Ever since I can remember the hoover lady has been in my Grandma’s house. Wearing a long black dress and white bonnet like a Victorian maid, a fixed smile stitched onto her pale, creamed corn face. My mum told me that she was even older than that. Even as far back as when she was a child, sorry mum, its black bead eyes used to follow her around the room, taunting her, silently asking her if she was ever going to clean up after herself.
My grandma lived a long, full, devoutly Christian life before dying at home at the age of ninety-three. It happened on the same day as my birthday last year. The socially distanced funeral was attended by a small number of family members and friends from the church. The neighbours lined the streets outside the assisted living centre where she spent her final years, waiting for the hearse to arrive. When it appeared, it was trailed by the long black limousine that would take us to the internment. The only suit I had was wedding day blue, but I felt, due to her current state, my grandma would not mind too much. After we had quietly ushered our condolences and stared the gates of heaven straight in its golden poles, we took her flowers to the family plot in Chatteris Cemetery. However, finding the consecrated remains of our former loved ones proved easier said than done. The fields were a maze of hundreds of old-fashioned names that you would never see dressed on a baby born today. Edith’s, Margaret’s, Bertrand’s, and Greta’s. Ok, maybe now you will see a few more Greta’s especially if the world continues to choke itself blue with greed. I have reached the age in my life now where I am required to act in case of emergency, injury, or death so that is where I was. Helping my mum pack up my grandmothers flat. Trying to separate memory from the debris of day-to-day life. Amongst the things we threw away was a box of old, unopened Quality Street hidden right at the back of a drawer, which was miraculously one month out of date. I have never been able to keep anything sweet in my house without it being eaten for long enough to realise that it may even have a sell by date or that it was even capable of going bad at all. I admired the fact that she seemed to possess even more willpower than the caramel inside the big purple one, the caramel that had desperately tried but ultimately failed to not form a solid mass around the nut. I ate it. It tasted like the carpet.
Its customary when somebody dies that you take with you some mementoes of their time here on earth as a keepsake; a lasting memory, and it does really work. I was around five when my Great Grandma from Portsmouth passed away and I chose to keep from her a small, ceramic box with a leaf embossed lid that opened from the top like a miniature tomb, and though I no longer have the box in my possession I know that I will always remember the little box and in turn my great gran as its keeper. My memory of her is also bolstered by the fact that she is the only person I have visited who had an outhouse toilet. In those memories I am bare foot and freezing in pitch blackness, feeling my way along the wall, and trying not to kick over any potted plants.
My grandma left me a couple of gold necklaces in her will, along with her music collection which was over ninety nine percent Andre Rieu. She appeared to have every live performance he had ever dramatically shrugged and jerked his way through in a huge stack of DVD’s next to her china cabinet. I decided then and there that wills were to be taken at your own personal discretion and I am sure it would be a glorious day at Help the Aged when this huge trove of violin mastery arrived at their doorstep. Think of the lives that me and Andre would be saving together. I doubt he would ever think to thank me. Instead, I took one of those old-fashioned gold carriage clocks, the kind that old people always seemed to have. I also took a wooden cross because, though I am probably an atheist, I still felt it wrong to have it grow forgotten with dust and neglect. My Gran was not a small lady and she, for much of the time that I knew her at least, had mobility issues which she eased with the aid of several strategically placed litter pickers around her flat. I think it was in these where I found my most recent memories of her life, so I took one of those too. It has sentimental value but do not be fooled, my laziness was piqued, as much as laziness has the energy to be piqued.
We packed the car and made one last trip with a box of three different tea sets all individually wrapped in pages from The Sun newspaper and The Daily Mail. My mum had sold the local co-op out of all their copies. The assistant must have thought we were crazy for those holiday coupons. We both cannot wait get to fly all the way to Ibiza and back for less than a tenner. As I stopped to close the door for the final time, I saw the hoover lady staring silently after us, and acting on an impulse for a desire that I did not know that I had I snatched her from her perch on top of her military green and brown vacuum cleaner in the corner by the bedroom door. Now, after what has happened, I believe that the decision to rehome the hoover lady was not a choice made by me at all. As we made our way to the car she stared back at her disappearing past over my shoulder, a frayed stitch under her eye, animated by the breeze like the single quiet tear of a stifled sadness.
My small Brighton apartment has been no stranger to paranormal activity. Last year, over a two-week period, our electric toothbrush in the bathroom developed a mind of its own. It would buzz into life in the dead of the night for a few seconds before clicking off, only to start up again moments later. By the morning its usual three-day-long battery charge would splutter to a halt at the sight of the first incisor. Sure, you can blame it on faulty wiring, but faulty wiring does not often lead to your terrified girlfriend asking you to rush home because she is too afraid to be alone in the house with it. Eventually we threw it away, exorcizing the spirits and we returned to manual brushing. The spectres of the past winning their pitched battle for traditional dental hygiene. Four out of five ghosts agree. We managed to capture a drawer in our kitchen opening all by itself on my digital camcorder, and yes, I will admit that my girlfriend was hidden inside the plate cupboard underneath, pushing the drawer from behind so we could hoax the Reddit ghost hunter community, but that does not explain the two orbs of light that we also caught in the frame. The video has been watched over a thousand times, what could be more tangible than that?
