The small town of Abercei is nestled in a valley, which sits besides a shingle beach, and leads on to Cardigan Bay. This is where I had chosen to live in my semi-retirement and, two years on from my move, I stood on the pavement at Market Street, waiting to cross the road to visit my best friend, Meg Lewis.
It was Thursday, and the clock on the front of the town hall had just tolled the hour of three – I was on time, as usual and, as I prepared to cross the road that led to Meg’s home, there was only the thought of what she and I would discuss today in my head. I took a step out on to the road, and then everything went black . . . It felt but a second before my eyes began to focus again, and I quickly crossed the road, shaken by the unexpectedness of the experience. I hurried down the small alley that led to Meg’s home, and went up to her front door. As I reached it, I saw that the door was wide open so, calling out my arrival, I walked into the hallway, noticing immediately that something seemed amiss in the house, although I couldn’t see anything changed there. It wasn’t anything easily defined, more an emotion felt, or a change in the atmosphere that felt strange against my skin.
I walked slowly, and uneasily, down the hall to the living room, which faced on to the river. That door was also open, and I walked into, then through it, to see if Meg was in the adjacent kitchen, which led from the living room through an open archway. I could see at a glance that she wasn’t there, but there were signs that she had been not too long before. My fingers slid gently along counter-tops that held trays of finger foods, which spread over almost every surface, and gave off the enticing scent of the freshly baked. I frowned. The quantity of food was much more than would satisfy the two of us. I shrugged slightly, assuming that Meg had arranged for others to visit as well but, as much as I racked my brain, I couldn’t for the life of me remember her mentioning that this Thursday would be different in any way.
I shook my head at my forgetfulness, deciding that my memory was playing tricks on me. I turned, and went back through to the living room, sitting down in my usual comfy chair, and sighing with relief as the softness enfolded me. I decided that I would wait for Meg to appear; she couldn’t be far away, as it was rare for her to leave her door wide open if going out for any length of time. So I sat, and waited, fidgeting slightly with a niggling worry at the change in our routine.
I was just beginning to feel concerned, when I heard voices coming from the direction of the front door. I stood up quickly, feeling a little guilty at making myself at home without the company of my friend. As I was about to call out my presence, I recognised Meg’s voice above the rest.
‘It went very well, I think,’ she said to her company, ‘I do believe that Anwen would have liked the service.’
My ears pricked up. Why was she talking about me? What service?
‘I’m sure she would, Meg. Now, is there anything we can do to help? Maybe we could do the tea and things?’
The voice was vaguely familiar, and I remembered Meg introducing me to a friend from her church, Susan Evans, a few weeks previously. At that moment, Meg walked into the living room and I realised, with something of a jolt, that she was dressed in what she referred to as her ‘funeral suit’. Her eyes were red from crying, and her face had a blotchiness to it that spoke to me of a sustained bout of weeping. Meg never could cry daintily, and it always showed on her face.
She didn’t appear to notice me as she turned to reply to Susan, who had walked in just behind her.
‘I’ve got the food all under control, so I’d be grateful if you could put the kettle on for me, thanks. The rest will be arriving any second, and I want to put the food on to the sideboard, so they can help themselves.’
Before I had a chance to speak up and offer my services, what seemed like a horde of people suddenly followed the two women into the room, and I backed away into a corner to prevent myself being trampled. I stared at the people bustling about me in confusion. Everyone we knew in the town seemed to surge into the room, and I realised that they must have been to a funeral, and had come back to Meg’s for the wake. I felt a pang of hurt that I hadn’t been told, as it was likely that I knew the deceased, but then quickly realised that these things could happen quite suddenly, and that arrangements were made quite rapidly in this area.
I decided to stay in my corner until things had calmed a little and, once everyone had helped themselves to food and a drink, I walked over to the archway, and stood watching Meg making more sandwiches.
‘Can I help you at all, Meg?’
I spoke quietly, as I didn’t want to startle her. She seemed to shiver, but didn’t even look up from her task. Tears gathered in my eyes and, so I wouldn’t completely humiliate myself, I turned and hurried through the living room, weaving as best as I could through the people gathered there. Once out of the door, and away from the prying eyes of all the people in the house, I hurried back up the alley to Market Street, turning right, and rushing as fast as I could down towards the harbour. By the time I reached my favourite bench, I was sobbing aloud, and I quickly sat down, and gave way to my hurt . . .
As I stood at the kerb, waiting to cross the road to Meg’s house, the echoes of the clock striking faded away. It was three o’clock on Thursday afternoon, and I was running slightly late for our meeting. This was deliberate on my part, as I was unsure of my reception from Meg but, as I crossed the road, then slowly walked down the alleyway to her front door, I girded myself with the memories evoked by this familiar, and comforting, pattern.
