WRITTEN BY GABE ELLIS
The truth can be life-changing, in more ways than one
Mother tells me that I was four when I saw my first apparition.
“Terribly matter-of-fact about it,” she smiles, her June-Whitfield eyes sparkling fondly. “In you came from the garden, announcing, ‘I’ve met a lady called Victoria. She’s beautiful but she’s sad. She died. She has a parasol.’ Do you remember, Lucy?”
I remembered. Near the lavender bush, I’d seen an elegant woman in a long white dress trimmed with lace. Her hair was chestnut brown, pinned up, and resting on her shoulder was a parasol that matched her dress.
I know we spoke, yet I can’t remember using words…
I know that we spoke, as she told me she’d died long ago, yet I can’t remember using words. Perhaps that wasn’t important.
Nobody else seemed to see the hazy figures in the park or in our classroom, but by discussing them, I drew attention to them and to myself. I gradually learnt that certain things are not to be talked about. Having been teased throughout primary school for saying and seeing things that were unacceptable, I adopted a different policy when we moved north.
I endeavoured to be normal
My first day in a new school in a new area proved a turning point: no more “freak”, no more ghosts. I couldn’t turn off their voices, but I tried to pretend they weren’t there; I endeavoured to be normal. Mother was always supportive, both financially and emotionally.
“Just because grown-ups can’t see these things doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It’s like dogs and their hearing, isn’t it?”
As she said this, my grandfather pranced around her and barked like a dog. He’d always had a cracking sense of humour when he’d been alive, and was no different in the afterlife. I turned away to hide a smile, once again juggling versions of reality.
Always rather reserved, I studied earnestly, progressing to university and gaining praise for my intuition. Little did they know!
When my career developed around listening to people, Mother worried that it would overwhelm me – after all, my short-lived marriage in my twenties might have changed my name, but I’d never changed my sensitive nature.
You might justifiably argue that becoming a therapist was the last thing I should do, but this was a job for which I was well trained and, given my own childhood, I longed to help those who needed help, sifting through their complexes just as I would tune into voices. My career blossomed and I proved a very skilled practitioner, particularly as I was permanently surrounded by advisors. So I should have been prepared when he came in.
I would never have attracted such a client earlier in my career
Reclining in my discreetly luxurious office, Norman Cavendish explained that since taking early retirement, he’d been increasingly haunted by “the sins of youth”. He had enjoyed an illustrious career as a prosecution lawyer, won several high-profile cases and still held various lucrative Directorships. I would never have attracted such a client earlier in my career, but over the years, my reputation for unerring insight and confidentiality had brought me to Harley Street circles. I could select my clients, charging hourly rates that helped me to pay for Mother’s flat and my own Richmond townhouse.
Norman Cavendish intrigued me. He cut an impressive figure with his silver-fox grooming. We also all agreed, between ourselves, that there was something very wrong with him.
He had a smell of guilty death varnished over with self-justification.
My curiosity was piqued and I knew I’d be seeing this through to its conclusion, natural or otherwise.
“There’s more to this than meets the eye,” commented Victoria, who was still part of my everyday life. “He reminds me of my husband and that’s no good thing.”
“Larks” clearly ranged from pranks to all-out crimes
Through our weekly sessions, we unravelled a knot of memories from his “boisterous adolescence” in the Cotswolds. He’d excelled at boarding school, but what he described as “larks” clearly ranged from spiteful pranks to all-out crimes. The truth was surfacing.
Thankfully, clients don’t see my face while they’re talking. When he finally faced his unspoken ghosts, Cavendish mentioned the name of Fisher Goldring and my heart froze. Goldring was my original surname. Fisher Goldring was my father’s name; not a common name in the Cotswolds.
Mother always told me my father left when I was a toddler, and her grief was certainly convincing, but I never fully believed her. You see, without ever speaking to him, I’d always sensed my father as being dead. Which is worse: believing your husband left you or thinking he’s dead? I couldn’t decide as a child and I’m still not sure now. So I’d never said a word.
He finally reveals his long-denied shame
Picture the scene: Dr Lucy Haig, respected therapist, treating the great and obnoxious Norman Cavendish, OBE, her hands unprofessionally clenching as he finally reveals his long-denied shame.
“I’d invited some pals over for summer break, and there was this country boy on the estate, couple of years older than us. Fisher Goldring. Bit simple, probably, forever talking to himself. Sensitive. Hated the hunt, hated drowning puppies or shooting a lame horse, you know the sort.”
“Gerry and I took one of Daddy’s cars, went haring around the fields, screeching through fences, like you do. Had a bit to drink, as I recall, ha! This chap, Fisher, comes chasing after us, so we skidded around him and our car slipped right into the slurry pit. Ploop! We got out by the skin of our backsides, I tell you, scrambled to the edge like wet dogs, panting. Few minutes later, up we get, instantly sober, only to see Fisher’s boots, there. He’d been trying to warn us, save us. Then we saw Fisher’s head, just going under. Never forget his face.
“Never told anyone. Nothing we could do. Would only have put us in trouble, thrown out of school probably.”
“And it’s not as though anyone missed him, poor chap.”
“Damn shame. But still… Made me the man I am.”
And two: the pathetic varnish of moral justification.
“Well, I feel incredible. Finally baring my soul after all these years, it’s as if the whole room has shifted.”
I knew instantly what needed to be done…
Oh, it had. I sensed all my companions buzzing, and knew instantly what needed to be done.
Certainly, there could be no legal justice, but as the odious Cavendish continued opening up, outpouring confessions, this liberation made him vulnerable to new sensitivities. I’d always maintained that anyone could tune in to the spirits if they remembered how, so I began to remind him, subtly.
He soon began to understand; he started seeing things. Then he started telling others. You might have read about his dismissal from Parliament and those prestigious board positions.
“Shame old Cavendish went soft,” my gardener remarked. “Seeing things, apparently.”
I visit occasionally, just to ensure he says tuned-in
His family money ensures he’s indulged, and I visit occasionally, as an extremely well paid consultant – just to ensure he stays tuned-in, if you will. Ironically, those fees alone cover every bill for Mother’s upgraded retirement cottage.
“Look, darling,” she exclaimed recently, “landscaped gardens, 24-hour restaurant if I wish. Never take it for granted, everything you have around you.”
Victoria smiled wholeheartedly at this truth, and so did my dad, who has been a very welcome companion since he found his way home.
You could say the truth set him free.
I’ve loved getting to know him, but seeing him with Mother tops that. She admitted that she’d always had the gift, too, but after losing dad she’d desperately tried to give me a normal life. I can’t believe I didn’t see that. Neither of us could reach Dad until the truth emerged, but now they’re finally catching up on lost time. That really is something to see.