I keep my eyes closed, trying to rewind the scene of a child running around a garden, bright stars of cerise cosmos dancing above a mass of ferny foliage and the branches of an old apple tree heavy with ripening fruit. I can almost touch the silky petals and hear her laughing, but the memories slip away into a hazy montage of unconnected images, then into a blur and finally fade away.

Stretching my back, stiff as usual after sleeping awkwardly with the corner of the pillow tucked between my shoulder and head, I try to remember what day it is. Of course, it must be the weekend Matt is taking Josie to visit his parents. That’s why it’s so quiet. We had said the first weekend of November would be ideal. It gave us enough time to get her back into the routine of school and homework after our half term trip to Spain. I head downstairs into the empty house.

Why is the kitchen so tidy? Normally I create piles: letters from the bank about interest changes, the latest catalogue from an online clothing company, a bundle of receipts held together with a clothes peg, the latest shopping list and scraps of used paper covered with anagram letters scribbled in groups and circles. I keep school stuff by the ‘fridge: newsletters, letters about the next trip, forms to fill in and send back in the book bag… Today, it looks as if we are just about to go on holiday again. Everything is tidied away, surfaces clear and clean, fruit bowl emptied and the radio unplugged.

Did Matt stay up last night? I can’t remember him coming to bed. Maybe he stayed up late to tidy up and I was already asleep. I don’t know why, it’s not the sort of thing he usually thinks about. Why this time, when we had agreed I would stay behind? Maybe he thought I deserved a rest. Getting Josie settled into her new school has been a bit stressful, but I didn’t realise he knew. I must remember to say thanks when I call him later.

The answer phone is blinking. It’s started to play the messages. Did I touch any buttons? I don’t think I did.

“Saturday 20 October at 5.13pm: Hello, Matt. Just calling to say hope you had a great holiday, call us when you can.”

Matt’s Dad. Matt must have forgotten to wipe the message.

“Saturday, 20 October at 7.12pm: Matt, are you back? Did your flight get delayed?”

“Saturday, 20 October at 8.05pm: Matt, where are you? You’re so difficult to get hold of. Don’t you ever put your mobile on?”

For goodness sake, Matt, don’t you ever delete your messages?

“Saturday, 20 October at 9.30pm: Matt, I know you must be tired but you won’t forget to call before you go to bed. Your Mum is getting bit worried she hasn’t heard from you.”

Matt normally phones his parents almost as soon as we get through the door, but I don’t remember what we did when we got back this time. He really should have wiped all these messages by now. The machine will run out of space.

“Saturday, 21 October at 10.10pm: Matt. Matt. We’ve just been watching the news. Please call us. Please. We’ve left a message on your mobile. Just call us.”

I wonder what he saw on the news. Another terrorist attack maybe? I can’t remember anything special. It was probably nothing important. I think his parents worry about things on the news much more than we do. More time on their hands to brood over things, I suppose.

“Tuesday, 31 October at 9.34am: Hello, I’m sorry to leave a message on this phone but I don’t have any other telephone numbers. If anyone picks up these messages please could you phone with the details of the service? Oh, it’s Jenny by the way. Josie and my daughter are… they knew each other at school. Me and a few of the Mums are hoping to come.”

Jenny? I’ll be seeing her when I drop Jess off at school on Monday. And what did she mean by the service? Have they changed something about the Harvest Festival at school?

No, wait… what did the answerphone say? Tuesday 31? Half past nine? I thought Harvest Festival was on the 31st. I remember, we said it was too confusing, mixing it up with Halloween and all that. And assembly is at nine o’clock. So that can’t be it, it’s too late. And why didn’t I get back to her? I don’t remember anything about a service. In fact, I don’t remember this message at all. Is the phone on the blink? We’ve not had any trouble with it before. Let me play it again.

If anyone picks up? No other telephone numbers? I’m sure she’s in my WhatsApp group. What is she on about? And what does she mean by ‘knew’? That’s a bit odd too, unless… Of course, she must think they’ve fallen out again. Girls! They fall in and out of friendships at this age over the slightest thing.

But… knew? Isn’t that the word you use when…?

Get a grip! Being on your own is getting to you already. Josie is fine. She will be singing along with one of her DVD’s in the car, or playing on her tablet. Matt will be getting a headache and looking forward to one of his Dad’s killer G&Ts.

I’d better call Jenny and sort it all out. We’ll have a bit of a laugh, and fix up to have coffee in that new place in the High Street. Maybe I’ll treat myself to one of their Halloween spicy apple muffins. Oh wait, Halloween is over, isn’t it? If that message came on the 31st, then… Was that yesterday? No, I’m fairly sure it was a Wednesday this year. Josie likes to dress up and go trick or treating, but I told her she wouldn’t be able to stay out late on a school night. What did she wear this time? Did I make pumpkin soup with the left-overs? Why can’t I remember?

I should be calling Jenny. But my phone isn’t in the kitchen. My handbag is missing too. I run upstairs and look around the bedroom. Not a sign of it. Everything else is just as it should be. The duvet is smoothed out, pillows sitting up against the headboard, just as I like them. Did I do that just now? I’ve only just got up and already I’ve forgotten that I made the bed. Better have an early night tonight; I really must need some sleep.

Where is my phone? I run downstairs again and look round the lounge. It’s not in the dining room either, although heaven knows there wouldn’t be any reason to leave it there.

No sign of it. Nothing is out of place. Suddenly I notice that my coat is missing; my new one, the one I bought for Spain. Of course Matt’s and Josie’s coats aren’t there. They will have taken them for the weekend. But Matt wouldn’t have thrown mine in the boot as well, would he? That really would have been a bit dopey.

Or maybe we’ve been burgled? What else is missing? I race around the house looking for evidence. The spare bedroom is always a bit of a dumping ground. It’s where we keep suitcases and the kind of stuff you only need a few times a year, like the cushions for the patio chairs. Nothing seems to have gone, but… the suitcases? Why would anyone want our suitcases? Oh, I know; I’ve heard of burglars stuffing things into suitcases to make it easy to carry away their loot.

Jewellery, that’s what they like to swipe. Not that I’ve got much of any value. But I’d better take a look. I kneel by my dressing table. It’s always easier than bending over. I try to open the bottom drawer but it seems to be stuck. My hand just can’t get a grip to pull it open. I grimace with frustration and try again. No, it just won’t open.

OK, I’ll try the top drawer. I sit down on the chair and try the drawer. No, that one seems to be stuck as well. I must be getting old, I laugh to myself. I’d better check for grey hairs. I lean forward to peer into the mirror…

There’s no-one there.

[Samhain: November 1 for the Celts marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.]

Posted on behalf of Paula Eason


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