He was so cold and alone and her gaze so fixed and he could bear it no longer.
He reached out to her and took her hand and she gave that slow half smile he remembered and embraced him and once more they walked hand in hand as they had done in another life as the dawn light grew stronger.
There had never been a choice since the day he first saw her in her navy blue silk dress and she laughed and said ‘I always fall for the wrong men’ and his world tipped over and was never righted until this moment.
He woke and saw her standing by the bed, staring down at him. What did she want from him? She had been dead ten years and still she came and watched and waited.
Her gaze was steady; he yearned to reach out and take her hand, yet knew instinctively that to do so would be his own death. Nor did he dare to close his eyes.
Why did she visit him every night? What was she seeking from him or trying to tell him? He had done his best. Nobody blamed him, not to his face at least. What else could he have done? The alternative had been unthinkable and what would it have changed?
Would she have lived if things had been different between them that day?
She gazed at him, unwavering, expressionless, the dark eyes he could never forget. The room grew cold. he wanted to reach out and hold her, it was ten years too late.
She faded away, to reappear the next night and every night until finally, in the pre-dawn light, he did what he had long known was the only way out.
Readers and friends have asked me to ‘explain’ Lucy and that is to try to explain the unexplainable.
They ask ‘is she a ghost?’
If so, does she have an existence and autonomy of her own?
How does she come into being?
Has she power over the living?
You will recall that Lucy is Tom’s dead wife whom he has brought back into existence ( I did not use the word ‘life’ ) from the extremes of his love and his grief. My personal belief and experience is that such appearances in bodily form, call them spirits or ghosts or whatever, are entirely of our own making and have no independent existence. They cannot be seen or heard by others and can ‘influence’ the living only through dialogue.
Lucy is a projection of Tom’s emotional state; if you like, she is his alter ego with whom he converses and who guides him. He trusts her and relies upon her as he did when she was alive and in my novel she guides him out of his grief and towards the light and the future.
Tom knows what he needs to do, but needs to hear it from her as part of his journey out of sorrow and guilt towards happiness and self-forgiveness.
What greater love could there be?
It is as if Lucy has stepped out and is expected home any moment, for Tom has changed nothing in the house since the day of her death. It is a shrine to her memory.
Her clothes hang in the wardrobe, her shoes remain lined up in their grey wooden rack and her perfume and cosmetic bottles hold guard in the bathroom. The book she was reading lies open on the bedside table on her side, the one closest to the window overlooking the rear courtyard, and her iPad lies, battery flat for many years, on the dressing table where oft she sat and did her makeup while he watched and they talked of the day.
He has moved her bike from the entrance hall, but only to bring it upstairs to his study so that he can gaze upon it as he writes.
Tom knows it is all a bit “Miss Haversham”, but has rejected the pleas of his friends to change. He has no heart for it.
Tom is not mad. He knows the boundaries. He has not clothed her dressmakers dummy and danced with it at night, nor does he set out meals for her each day.
If, however, he can bring her back to life through the strength of his love, what might making a shrine achieve?
Now, after meeting Anika and returning home to Brusnwick, Lucy persuades him that it is time to change. Baby steps maybe, but steps all the same. The photos on the stairs walls they will not touch. The photos on the bedside tables they will not touch, nor her perfumes or the half empty bottle of her shampoo in the shower.
He does agree to donate some of her clothes to charity and to give away her shoes and collection of her trademark cloaks to a vintage shop run by Clarissa. He keeps her dresses with special memories and the crimson shoes she wore the day they wed, reluctantly agreeing to move them to the spare room.
He feels empty afterwards and barely listens when Lucy whispers that next he must rearrange the furniture and throw out the old fashion magazines still cluttering her work table, scissors and tape where she left them that last morning of her dashing out with a kiss and a wave and a slam of the rusty gate.
One step at a time.
Tom is on the Camino, walking and talking with his beloved Lucy and, spoiler alert, we soon learn that she died five years ago and that Tom, immersed still in his well of grief and longing, keeps her alive as his spiritual companion.
Tom is not crazy. He knows that Lucy is dead. He has chosen to manage his grief by keeping the memory of Lucy alive in his own way. She is his companion.
Anika, whom Tom has not yet met, has chosen to deal with a similar situation by grieving for a time and then burying it unresolved. Naturally such intense emotion will burst out in extraordinary ways and so it does with Anika. But that is far In the future.
We all live with memories of joy and sorrow, of regret and remorse. Some of us may turn these into ghosts, knowing that they are projections of us.
And yet may they have a life independent of us?
And this takes place on the Camino: what better place for such powerful forces to play out, a place steeped in memories and hopes and experiences of redemption, of miracles and of simple second chances.
Or pure good luck, which can happen anywhere.