June 1

Knock on Wood.


WHUMP prattle the house quivers from the base up. My old bed rattles on the loft’s timber floor. I leap to the window to look down the three floors to our London Street where routine appears normal. My mind races. It can’t be an earthquake. What the… was that? Better check and see if any of the others are home. On the way down the stairs, I call. I’m alone. Outside the kitchen the cellar door holds me fixed. In six months of residence that door has never opened. Now it swings freely, the dank aroma of decay greets me. The light switch clicks but, darkness prevails. I need to borrow Paul’s light baton. The stairs creak, dust heavy in the air as the fog that rolls in from the Thames. At the bottom I take a few deep breaths through a hanky to ponder my heart rate. The sound of silence is deafening yet light hardly penetrates. Step by step I discover old crates, what once would have been expensive furniture and shelves of shite. Across the floor, strewn brickwork lays like a forgotten temple. What discovery lies beyond, an empty cavern, or …

            ‘About time you lot showed up. I’ve been waiting for ages.’

            My arse cheeks clench tight. ‘Where are you? I can’t see you through the dust.

            From behind I hear, ‘Come on, I could use a fresh brew.’

            The light reveals nobody. ‘Come on Johno, you can’t scare me. I don’t fall for your tricks.’ With haste I climb the stairs into the fresh air and light of the house. Another deep breath and I turn to close the door on the hostile environment below.

            ‘SHIT.’ My head hits the wall behind me before my feet reconnect with the floor. ‘Who the hell are you and where did you come from?”

            ‘Calm down lad. You look like you’ve seen a ghost. How long have I been down there? My dear old mum must be worried witless. Is she in the kitchen?’

            I follow as he calls for her. ‘Hold on. What’s happened to mum’s kitchen? Where’s her new gas stove?’ He turns on me aggressively, ‘What have you’ve done to mother?’ 

            He approaches arms stretched, hands like claws. I defensively go to grab his jacket and bring him in for a Liverpool kiss. My hands find nothing. His grip on my throat raises the hair on my head sending an electric rush over my skin to raise goose bumps. The ticking of the wall clock is the only gesture of time. Once again, my hands pass through his form. His bewilderment probably reflects my own. A chill runs the full length of my spine as he gropes at me. 

            I offer a cup of tea. Silence and an incredulous stare are my only answer. My body involuntarily shivers off the cold grip. I sit and stare at a man in his late twenties, near six-foot-tall, dark wavy hair and brown eyes that don’t comprehend.  I can’t believe there is no dust on his immaculate military uniform bearing red MP on the right arm.

           Finally, I pluck up the courage to ask, ‘Who are you? What were you doing in the cellar, and why do you think this is your mum’s place?’

          ‘This is Mother’s house.’ The reply is sharp and definitive. ‘I was born here, but how… I don’t understand.’ His threatening fingers point, ‘Why haven’t you got the windows covered? Don’t you know the bloody Hun is blitzing us with bombs?’

Oh shit, be careful, you’ve got a live one. The resonate tick tock that dominates the room has become my only contact with reality, and I wait.         

           ‘My name is Luke. I was born in Australia and have come to London to enhance my career in the banking sector. I rent the loft and share the house with four other Australians. We have been living here for six months. How did you get trapped in the cellar? 

            His eyes refocus on me then look around to find a seat. Hands on the table he fingers a gold ring, ‘I’m Jimmy. I always come home to check on mum before I go on duty. A couple of nights ago… well, I don’t understand. This is my mother’s house. I came home and went to the hidden cellar to check on the stores. Got a cousin in the country and we do swaps, crates of dad’s wine and spirits for fresh vegetables, preserves and the odd rash of bacon. I heard a hell of a crash. The door slammed shut and I’ve been waiting ever since for the home guard to come to the rescue. Mum wouldn’t have left me there, no way. How come this table and chair is solid and you’re not? Are you a phantom or have I been… this is my house? I’d know it anywhere even with … Hold on. This is Uncle Harry having a laugh. Everyone’s in the parlour, right?’

            He is quick on his feet, and I race to catch him. He’s held fast at the door, his hand unable to grip the handle. In the front room disillusioned, I assume through frustration, fists tight he takes a swing at me. Again, my skin energises with goose bumps. He slumps into a chair. I am sure I see a tear drop fall but, it never finds the floor.

            Sitting opposite I declare, ‘It is the summer of 2017. The war has been over for 72 years. The Germans were defeated. England has a queen and I’m starting to think you’re a ghost.’

            ‘What happened to that bastard Hitler?’

            ‘He shot himself and they burnt him before he was brought to trial.’

            He swallows satisfaction on that comment and continues. ‘That poseur Mussolini, how about him?’

            ‘The Italians strung him up in a tree.’

            ‘Good on them. I hated the way he’d strut the stage and think he was superior to everyone else.’

            ‘Well, don’t waste your time on President Trump.’


            ‘Forget it. How come you didn’t leave the cellar earlier?’

            ‘What? You think I can walk through walls or fly through the air? What stops me from falling through this chair then? Don’t ask stupid question that I can’t answer. ’ere, what’s that black thing on the wall?’

            ‘A flat screen.’

            ‘I can see that it is flat, but what’s on the screen?’

            With a slow intake of air, I answer, ‘People, the world and the stupidity of man. Like a crystal ball you can see the past, glimpse the future, and encompass man’s hatred for this world of life.’

            ‘I don’t want to look into it if that’s what it does to you.’

