Unexplained by Amber Massie-Blomfield

Amber Massie-Blomfield draws a portrait of an urban life haunted.

The umbrellas are removed from the stand and hidden. Her sister’s picture, the one in the silver frame, shatters, and for weeks shards of glass turn up where they shouldn’t, in people’s beds, in the cutlery drawer. Her mum’s windows are left wide open in the middle of winter, her expensive perfume bottles found in pieces on the concrete far below.

Read the story after the jump.

The first time, no one says a word.

It’s a shudder. A wave passing through the air. As if somewhere far beneath them, tectonic plates are shifting. Her sister’s knuckles go white. The water in her glass moves, like that scene in Jurassic Park, the one where the dinosaurs are coming, except there aren’t any dinosaurs. The spilt sugar forms in patterns on the tabletop.

Silence fills the room.

Her mum stands up and takes the plates, food half eaten, as if there’s been an argument, drops them in the sink so as they threaten to smash. She bows her head and puts her fingers to her temples; that way she has when she’s getting one of her migraines.  Outside, the sky swells with thunder.

Robin pushes back her chair and runs down the hall. In her bedroom, she climbs into the wardrobe and presses herself against the back wall, as far from the others as it is possible to get. The clothes fall down around her, muffling the sounds that start to rise in the building. She buries her face in the fabric and lets the smell of the laundry powder remind her of something else. She waits for the lights to go out.

After that, things begin to happen round the flat.

The umbrellas are removed from the stand and hidden. Her sister’s picture, the one in the silver frame, shatters, and for weeks shards of glass turn up where they shouldn’t, in people’s beds, in the cutlery drawer. Her mum’s windows are left wide open in the middle of winter, her expensive perfume bottles found in pieces on the concrete far below.

When Robin first sees it she thinks she’s imagined it. She blinks, and it disappears. But with time a dark shape starts to harden on the edge of her sightline. It lingers just outside the circle of light from her desk lamp when she’s trying to do her schoolwork, makes it hard to concentrate, makes her eyes go blurry.

She looks it up on Google: ‘Paranormal Phenomena’. A poltergeist, she learns, is ‘the manifestation of an imperceptible entity’. She reads reports of inanimate objects being picked up and thrown, noises such as knocking, scratching or even human voices. Poltergeist activity is often believed to be the work of malicious ghosts. She is transfixed by photographs of people being thrown from their beds six feet into the air, mysterious shadows, ectoplasm. The phenomenon is particularly prevalent in the homes of teenage girls. Someone has written on one of the sites that it’s because they are the spirits of paedophiles. Even in the afterlife, they can’t resist.

But it’s strange because this one doesn’t seem that way to her at all. Not predatory, more frightened, or hurt. And it is a girl, she’s sure of that. She catches fleeting glimpses of Her in the mirror as she applies her mascara. As she dresses she’s somehow aware of the weight of Her nearby, somehow wants Her approval, trying out colours and patterns, digging out things she hasn’t worn in months. She forgives the clumsiness, she can understand it, and the broken things so rarely belong to her.

Still, no one mentions it. At nights when the tower block is quiet like a huge forgotten tombstone, she lies awake and imagines what it would be like, to be a ghost. Fading in and out of walls, coming and going as you pleased, being young forever. That if someone touched you, their hand would go right through, and what would they be left holding but thin air? She imagines the ghost sitting in the dark and smiling. She falls asleep and dreams about Her.

Then, her mum’s purse goes missing. Robin is in the living room, curled up with the Reader’s Digest Tales of the Unexplained, and she feels her mum’s anger pour into the room in front of her, making her skin bristle.

Robin, her mum says, and she says it quietly, like her voice is coming from somewhere far away, from somewhere very deep inside of her. Robin. My purse.

She’s not used to hearing her mum say her name, so it takes her a moment to reply.

A ghost, she says.

There’s a long time when her mum’s face is that word: inscrutable. Robin almost gets to think that she’s not going to say anything at all.

Why would a ghost haunt a tenth storey flat?

Perhaps, she says, it is that She’s scared, or sad. Maybe something bad happened to Her. That’s what happens with ghosts. They get stuck here, until things get sorted out.

There were gangs in the past, weren’t there, in this part of the city? She could have got involved with one of those. Something violent happened to Her. Something She could never tell anyone. She would have lost Her friends. She wouldn’t know who to trust. She’d have felt very alone.

Her mum doesn’t like her talking about gangs. She rolls her eyes and almost looks like she’s going to cry. She thinks that Robin is part of the trouble she’s read about. She never asks what Robin does when she goes out: perhaps it’s easier to make her own mind up. The truth is she’s mostly just kicks about, loiters in museum exhibitions, rides shopping centre elevators up and down. She can waste hours in bookshops without buying a single thing. She’s learnt how to go unnoticed.

Her mum crosses the living room in three long steps, stretching out her arms towards her, as if to hug her, or as if to grab her and shake her, but then when she gets very close she stops and her hands drop. Robin can hear her teeth grinding together inside her head. I don’t believe you, her mum says. I don’t believe you. She rushes from the room, slams the door, and the flat is still again.

Belief. This is the thing. And people do believe in the strangest things: God, love, aeroplanes. Financial systems that no one understands. What is belief, anyway? Having faith in something you cannot see. Her mum does not believe her. Perhaps there’s no space for things like that in a home this small.

Robin goes to the French window, opens it, and steps out on to the cold balcony. The ghost is in the corner, so black and patient She might be her own shadow.  She moves away and gazes out over the city, to the place in the distance where the light from all the streets and buildings fades, imagines herself in that empty place. Perhaps she’s going mad. She wonders if she turns around and looks at the ghost straight on, She’ll disappear forever.

At last there comes a feeling clutching up from inside of her, something grabbing at her windpipe, and she spins around, growing big with her rage. The ghost cowers as if She wants to get away but there’s nowhere for Her to go and suddenly Robin understands it, how it feels to be stronger than someone, to make them scared, how it can make your heart beat.

Then she’s actually reaching out, opening her fingers like she will take hold of Her. She throws herself towards Her, intending to tip Her over the edge, to topple Her. The ghost catches Robin’s eye, opens Her mouth as if to ask for help, but the words are snatched away in a gasp.

When finally they make contact the surprising thing is that She’s solid to the touch. Robin can feel the pulse beneath the skin, the blood, the warmth of it. Robin grasps at Her, and instead of shoving Her away, she finds herself pulling towards Her, their limbs tangling, a mess of human forms when they come close. Robin places her head on Her shoulder. She rests all of her weight against Her, something even more than that. There’s a small cracking sound in her ribs and all of the air goes out of her, as if it were her last breath. She is letting herself be held. She holds her.


Amber Massie-Blomfield is a brilliantly talented writer. We’ve featured her once before and she was part of our Volumes of Text piece at the Sites of Alternative Publishing exhibition. Her writing has been read as part of White Rabbit’s Are You Sitting Comfortably and Storytails.

Read more of her work here.


One response to “Unexplained by Amber Massie-Blomfield

  1. Very enjoyable and intriguing read. I enjoyed the use of a capital H for her.

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