"SPIRIT OF THE CHȂTEAU" - Patsy Collins
I think I’ve seen him before; I may have done. There was a boy born here, a cousin of mine. No, that was too long ago, perhaps this is his son? I’ve visited so often, seen so many people, that it’s difficult to remember. People and events are confused in my memory. Time passes quickly now, a whole summer passes and seems no more than a few warm days. People I remember as laughing children, picnicking in the gardens or rowing on the lake are now grey, or gone.
My early years are clearer, my happy childhood spent in this Château, the ponies I rode in the grounds. I remember friends and the games we played. I remember the handsome young woman I became, my love affairs and heartbreaks. Grand parties were held here, in this very ballroom. The gilding is peeling from the walls now. The once glittering chandelier was removed years ago. I hope it sparkles from another ceiling.
The boy moves toward the sweeping staircase and ducks under the coloured tape that warns the structure is now unsafe. He seems to care nothing for the potential danger. Perhaps he feels, as I do, that the Château can never harm those who love it. I see him in profile as he turns. I was right; he is one of the family. Men who were my ancestors had a nose like that, eyebrows just like his. I’ve seen their portraits. They were bigger, more substantial men than this boy. Their smiling faces watching me from the canvas seemed more alive than this slim, pale child. He is one of us though; those features will be carried through my family for generations to come.
I remember him now, how could I have forgotten the little boy who occasionally wandered this very hallway at midnight? He crept quietly, keeping to the shadows, looking for something he never found. His disappointed face saddened me whenever I caught a glimpse of it. He does love this place. I see that now as he slides his hand over the cracked wooden panelling. I know he is trying to see the fine detail gleaming with centuries of care and polish. That’s how I see it, the beauty, the magnificence is still there, just beneath the neglected surface.
I have to concentrate to keep the present and not the past before my eyes. I remember the luxurious furniture that once graced these empty rooms. I can almost feel the warmth from the open fires, although I know the grates hold nothing but fallen soot and accumulated litter. The echo of voices is faint now. To anyone but those who love this old decayed Château there is nothing here but crumbling plaster, rotten wood, and weakened bricks. To them it won't matter that men will come tomorrow to demolish my old home. Perhaps they’re right, it doesn’t really matter, wherever I am, I will still have my happy memories.
The boy is in the bedroom that was once mine. He looks up. Sun streams through the hole in the roof. He looks away from the light and into the shadows; looking for something. Surely, he knows everything of value was taken long ago. Since then the curious, the homeless, the lovers seeking privacy have walked through every room, searched every secret corner. There's nothing here but my memories, my love for this place and now, the boy. He walks to where the window once was. The glass slipped and fell so long ago, the frame shortly afterwards. I smile, recalling the mornings I’d leapt from bed and thrown open the heavy curtains to see what kind of day I would have. There were the Christmas mornings, when I longed for snow. There had been long summers with skies of unbroken blue. There had been rain and wind and sun, but always joy.
The boy turns to face me, his eyes widen and then he smiles. I know that t he sees what he sought. He sees me; the Spirit of the Château.
“I’m glad to know you’re real,” he whispers.
“Of course I’m real, why did you doubt that?”
“Because although I heard all the stories, I never saw you. Whenever I stayed here as a child I’d stay up late, hoping you’d appear, but you never did.”
“I was here.”
“Then why didn’t I see you?”
“The living often can’t see us.”
Together we take a last look around the château that had, in life, been our home, then we leave to join our ancestors.
BIO: Patsy Collins lives on the south coast of England, opposite the Isle of Wight. Her stories appear in magazines in the UK, Ireland and Australia. To learn more about her and her writing, please visit patsy-collins.blopgspot.com