Sunday, 31 October 2010
All Soul's Eve and Hereafter...
I've just retreated upstairs, after running out of sweets for the hordes of little witches knocking on the door this evening. (I thought 60 mini-packets of Haribo would do the trick, but apparently I underestimated the demand).
The candle in the pumpkin is still flickering by the fireplace, beneath one of my favourite pictures of my sister and me in childhood, taken on Halloween. This isn't a shrine to my dead sister -- apart from anything else, she still seems in some sense alive to me, and the photograph has been there for the last few years -- but I feel as if the coincidence is one of the moments that remind me of our shared past, which continues to be present today. Ruth's presence is as fluid as time itself; a narrative that leaps forward and skips backwards; a hopscotch game like those we played together, on the pavement outside our house. I've not scanned the photograph -- it is fixed beneath glass in a picture frame -- but it is vivid in my mind's eye as I write this. Two small girls, beside a kitchen table, eating jelly out of hollowed-out oranges, on All Hallow's Eve.
James George Frazer writes in The Golden Bough: 'Hallowe'en, the night which marks the transition from autumn to winter, seems to have been of old the time of year when the souls of the departed were supposed to revisit their old homes in order to warm themselves by the fire and to comfort themselves with the good cheer provided for them in the kitchen or the parlour by their affectionate kinsfolk. It was, perhaps, a natural thought that the approach of winter should drive the poor shivering hungry ghosts from the bare fields and the leafless woodlands to the shelter of the cottage with its familiar fireside.'
If there are shivering hungry ghosts tonight, then I cannot believe that Ruth is amongst them. Like all those we love, she remains within my heart, cherished as she ever was, although not confined inside there. The dead remain elusive, unbound and unbidden, however powerful the threads that bind us to them; thus they have a life of their own.
No, if anyone seeks the affectionate shelter of home, it is me. The clocks went back last night, and now the darkness has descended; a time of year that I dread more as I get older, although I search for all manner of ways to embrace it... firelight, candles, good cheer. (How can I wish the winter away, when I learnt from my sister's untimely death that every moment is precious?)
But despite the compass that pulls me to the familiar safety of my house (a house that my sister never saw, yet which sees her face on its walls), I really should venture out to watch Clint Eastwood's latest film,Hereafter; for the book that I wrote about my sister's death, If The Spirit Moves You, was one of several sparks that set the screenwriter, Peter Morgan, on his way... Ruth was passionate about movies -- she worked for several film magazines, at the beginning of her career as a journalist -- and I imagine that she'd have been delighted to know that her story is alight on screen in some mysterious way...