Meg was a widow, as compared to my single state and, because she was also childless, we had found both the time, and the freedom, to be able to wander and explore the beauties of the area together. As we both worked part-time, we found we could do much that others envied us for, and so had become fast friends. Meg had been my very first friend in the town, after moving here from the city and, as I had neither parents, nor any other close relation any more, her friendship had been truly welcome.
I drew near to her door, which was firmly closed, and I was about to knock when it opened suddenly, leaving me with my hand raised, as if I were a child seeking attention from her teacher. I opened my mouth to speak to Meg, but she seemed to sweep by me instantly, then disappear.
It was the door thudding closed that startled me enough from my shock to come to and, as I quickly turned around to follow her, I realised that she was gone. How could this be? Where had she disappeared to? I frowned, perplexed at it all, and also deeply saddened that, once again, she had ignored me totally.
I was determined not to break down, as I had done previously so, with a determined step, I decided to try to catch up with her, wherever she had gone. In the hopes of finding out what was going on with her, I stepped out of the alleyway, then looked in every direction, hoping to spot her in the crowds teeming along the road but, to my dismay, it was as if she had vanished into thin air. . .
It was Thursday and, as the clock struck the hour of three, I stood at the kerb on Market Street, waiting to cross over the road to Meg’s house. The sun was shining brightly, and people strolled around in shorts and t-shirts, melting ice-cream clutched in sticky hands. The smell of ozone was strong, as the tide was out, and gulls wheeled and cried their strange, sad cries. I crossed the road to the echo of the third bell’s toll, and then I made my way down the alley to Meg’s house.
The door, once again, was wide open, and I called out Meg’s name. When she didn’t reply, I stepped hesitantly into the hallway, and then called out once more as I walked to the open living room door. As I looked in to the room, I saw Meg sitting in her usual chair, dispensing tea to two ladies who sat on the sofa opposite her. One of them I recognised as her fellow church-goer, Susan Evans, but the other lady was someone I’d never seen before.
I cleared my throat to get Meg’s attention, but she didn’t even glance at me. My throat felt raw with the dryness caused by nerves, but I persisted, determined to get her attention.
‘Hello, Meg. Sorry to intrude on you, but I need to talk to you. I didn’t know if you had decided to talk to me again, so I came along to see. I don’t know what I’ve done to offend you, but I was hoping we could talk?’
Meg continued to pour the tea as if I hadn’t spoken, and my hands curled into fists, frustration coursing through me. It looked as if I were in for the silent treatment once more. The stranger, though, looked up at me immediately, and so I smiled a polite, but hesitant, smile at her, and took a step into the room.
‘Hello. I’m afraid we haven’t been introduced. My name is Anwen James and I thought I was a friend of Meg.’
The woman stared for a few seconds, as if deciding whether to speak to me or not, and then she carefully placed her teacup on to the small table in front of her.
‘Hello,’ she replied, her voice gentle, ‘my name is Edith Carmichael, and I’m afraid that you really shouldn’t be here.’
My whole body stiffened in affront as she smiled sympathetically at me. She turned to her companions, who now looked at her with eyes wide with shock, and spoke to them in a calm voice.
‘Anwen is here, and you were right; she doesn’t seem to realise what has happened. Do you mind if I tell her, Meg, and end all this worry?’
I stood there with mouth agape, thinking that I’d walked into a nightmare. What on earth was the woman talking about? Meg looked in my direction but, with a dawning sense of horror, I realised that she couldn’t see me!
‘Meg, what’s happening?’ I needed to ask, trying desperately not to feel as if my world were turning upside down, ‘why are you behaving as if I don’t exist?’
‘Don’t worry, Anwen,’ Edith said soothingly, ‘it seems that you have yet to realise that you should be going on your way. You were in a fatal accident as you were crossing the road to visit Meg two months ago.’
‘Of course I wasn’t,’ I said, impatiently, ‘as you can see, I’m perfectly all right!’
‘That’s the trouble, my dear,’ Edith said, her head shaking it’s denial as she spoke, ‘I’m the only one in the room who can see you. You died in that accident, Anwen; you must learn to accept this fact before you can go on.’
With a profound sense of shock, I looked from Edith to Susan and, finally, to Meg, who looked shaken and embarrassed by it all.
‘Meg can’t see me?’ I asked, ‘you mean, she wasn’t just ignoring me when I came here last?’
‘No,’ Edith said, the smile she aimed at me sad, but at the same time full of encouragement, ‘You shouldn’t be here at all, you know. Your journey has only just started. If you turn around now, and just look for the light, you’ll know what to do.’
I glanced once more at Meg then, with a sigh of acceptance, I turned around as Edith had instructed. From where I stood, I had a clear view down the hallway, and out of the front door and, as I stared, I saw a bright beam of sunlight. A feeling of peace filled me and, with a smile of joy on my face, and a quick thank you over my shoulder to Edith, I made my way towards the light . . .