Black Ceilings 

Black Ceilings

Ricky lived in a house wherein his parents had spread seed for more than a generation. He was the prime stock, the elder brother, the one who, however long in the tooth, would take over from them when the death threat had worked itself through various layers of red tape.

The other siblings, some of indeterminate age, if not sex, clustered at the foot of the television, mooning up at the screen. They cared little for the future, except for the scheduling of programmes. However, a girl among them, Lucinda, had only one eye for the flashing screen in the corner of the parlour: the other eye being for the more hazy, slightly less understandable, gradually more noticeable flickerings in the opposite corner by the hallway door. Being the early Fifties, reception was brilliant in neither corner. None of it was in colour, of course.

Ricky knew about the master bedroom in the higher reaches of the suburban house, where his parents kept themselves to themselves. He was the only one allowed into its sanctity, where sleep was punctuated with fitful lovemaking: coitus quietus. Indeed, the movement of their limbs in the half-darkness was - to Ricky, as he came upon them from the landing - a cannibal's slow-simmering thick-cut stew. Breathless after the ascent of the steep stairs, he was eager to tell them of yet another sibling's arrival, yet one more set of eyes to feed, a further reason to buy a bigger television to prevent arguments over viewing positions.

The parents waved him out of the master bedroom, indicating the paltry postal order left on the tallboy by the oriental wardrobe: as if that were the end of their responsibility: and Ricky, with hangdog face, slouched back down the stairs towards the lower floors.

On the darkest landing of all, midway between the attic and the cellar, Ricky saw Lucinda in company with the haunter - a haunter being a full-blooded ghost that had "come out", without fear of the consequences. She had hitched her skirt to the upper thighs, lounging across several treads of the stairway, feet tucked up towards the buttocks. The haunter was equally relaxed, hanging from the false ceiling which a previous dynasty had built to prevent the stairs becoming frighteningly precipitous. Ricky could not be jealous but, being the elder brother, he felt responsible for any sibling's love life, especially when it involved the long dead. The haunter indeed seemed a trifle too laid back for its own good, as Lucinda coquettishly cocked her head in its direction.

"Be off with you!" Ricky boomed. The echoey darkness took the edge off his urgency. His voice became merely one more noise that time held endlessly in its maw: its only significance being in retrospect, when all the fateful twists and turns had been aggregated and assessed.

Ricky watched the black and white shapeless whirligig assume dominion over the stairway. The fuzz and static of false hopes, condemned, derelict dreams and misguided visions made the whole area throb with bewigged and bepowdered figures. Having escaped from a historical moment when heritage was only just beginning to possess self-perpetuation, these were the scions of the house, the long lost brethren who had knitted a whole skein of cousin arteries with few, if any, dropped stitches. It was a pity they had only twenty years in which to work and develop, since the house had only been built since just before the Second World War. During the London Blitz, ghosts had become more plentiful, but they were not of the right calibre, merely preening dandies, fancy dress pranksters and masqueraders of false-bottom history.

As ghosts always faded behind truth, Lucinda herself became another ceiling, straight as a die, a smooth white slope, with baroque scrolling as it turned corners: then mock stucco. Ricky descended to the television room and blew on the screen to brighten up the image. This was to allow the remaining siblings to see closer into the heart of things, where a tube swelled, a valve fluxed: a box of tricky delights: a cage of ghosts: and somebody banged on the ceiling to complain about the volume.

He sobbed, for Lucinda had never existed. Her death wish was never to be granted. If he had known she was never to be his sister, he could have tried to love her properly. He still had more dreams to live, after which he would become a haunter too ... and walk as if on air, between the box-cages which contained those who once sat outside staring in. Or perhaps he would be just another breed of ghosting upon the shimmer. Meanwhile, he knew that only real ghosts disguised themselves as white ceilings.

(Published 'Vedrolnir' 1997)

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