For the first few days of having the hoover lady as our house guest nothing out of the ordinary happened barre a few jump scares and mini cardiac arrests that she gave us when we forgot that we had stuck her directly opposite the bathroom door. One night, whilst I was brushing my teeth, manually, I had that horrible foreboding feeling of being watched. I imagined her stitched face peeking around the door ‘I know it’s the middle of the night, but I have spotted some mud near the door that has been walked into the house, and you’d better clean that up otherwise you will regret it’. But as the sun dove down into the sea at the end of her first week, we had basically forgotten she was there. She was literally and figuratively, part of the furniture.
The trouble really started when she was decapitated. I’m no psychic medium, but anyone who has seen even one episode of Most Haunted will surely testify to the fact that removing the head of the hoover lady was were the problems truly began, though traditionalist ghost investigators will argue that it was when she was given permission to enter our home or even when I made the decision to take her away from my Grandma’s flat; From her psychic sanctuary, her energy and spiritual forces twisting and stretching out from her, undisturbed, for years and years like a stoic and ethereal oak tree, standing ageless and still. Its roots, invisible below the surface, locked in a wild race to the boiling hell in the centre of the earth.
The hoover ladies head was attached to the collar of her dress by a strip of Velcro sewn round the base of her neck. Once removed from her appliance perch her clothing is the perfect length to hide a twelve-year-old girl. This discovery prompted a whole afternoon of pranks and skits as my daughter impersonated a day in the life of a Victorian maid. Her day began with her sitting up startled in bed, her torso giggling uncontrollably. There was not much cleaning on her schedule though, the afternoon consisted mainly of peeking round corners and sneaking up on her brother. Once she felt she had fully mastered the animatronics she decided to add some flair to the performance by trying to operate her feet first. This proved a step too far. The Velcro finally gave way, and the head span off through the air, landing with a soft bump next to the washing basket. Maybe the curse might have prevented if, out of respect, she had been patched up and returned to her position but after the execution, my daughter quickly became bored and she kicked the now empty dress off the side of the bed where it remained for the rest of the day.
It was my children’s last night with us before they went back to their mum’s house, so we ordered a fish supper. We ordered it for delivery even though the restaurant was less than half a mile away at the bottom of the hill where we live. I told everyone it is because they do not accept cash and the ATM was all the way up at the top of the hill but, in all honesty, was for the same reason that I also now have a litter picker propped up against the wall next to me. The children helped us carry the sauces, mayonnaise and ketchup, and a tall glass jar of salt to the front room so we could eat in front of the television. They returned to gather their plates and cutlery. This is when it happened.
In the short time it took for the us to make the trip down the hall to the kitchen and back the jar had been completely upended, mounds of salt strewn across the living room carpet like sand dunes. There was no one in the room. We had all been in the kitchen, me, my partner and both children. There was no one in the room. I went to fetch the dustpan and brush. I found the dirty bristled, pink handled brush in its usual place beside our recycling basket but there was no sign of the pan. I checked all over the flat, it was nowhere to be found. I asked everyone and nobody had used it. I checked outside by the plants the stood like palace sentries on our front porch, but it was dark and raining and unswept. I even potholed deep into the back of the barely accessible boiler cupboard, past the bags of bags for life and the camping equipment, but to no avail. I sit here now, five days after the event, and still the bright pink pan has not reappeared. It is not like it is of a hue that easily blends in with the rest of our stuff. It has simply vanished.
It went to get the vacuum cleaner instead. It stood alone in its usual place by the bathroom door. As I picked it up the handle came straight off and it collapsed to the floor in three pieces. It is a small compact hoover, shaped like one of those stick thin Dyson’s but a lot cheaper and without hurricane technology. I shouted an expletive. The hoover was probably the first adult thing that I have bought since I ill-advisedly got my ex-girlfriend a lawn mower for Christmas about ten years ago. The hoover bag is attached inside a translucent black plastic chamber held to the motor with an orange clip. Over the year or so that we had had the hoover it had lost suction a small amount, probably due to the amount of dust clogged up in its pores, but this was the first time its structural integrity had failed like this. Why tonight? It was as if it somehow knew about the dustpan and the salt. I took the pieces into the front room. The salt had been crudely piled into a single peak in the middle of the floor. The orange hoover clip did not appear to have suffered any superficial damage but try as a I might it would not clip back together. The salt remained on the floor mockingly for two days until we were able to borrow James, bright yellow cousin to Henry, from the office where we work. I gave up on trying to rebuild the hoover and as I turned to return it back to hall I looked back at the pile of salt. There next to it, staring dead eyed in my direction, was the Hoover Ladies Head.
How’s that a coincidence?