On the way home from work one night in late October, Larry O’Hara decided to change his route and go down Chester Lane. This was the first time that he had ever strayed from his routine. For routine was very important to Larry. It was the essence to his well ordered life.
His friends all said that one day he would make a fine husband for someone. But somehow that someone never seemed to make a fine wife for him. Larry had standards! Standards which were passed on to him, from his dear mother! Lord rest her! And so at forty-two years of age he found himself this particular night. And for no apparent reason, he was changing his routine.
He looked at his watch. It was ten minutes past nine. There was a bright cheery sound coming from Hartford’s public house. Larry looked again as the door opened and the sound of a banjo came ringing out through the cold night air.
A glass of ale would be very good now, he thought to himself. And he crossed the street with giant strides and pushed open the door.
The smell from the old turf fire assaulted his nostrils, it was a sweet smell. But the heat it radiated was very welcoming. Matt Hartford the proprietor’s son nodded at him and began pouring a pint into a glass handled tankard.
“Quiet evening, isn’t it Matt” It was a statement that didn’t require an answer. There were about ten people in the pub; five huddled around the fire listening with great interest to the banjo player. The rest were in couples apart from one woman. She was sitting at the end of the bar. She looked out of place there. Looking at her, Larry decided that she was totally out of place in the village. She was a very elegant woman. Her shoulder length, auburn hair hung sensuously around her sculpted collar bone. Her skin was milky white. Flawless would be an apt description. From the way she sat on the stool, Larry thought to himself that she was an important lady in the city. Perhaps she was a banker or Real Estate agent.
Larry turned away embarrassed as she lifted her head slightly and her piercing green eyes met his own rather common brown eyes.
He was never any good to talk with elegant women like that. To be honest, Larry never met any women like that.
He looked up at Matt and ordered a double whiskey. His eyes looked at the stunning woman at the end of the bar. She was a classy bit alright. With one gulp he drained the whiskey and ordered another. As with the first one, he made short work of it with the glass tilted back in the same direction of his head.
Two more doubles and Larry had the courage to walk over to the redheaded woman. He approached her. She looked up and their eyes met. Her eyes seemed to drink him in. They were a deep green and Larry was lost in them.
“Can I buy you a drink Maam?” Her smile was brilliant. Her teeth were snow white and perfectly straight. He sat next to her on the stool. “Cold, isn’t it?” He had stated the obvious.
She nodded and said in a low almost melodic voice.
“I’m Maureen. I’m very happy to meet you”. She held out her hand to his. Awkwardly he held her delicate hand in his large rough one. Her skin felt cold as ice. Larry almost dropped it immediately. She smiled at him warmly. He hadn’t seen her around the village before. And not many women went into the only public house in the parish.
A few drinks later. Conversation seemed to flow like a river. And Larry was beginning to relax. Maureen had told him she was an accountant with a large firm in the city. Her parents had been local but many years earlier they had sold up their farm and left for the bright lights of the city.
She now wanted to find out all about where her family had come from and to get a little local history. Larry nodded his head in agreement. For wasn’t it a natural thing to want to know where you came from? Larry could trace his own family back to six generations. The O’Haras were a strong clan in the parish and were very well respected.
He smiled at Maureen and excused himself to answer a call of nature. “Need to see a man about a dog”. He laughed loudly at his own joke. Before he went though, he took the liberty to order two more whiskeys. He didn’t drink often but tonight he seemed to need the confidence that it gave him. That warm feeling that he felt in the pit of his stomach.
When he came back to the bar, Maureen had gone. He looked all around. There was no sign of her. He asked Matt if he had seen where she went.
“Where did who go, Larry?” He raised an eyebrow but continued to wipe the glass with the red and white tea towel.
Larry downed the last glass of whiskey. He knew what Matt Hartford was like. Oh yes, at the factory there were a lot of Matt Hartfords around. Always ready to stab you in the back if you weren’t quick enough to spot what they were up to.
He put on his donkey jacket and hat then turned on his heel and walked out of the pub. As he stepped outside the biting cold air pierced through his threadbare jacket. He pulled up the collar and began walking.
There was a soft voice and a gentle touch on his arm. He turned violently and was face to face with Maureen.
“The lord lantern jayzus!” He swore and almost lost his balance. She smiled softly.
“I didn’t mean to startle you Larry”. He laughed loudly and told her he was surprised when he came back and found her gone.
“I needed a cigarette. And it was too loud inside”, she slid her arm through his. “I told the barman where I was going”. She looked up at him. Her eyes were bright and her hair glistening in the moonlight.
