The Ghost of Rhosilli Bay

Ghost of Rhosilli Bay

Part 2: Bernadette

I open my eyes in wonder, yet confused as to where I am. The moonlight shimmers once more on the dark, shadowy sands of Rhosilli Beach. The wind still carries the murmurs of the sea to my ear. If this is death, why am I still here?

Then I see her.

I have no knowledge of who she is, although familiarity attempts to engage distant memories as she stands with her back toward me. Long dark hair, whether it is black or some shade of brown, I cannot tell in this light, flutters like streamers or flags caught in a frivolous breeze. She wears a black or dark coloured dress, tightly laced at her narrow waist, with the skirt falling almost to her ankles. Her head bowed and shoulders hunched, the cold winds carry to me the sound of sobbing above the hiss of the surf.

I watch for several minutes before realisation comes that she suffers grief like me. I stand and walk toward her. She has her hands clasped in front of her as if praying, her eyes closed, screwed up with tiny wrinkles at the corners, while the shoulders shake with each sob. I feel touched with such deep compassion that I am compelled to speak.

“Whatever is the matter? Why are you crying?”

Perhaps she had no awareness of my presence. She jumps like a frightened rabbit. Turning toward me, her eyes are wide, and her mouth gapes open. She lifts a clenched hand to her mouth stifling a scream, but I hear her gasp for breath. She takes a step backward, to steady herself, then wipes tears from her eye on the sleeve of her dress.

“Are you a ghost, or are you an angel?” Her voice is soft but high pitched, and there is a tremor in the cadence that hints of terror.

She makes me smile, the first smile since the tragedy in my life. “I’m neither angel nor ghost. I’m as human as you are.” I reach out to place my hands on her upper arms in reassurance, but I am shocked to realise how cold she feels. Her dress is damp, as if she has stood for an hour in spray from the surf. “You are going to catch your death of pneumonia standing here in wet clothes. Have you no coat?”

She shakes her head, the long hair cascading around her neck and shoulders. I unbutton the coat I wear. It is only three quarter length, but it may give her some protection. Draping it around her shoulders, I draw her closer. The clothing smells damp, musty, as if it has hung in the closet of a mould infested house for too long. I can feel her body shivering as I hold her, while the moonlight imbues her complexion with the wan pallor of the sickness.

“Come,” I say, “let’s go further up on the beach away from the water and out of the wind.”

She turns her head to look back at the sea for a moment, as if seeking permission. If my supposition is correct, then it must have been granted, for she turns back to take the hand I have proffered. We walk in silence across the beach to the tussock on which I was sitting, and then beyond, between the dunes of wind-blown sand and banks of marram grass. Beneath the stunted branches of a windswept leafless thorn tree we stop, I sit, pulling her down beside me. I notice her feet are bare, as she kneels, and then sits with legs folded beneath her.

“Now please, tell me why you were crying.” I put an arm around her shoulders drawing her shaking body closer in the hope of passing some of my body heat into her.

I think she is about to start crying again, but she swallows, and takes a deep breath. “My fiancé was lost in a tragedy at sea five days ago. He was drowned in the storm.”

Perhaps I have too deeply immersed myself in sorrow, that I have no recollection of a storm in the past week. I say nothing, and she continues, “He put out with the crew in the lifeboat that went to the aid of a ship foundering on the sand-banks beyond the Worm’s Head.”

I had no memory of seeing anything on the news about a ship running aground either, although if only a small fishing boat it may not have made the news. However, no matter how large or small, if there had been a fatality involved…

“But you will not understand what it means to lose the one person who is your life, your only reason for living. We were to have been married today.”

“I am so sorry. That is tragic, that today should be the happiest day of your life. My words are inadequate at a time like this, but I do understand.” I squeeze her tighter, as much for my own comfort as hers. “I lost one who meant as much to me almost as short a time ago.”

She looks at me, as wide-eyed as when I first spoke to her on the beach. In the light of this moon, her eyes glitter a shade of silver. “And was that a she who meant so much to you; a she whom you intended to marry?”

I nod my head. “Our wedding was arranged for early next year.”

She looks away, but I feel tension in her body subside as she allows me to support the pressure of her arm and shoulder against my chest. “How did she die?” She turns back to me, and I see warmth and compassion in her eyes.

I squeeze my eyes shut to try to prevent a tear forming. “An accident on the road. Another vehicle hit her, she... was burned to…” I’m unable to continue for the emotion that chokes me.

“I understand.” There is silence for a moment, broken by the mournful hoot of an owl from some distance inland.

I swallow, in attempt to recompose my feelings. “How did your fiancé…”

“Drown? He was attempting to help a survivor aboard when the boat lurched and the sea swept them both away. You will think me crazy, but I walk here each night because I am certain that one day he will return to me.”

“I suppose you mean as a ghost or spirit?”

“Perhaps, I have only small knowledge of ghosts. I thought you were he when I first saw you, as you appeared from nowhere like a spectre.” Her gaze seems to be on a distant star. “When I saw the first star of evening, I made a wish that William would be returned to me this night for our wedding.”

“His name was William?” I am incredulous. “But…then I must tell you, his name was the same as mine. What an amazing coincidence.” She stares at me. I guess her surprise can only be even greater than mine, so I try to laugh. The laughter sounds hollow.

“Why is it amazing? I wished for a William, and the angels sent you to me.”

“You believe in angels?” I ask, but I am already certain she does from the sincerity in which she spoke.

“If we trust in angels, they stop us doing stupid things we regret. I know they sent you because you are not from around here.” She smiles at me. “You dress differently, you speak differently.”

Her comment puzzles me, as I live no more than ten miles away. I hear no difference in out accents, or the way we speak, and other than the dress she wears, which seems a little old-fashioned, our clothing seems contemporary. “If angels brought us together, then your name must be Lucy.”

Furrows form across her brow as her eyes open wider still. “Why would you think that? I am Bernadette.” She pauses for several seconds and then moonlight glints on her moist lips as she smiles again. “Oh. Then I suppose the name of your intended bride was Lucy? I am sorry. Perhaps, if you had wished on the same star, my name would have been; however, if you wish me to be Lucy, then Lucy I am.”

“No,” I shake my head, “Bernadette is a lovely name. I’ll not have you change it for me.” I think for a moment, and then ask, “Do I look anything like your William in appearance? Only you said, you thought I was him when you first saw me.”

She looks at me, her head tilted to the side the way a canary in a cage gazes at its own reflection. “You are very similar, the same dark colour of hair, although his was cut a little longer, more full on his brow.” I smirk; she puts the truth so politely. “I think you are not quite so heavily built, but from memory of when you were standing, I believe you are a little taller. You do have the same compassionate eyes as my William, and like him, you make me feel safe, secure.”

I acknowledge her compliment with my smile, but before I can give a reply she continues, “Would it embarrass you if I asked you to be my William for tonight?”

“No, I’d feel no embarrassment.”

“Do you think your Lucy would feel you are committing adultery though?”

© 2008 Robert A Read. aka Mysteral.

 

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