About a year ago I wrote the first chapter of a novel for an assignment. It was called Miss Havisham’s Ghost and was loosely based on my own childhood but was intended to be a work of fiction. To be honest it didn’t get that good a mark so I shelved it.
Then a couple of months ago (or more) I started writing a ghost story. The story is really two stories which come together about half way through. At some point I decided that the original assignment could be stripped down, rewritten and incorporated into the story along with some other real life incidents I wrote about for a life writing project.
Unfortunately I’m struggling with the bringing them together part. I’ve been stuck on 7,600 words for so long I don’t know where to go with it now. Should I give up at 10,000 words and call it a long short story or keep going till I get to however long a novel has to be? It’s still called Miss Havisham’s Ghost. This is the last bit of the first chapter (the ghost story) and the start of the next chapter (autobiographical):
…In the middle of the room a coffin was laid out on the oak dining table. She had never been in this room before; it was dark and strange with old dusty books lining the four walls. It smelt a little like the school library. She had also never seen a coffin before or a dead body, if there was a body. There must be someone inside or why would it be here? Her breath came in shallow gulps as she moved closer. The lid was open and she could see the satin lining around the edges, pure white like her skin in winter. She didn’t want to look inside. It was bound to be someone she knew. Someone she knew and loved.
She was not prepared for what she saw inside. At first she could see only a small pair of feet encased in gold pumps sticking out from underneath the white gossamer dress, with its pink sash, like the one she had worn for her first communion three or four years ago. Then she saw the flaxen hair spread out like a fan on the small rosebud-embroidered pillow, the cold pale hands pressed together, as if praying for forgiveness. A tiny golden crucifix on a slim chain was wrapped around them. Then finally she saw the face – her face. The body in the coffin was hers. As dead as she was alive, the lips were slightly blue and there was a tiny trickle of blood in one corner of the mouth. She tried to scream but no sound came out. And then everything became blackness as she fainted.
In 1978, when I was in my twenties, I went to Poland with my father. He hadn’t been there since before the war so it was both a treat and a surprise for him. Even when his mother died in 1966 he had been unable to return. Then just when we were about to leave he received a message from his younger sister Frania that Halce, the second oldest, had passed away. The funeral was arranged for the day after we arrived and we were told that we could pay our respects beforehand.
Oh the shock! I had never seen a dead body before that day. My first impression and most lasting memory was of a small coffin (she was only about five feet tall) with its lid open and a pair of feet in laced up boots sticking out from beneath a calf-length black dress. I went in a little closer. She can’t harm me. What was I afraid of? I saw that her cold pale hands were pressed together, as if praying for forgiveness. A tiny golden crucifix on a slim chain was wrapped around them. She was at peace….
In one corner of the church a group of widows dressed in black sat huddled together, wailing and crying and crossing themselves. Such was their custom.
‘Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Misereatur tui omnipotens Deus, et dimissis peccatis tuis, perducat te ad vitam aeternam.’
‘May Almighty God have mercy on me, forgive me my sins and bring me to everlasting life.’
Of course. That made everything alright then.