He knew it! That low life! Matt Hartford. He was trying to steal this beauty from him. Larry laughed to himself. But he was a clever handsome fella and he knew that Maureen fancied him as well. He chuckled to himself.
They walked out of the village towards the old railway station. Larry was feeling a little disorientated from the whiskey. But it felt good having this beautiful creature by his side. If only his dear mother could see him now. Larry was sure she’d be happy and proud of him.
“Where are we going?” He mumbled as he almost fell over. Maureen laughed and said in a husky murmur.
“For, a little, tiny walk”. Larry laughed again as Maureen led him towards the railway line. He stopped walking and looked at her. With the light of the moon she looked almost ghostlike. Her pale skin had deathly pallor. He put his big rough hands on her delicately sculpted shoulder and began to rub them up and down vigorously.
“You’ll die of pneumonia in this weather. Need to get you inside where it’s warm”.
“But it’s a beautiful night”. She giggled and said almost embarrassed. “It is very romantic”. Larry felt his face flush bright red. And it was lucky there were no street lights out this far.
He looked back in the direction of the village. There wasn’t a soul to be seen. The lights of the street were bright and welcoming unlike the pitch dark of this lonely country road. It felt good being in the company of this amazing woman. She was not only beautiful but she was very intelligent. It was a welcome change for him to be in the company of such and intelligent person. Larry always considered himself to be an intellectual and was wasted in this town.
As if he was waking, suddenly from his drunkenness. He turned to Maureen and began to say:
“Let’s get you -“.But she was gone. Vanished! Larry ran over to the ditch to see if she were hiding behind the old gate. But there was no sign of her. He strained to hear footsteps but there was nothing. The only sound was that of an owl and his own raspy breathing.
He walked on further. Where could she have gone? What could have happened to her?
A thousand and one thoughts came flooding into his head. He began to run and run faster. Trying to get home as quickly as he possibly could. He didn’t see the bicycle wheel half on the ditch and half on the road. But he did hear a menacing scream. It was the kind of scream, which would turn your blood cold. He blessed himself.
“Maureen!” He shouted. “Maureen where are you?”
He tripped over the wheel and fell. Larry knew he tore his knees badly. He could feel the warmth of the blood flowing down his leg.
There was the scream again. As he tried to get up, Larry felt something cold, almost like a hand. Brush against his cheek. He could feel his blood turn to ice. But surely it was the whiskey he had been drinking earlier. That was distorting everything. He never could drink much.
“Larry, my love”, Came the sound of faint whisper from behind him. “Come to me Larry!” Said the ghostly voice
The sound of the owl hooting again brought him to his feet. Did he imagine it? Or did he really hear a voice on the wind? And with a sharp burst of energy he ran as fast as his legs could muster. The screaming was getting louder and closer. As he felt something touch his shoulder he tripped and hit his head on the road.
Larry could hear voices now. Just barely making out what they were saying.
“He’s coming round”. Larry groaned slightly. His head hurt. He opened his eyes and saw Eddie O’Dea talking to someone. He couldn’t make out who it was.
“Am I dead?” He asked and his old friend laughed.
“Far from it! But you were in some state last night you old boozer”. His whole body shook as he chuckled. Then the familiar voice of Doctor Henley said gravely.
“You came very close to freezing to death. You fell down in a drunken stupor. Larry”. He looked at him from his spectacled nose. “My advice is rest for the remainder of today and tomorrow. I’ll give you a cert for the factory”. He turned his back to both Larry and Eddie, who had begun to make faces behind the doctor’s back. This put a smile on Larry’s face.
Mary O’Dea, Eddie’s wife came in with a cup of sweet tea and the newspaper. Handed both to Larry and said:
“Sure didn’t you give us all a fright, you young blackguard!” She smiled at him and pulled at her husband’s arm. “Let him have his tea and paper in peace. There’s a cow that needs milking in the yard”.
Larry took a sip of the tea. It was sweet and strong. Nectar! He picked up the paper and his face turned ashen.
He put the cup down on the wooden chair beside the bed. And he looked closely at the picture. Mary O’Dea always read the death notices and anniversaries first before anyone could have a look at it.
Larry broke out in a cold sweat as he read the anniversary notice:
20th Anniversary of our beloved Maureen, who died tragically of pneumonia just before her wedding day. We miss you dearly and think of you every day!
Mum, Dad and Laurence.
Under the heading was a picture of the beautiful woman he had been with the night before.
She couldn’t have been a ghost ……………..could she?