Once upon the Forest of Dean, I was a young woman leaving home. I was packing all my things, and, of course, some of someone else’s. One of the some was a little red dictionary, bound in faux leather, with little dimples covering the cover. Being curious, I opened it up.
I don’t know that I was looking for anything in particular, but here, I found it. As if written solely to satisfy my hunger for mystery, there it was, scrawled in fifty-seven-year old pencil:
‘Merry Xmas ’48, Norman’ – which lead me off in one confusion, as this was my grandfather’s name – ‘Love, Lulu’.
Now, I didn’t know anyone called Lulu, and neither did my mother, whose dictionary it was, when asked. Nonetheless, I needed to know the meanings of words, so I stashed the little red dictionary in my big university bag, and left home.
No sooner had I set foot on the train, that I heard a strange, distant whine, like a dog pining for its owner. Can’t be mum, I thought, that’s just silly. But the thing called out, ever so slightly louder, and I heard… ‘Aardvark…’
I shook my head and settled down into the 1980’s carpet chair, dismissing the hallucination. Trains make all kinds of noises.
I was moving in with a friend from school and college, an old-timer, Melissa. We never spoke much in school, but had gotten to know each other in free lessons at college, meandering the field and annoying our psychology teacher.
We settled into a rickety cardboard student house, No. 8 Warwick Street, and came to be sisters. We ate together, watched three doses a day of Neighbours together, avoided essays and Freshers’ Week together. Sometimes, though, we were alone.
One of these times, Melissa had just gone out and I was alone in the house. I was drying my hair after a shower, gazing out of my bedroom window over the rows of higgledy back gardens and walls, trying to guess which one it was the infamous York rapist was living in, having read of his recent release. Supposedly, it was on our block.
Suddenly the hairdryer started to fizz and smoke, and within seconds, it blew up. Luckily I escaped the damage without a scrape, and grumbled off to buy a new one. I thought nothing of it when, donning my coat and locking the door, a little whiny thing I can only describe as red, whispered, ‘Careful…’
Six months later, I was alone again. Melissa had just gone out, as seems usually to be the case, having discovered a hole in the kitchen wall that allowed more-than-socially-acceptable noise through from what must have been a bathroom next door. Having slept through an unusually cold night, I was achy and tired, and a little jumpy. I put the kettle on. Approximately three-quarters toward the boil, the kettle started to sputter and shake. I stepped back just as the plug spat itself out of the socket, with such force that it knocked the kettle, that had burst into flame at the base, off the counter and into a convenient leak from the freezer. ‘Careful…’ I felt, in my ear.
Another six months later, I had a boyfriend. Wanting to be aloof, with a fresh start in a new city, I was playing it cool. I was an independent woman, throwing my hands up happ-e-y. I was alone again. Half an hour after said boyfriend had left my place, about as much time as it might take for him to make it home, make a cup of tea and get into bed, I heard something. Lying in bed, frozen still, I listened. Three or four different voices, young, male, aggressive, were prowling the back yard, that my window overlooked.
Not daring to pull back the curtains, I listened as the voices, clear as day, seemed to explore the yard and confer with each other. They went quiet for a moment. And then a stone hit my window. And then another. And then another. Independence was far from my mind as I reached for my phone. ‘Please come.’ I said. ‘There’s someone here.’
Obedient boyfriend agreed, and I waited. For roughly twenty minutes more, about the amount of time it might take for said boyfriend to get out of bed, get dressed, bump into a housemate, and then make his way back… the stones and the voices continued. There was a knock at the door. My phone went off. ‘It’s me.’
Sidling down the stairs like a child on a mountain, bum against the ground, I edged towards the front door. A dark figure loomed behind the circus-mirror glass. Boyfriend.
The pair of us crept upstairs and boyfriend took a furtive peek behind the curtain, before pulling it back completely.
‘There’s nothing there, Anna.’
Needless to say, that relationship didn’t last.
The next day was moving out day, and I was cleaning the house. Melissa had just gone out to get some more bleach. Scrubbing away at limescale that was probably older than me, my eyes glazed over the grey sink, whirlpooled the plughole, and stared down into the black.
A short, loud but muffled thump caught my attention. A stupid young bird had flown straight into the window above my head, which I’d even opened to clear the chemicals from the air. The thing could have flown straight in, or anywhere else, but it hit the glass. I looked down to the yard.
There was no bird.
Returning my gaze indoors, I shook my head, and in that instance, I saw…
There, etched into the glass in the bottom-right pane of the bathroom window, was…
The very same handwriting as in the little red dictionary. I reached out and pressed my finger into the name, recording the exact feel of the letters’ curves, the scratchy dips in the glass. ‘Merry Xmas… Love Lulu’
I grew up over the following year, became wise and cynical, forgot, dismissed all but science. I forgot all about Lulu. That is, until my third year of university. I moved back into Warwick Street with my friends who were still studying alongside me. Melissa had graduated already, not having taken a gap year. There were three of us staying together, and the house on Warwick Street was available again.
And Lulu wasn’t there. There, on the same old bathroom window, Lulu wasn’t there. Although, what was there, was a tiny little noise… A tiny little whine, that brushed through my hair with the words, ‘I told you…’
I never took anything that didn’t belong to me again.