|Halloween story in The Local Link magazine Oct 2015|
Mrs. Partington wore a wrap-around apron printed with faded pink roses and fur-topped slippers on thickly socked feet. Her face was wrinkly and almost as white as her short curly hair. Crevices appeared at the sides of her eyes whenever she smiled. I was four and I talked to Mrs Partington through gaps in our garden fence and all our talks ended with a story. If I didn't speak to her then I would pull myself up so that I could see over the fence and then shout until she waved at me from a window.
Mrs Partington bought me a toy make-up set which I used as war-paint when I fought battles against neighbouring boys when they attacked our front hedge. She was always there, quietly watching and smiling from her window. Later, we discussed why I'd eaten a green caterpillar from the hedge. It had been a dare.
One day, fine misty rain hung in the air but I went into the garden anyway. I was surprised because even though I could hear Mrs Partington talking I couldn't see her through the fence gaps, not until her liver-spotted hand reached through to give me something. It was a gold charm-bracelet. ‘There are five more charms to collect but you must promise me something.’
‘You must promise to tell the stories I’ve told you and for every twenty new stories you make up you must add another charm.’
I said I would, thanked her and put the bracelet in my pocket but I was then called in for tea. I forgot about my gift.
‘Who were you talking to?’ my mother asked.
‘No you couldn't have. She went away weeks ago. Her house is empty.’
‘Oh,’ I replied as accepting as Mrs Partington. ’She must’ve come back.’
A few days later I remembered the bracelet and tried to wear it but it was too big for my wrist. ‘Will you shorten this for me?’
‘Where did you get this from? It's very expensive.’
‘Mrs Partington gave it to me.’
‘It was the other day when we talked. She said there were five charms to collect.’ My mother held the bracelet up so that its charms dangled. Her face was so close to mine that I could feel her breath. She had a strange look on her face. I never saw our neighbour again although my mother often asked about her. I was too young at that time to understand death.
Aunt Bridie came to visit. She was a unique and eccentric personality who turned up on the front door step on Friday night. She dressed like an actress from a black and white film. A fox fur around her neck had a head with glassy eyes and she always had a copy of The Telegraph under her arm. She stood out in the sixties but people rarely blinked an eye back then.
She said she didn't sleep or eat much but we knew it was due to the constant cups of black coffee she requested. She sipped through ivory teeth. I was allowed to stay up late but I had to plead until I became a nuisance. I loved the stories she told. She told them late at night, huddled in a chair closest to the open fire, her profile lit by lamplight. Her coffee was gripped between two hands and she would first stare into her cup for ages and when ready, raise her button eyes and begin. Her soft lilting Irish accent was like listening to music. In hushed tones, she told me about The Dullahan or “dark man” and petrified me. Next, Dearg Due and then the Banshee, a black-haired woman who’s wailing foretold death. Bridie knew how to ensnare me in a story and then leave me with a cliff-hanger so I had to check over my shoulder before daring to leave the room and a net of safety she’d cocooned. She called me ‘creature’ pronounced ‘Creta,’ I almost felt like one of the mythical beings she spoke about.
I begged for another story and then Aunt Bridie noticed my bracelet and asked to see it. Then, she took my face in both her hands and searched my eyes. She smelt of coffee and stale perfume. ‘I see you met Mrs. Partington.’
‘You knew her too?’
Aunt Bridie didn’t reply. She pulled up her sleeve. On her wrist was a gold charm-bracelet and it was full of charms. I compared it to mine and smiled. Aunt Bridie smiled too. ‘Did you make the promise?’
‘Yes.’ I nodded with pride and rattled my bracelet.
‘Then promise me something.’
‘What Aunt Bridie?’
‘Tell my stories too.’
For a moment, and only a moment I thought I saw Mrs. Partington reflected in Aunt Bridie’s eyes.