when he wrote his songs for me, long before I had been born. And this, playing now, was the song he had died playing.
The song cut off, and the recording cut off at the sound of the door being opened. But no words. Good. I didn’t want to hear him confronting the men who would kill him.
‘Thank you,’ I whispered to the receptionist. Then I ran out of the room.
I ran. And after about a minute of running in the rain, I put my umbrella up and slowed down. I couldn’t run anymore. I hadn’t the strength. But I walked fast, knowing my destination and wanting to get there as soon as possible.
I pushed through crowds, with strength that my radioactive body shouldn’t have. I was angry, yes, but that was an anger born of raw and terrible fear. I didn’t care to hear what anybody had to say as they screamed and shouted at me. I just ran for the black-fenced park.
I didn’t care if I was ruining my shoes or pants as I ran through the muddy grass of the park, completely ignoring the paths in my desperation to get to the tree. I didn’t care how many stares I was getting. I didn’t care anymore.
Sooner than I was ready for, I was standing before the tree. I swung around, and there he was.
I knew then why he couldn’t go out in the rain. I could see full well what he was in that moment. His body shimmered, an illusion, as the raindrops moved through him, destroying any possibility that he might be real.
‘What do you want with me?’ the words came screaming out of my mouth before I could stop them. I tried to calm down, but my mouth was running away from me. ‘You’re what – a ghost? So why are you haunting me? Have you come to take my soul?’
He looked down sadly. ‘It’s what I thought I was supposed to do.’
I was chilled to the bone. That, I hadn’t expected. ‘What do you mean?’
He looked at me pleadingly, but his eyes were a blur. I could see the raindrops behind them. ‘Just listen, please. It’s a long story.’ He moved forward and touched my arm. How is it he could touch me? He pulled me under the shelter of the tree, and his body became a little more substantial. But the occasional raindrop ripped through his body, distorting him. He began his long tale.
‘When I died, I found myself still here. No heaven or hell, just here. For a while I panicked, and acted like a poltergeist in the music school. No one could see me or hear me, but they knew I was haunting the department. Eventually the whole music school was exorcised, and I couldn’t go in there any more.’ He looked down here, as if that thought greatly upset him. ‘But by then I had calmed down somewhat and began to accept my second life. I had no guidance from others of my kind, so I had to find a purpose for myself. And I decided that, since I was still here, and I had died in a violent attack on the university, that it must be my purpose to defend the university and its students and staff. I couldn’t let something like my murder occur again.
‘So I took to patrolling the university. I can read people’s intentions. I can see them as colours. Bad intentions are dark, and they ooze like something organic. Whenever someone’s thinking of breaking into an office, or stealing a student’s bag, or something like that, I can sense it, and I can try and do something to stop it. Most of the time I have to haunt the perpetrator, and though they can’t see or hear me, they are distracted enough to dissuade them from committing the crime.
‘Of course, occasionally, I have to kill, in someone’s defence.’
His look darkened here and he looked me straight in the eye. ‘I saw you, Mary. Your heart was pure black and anger was radiating from you in dark colours, like tentacles touching everyone around you. I could feel you thoughts. You were murderously angry at people for the most trivial things. I didn’t seek to understand why. I just thought I would have to destroy you, before you snapped and... and did something like a shoot-out or something crazy like that.’
I looked at him, bewildered, speechless. Had I really been that angry? He thought I was going to kill people? Never! But had I truly been that angry? I couldn’t believe it. Sure, I’d had enough reason, I felt. Some people were so inconsiderate. Some people wasted their precious lives on partying and drugs and not studying. Some people didn’t realise how truly fragile life was.
Some people didn’t deserve to live.
My God. He was right.
But he kept going before I could speak. ‘I began trailing you, planning to strike when you were in a completely isolated place. But on the day I planned to take action, you spoke to me. And suddenly, as if you’d never turned that side to me before, from within the heart of blackness came a blossom of light. The light reached me, and it has never left since. We are connected, Mary.
‘So I got to know you. Within just a few minutes of us talking, I felt my influence destroying all the darkness in you, wrapping you in my light. I found myself unable to break the connection. I didn’t understand it.’
‘The strange look you gave me!’ I started, and he looked at me, alarmed. ‘In class, when I spoke to you...’
He smiled grimly. ‘You are the first person who has ever spoken to me, or even seen me. So naturally, I was very surprised. I tried to cover my surprise.’
‘I never guessed.’
‘But that wasn’t enough to convince me. I was still thinking it was my job to destroy you, until you grabbed my hand.’ I remembered his strange look then, and every strange look since then. ‘You shouldn’t have been able to do that. We shouldn’t be able to touch. I mean, look.’ He held his hand out to the rain, and it was distorted at the drops of water shot through him. ‘The rain can’t even touch me. So why can you?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘That’s why I asked if you believed in magic. I wondered if you were a witch, or a fallen angel, or something that shouldn’t exist, like me.’
I realised so many things in those few seconds. Why people had looked at me strangely, as if I was crazy – they thought I was talking to myself. Why Patrick spoke in the past tense so often. And why, I realised, he had wanted to hold me, and touch my hand, my face, my hair. He hadn’t touched anything, animate or inanimate, in almost forty years.
‘We met for a reason,’ I quoted him, reaching out my hand to him.
He took it so eagerly. Yes, it was touch he missed. And I could remember him asking if he smelled. No wonder I couldn’t identify his smell. He smelt of magic. ‘That’s what I began to realise. Even if you were just ordinary, whatever reason you could see me, you were the only person in the world who could see, hear, smell, touch me. You’re the only person who knows I exist. So I began to think that maybe I wasn’t kept here to protect the university. Maybe I was kept here until I could find you.’
He pulled me towards him, the top of his head moving straight through my very solid umbrella. But me, he could hold. He wrapped his arms around me. ‘I became more certain as the horrible colours left you, replaced by bright light. I have to protect you from yourself. Even just that day away from me, when it rained, brought back some of your angry colours. I don’t know what has done this to you, Mary. But I am determined to stay by your side and make sure no evil enters you again. Do you think you could bring yourself to sacrifice this aspect of your life, and love a man who doesn’t exist?’
Sacrifice? What was he talking about? I wasn’t giving up anything by loving him. I was doing the one thing in life I felt absolutely sure about. But perhaps he meant that I would have to sacrifice the conventional things: introducing him to my parents, my friends; going out on conventional dates; getting conventionally married. Then I realised the big one – children. I probably couldn’t have his children. But I didn’t mind so much. There wasn’t enough time for that. He didn’t realise what a sacrifice it was for him to be with me.
‘You do exist. To me.’
‘I’m serious, Mary.’
‘I know.’ I leant my head against his chest, scared for just one silly moment that I’d go straight through him. ‘The dreams?’
So it was all real. For some reason, he and I were connected, and that couldn’t be broken. Except by what I had to say next.
I took a deep breath. I wasn’t sure if I had the bravery to tell him. But he deserved to know.
‘I know your secret now. It’s only right that you know mine.’
He looked at me, scared, but more for me than for himself, as I knew he would be. In his eyes I felt as if I was the most precious thing in the world. God, I didn’t want to tell him. I wanted him to be happy, and live with him for a long time. But time was what I didn’t have.
There was an evil growing in me, for the second time in my life, but this time, it was one he couldn’t defeat.