            ‘Does what?’

            ‘Turn your stomach on your fellow man. What has Hitler done to the people to spread his hatred of others?’

            ‘Sorry, it’s a long story and many still admire him. The problem is this world has become a far better place and yet, we are hell bent on destroying it. The Human race is an oxymoron of existence.’

            ‘Yeah, there were a lot of morons in my day too. I don’t want to sit around here and be morose. How about fitting me out in civilian wear? We’ll head down to the Cock and Bull. I’m dyin’ for a pint of bitter.’

            ‘Yeah, the boys will be down there by now. Come on, we’ll see if you can fit into my clothes.’

            I follow him up the timber stairs, his army boots mute. In the cramped loft I throw open a wardrobe door and look. ‘What’s your waist size?’

            ‘38-inch, chest as well. Bloody hell, I can’t get my tunic buttons undone. Nor my trousers.’ Jimmy flops onto the bed and the springs don’t complain.

            ‘Well, what can you do?’

            ‘How the hell do I know? Apparently, I’ve been stuck in a cellar for the last bloody seventy-six years and didn’t know. Oh bugger, I’m not going to be able to drink, am I? What’s the point of living if you can’t drink?’ Jimmy grabs his midriff, and laughs, and laughs.

             I can’t imagine his bewilderment, frustration and loss. How strong is this man? Why is he still here?  Did God himself just leave him there in his own private purgatory? What can I do to ease this man’s pain? If only I knew.

            ‘You can hear, you can see, you can’t touch, yet you can’t pass through solid objects. How is your sense of smell and taste?’

            ‘I can smell those socks from here. I don’t know what good taste is going to be if I can’t get anything in my gob.’

            ‘Let me see if I can undo your tunic buttons.’

            He presents himself as if he was on parade at attention. With some hesitation I try his brass buttons. I might as well be clutching air. ‘Do you feel anything when I do that?’

            ‘Yeah, it’s warm like cuddling a puppy.’ Yeah, it feels nice like cuddling a wee puppy. Once again, the tears evaporate, and I wonder if I am doing more harm than good.

            ‘Well, I need to change.’ As I strip, he moves to the window to peer at a new world outside. Out of his thoughts his knuckles meet the desktop and the pens tinkle in their glass jar stand. Our eyes meet, and a short smile crosses his face. This time the knuckle wrap bounces off the angled walls.

            With a six-step victory dance he proclaims, ‘My old mum used to knock on wood, so not to tempt fate.’

            ‘I would never have taken you as a superstitious type.’

            He turns to face me square on. The look says it all. For the first time I see him clearly. Like the men of my grandfather’s generation. Men with calloused hands, men who wouldn’t be beaten into submission, men quick with their fists.

            Shit, Luke. Now you’re questioning his existence. ‘Bloody hell, you can knock. I wonder why?’ 

            ‘Maybe so when we get to the Pearly Gate, St Peter can hear us knocking on Heaven’s Door?’ 

            ‘Come on, let’s get you that pint.’

            Five minutes later, and I have a mutiny on my hands.

            Violently raising his fists to the sky, ‘No, what have they done to the Cock and Bull? Boyd Eddington would roll in his grave if he saw this.’

            ‘Okay, Jimmy. Take it easy, will ya? People are watching.’ We enter the glass and neon room. My housemates sit in the corner. So, we don’t disturb the other patrons, we might be loud but, we spend well.

            ‘Hey Lukey, who’s ya mate?’

            ‘This is Jimmy, a local. Been around for a long time.’

            Johno goes to shake hands but, Jimmy won’t. ‘Not the social type, Jimmy?’

            ‘Nah, I got nothing against you colonials. Just unable to come to grips with things lately. ’Ere doesn’t anyone drink pints anymore?’

             Paul asks, ‘Mate, you on your way to parade?’  

            ‘Take a seat.’ I say and head for the bar to wonder how long it will take for them to work out Jimmy is a ghost. Still, as far as he is concerned the freedom from the cellar is more important than lost time to change. Me, I would be asking more of what I am still doing here rather complaining about my favourite drinking hole.

            ‘So, Jimmy, what you gonna do now that you’re out?’ Asks Johno, as I return to the table.

            ‘Don’t know. My parents are long gone, my girl, maybe too. I don’t know how long I was down there. Seems to me the world has passed me by. I mean to say, why didn’t the All Mighty take me?’  

            All faces are on me. I say to Jimmy, ‘Asked for Ghostly Bitter but, it’s been spirited away.’

           ‘Funny. Very bloody funny. You colonials haven’t changed much at all. I used to knock about with a chap named Mal Gibson from Queensland. What did he call himself… a larrakin, sharp and hard but a funny bastard who was straight up and down? I’d have him at my back any day.’

            Tears come to Paul’s eyes, his bottom lip trembles, all eyes wonder. ‘You’re not Second lieutenant Jimmy Moylan from Gainsborough, are you?’

            Jimmy turns white as a ghost, so to speak. He fades out, then in. ‘Yes, yes, I am, how did you know?’

            ‘My grandfather was RSM Gibson RAR. He used to tell us of the best pohmie that walked this planet. Disappeared one night in the blitz. Said he searched for days in the rubble, in the hospitals and the morgue. Vanished without trace. With that, so did Jimmy.

Photo by Erik Müller on Unsplash



You may also like

A Christmas Fair

A Christmas Fair

There’s a Songbird That Sings

There’s a Songbird That Sings
{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}