All Families Are Haunted

My grandfather was a war veteran; he drove sup-
ply trucks to the frontline trenches in WWII. He
returned as a haggard soul, haunted by memo
ries of machine gun fire and a midnight swim across a lake
while fleeing from the Nazis. He brooded and drank on the
weekends, like the Maritime Irish do, but he worked, dog-
gedly, in that grim-faced, determined style common to all
the winter port railmen from the west side of Saint John,
and supported his wife and five children as best he could.
Still, there was little money. Condensed milk was a treat,
carefully reserved for the eldest son.

My grandfather’s drinking grew worse. he found it harder
and harder to get out of bed on Monday mornings, and my
grandmother grew tired of dragging him. Finally, one day,
she came home and said to him, “You have a choice. It’s me
or the bottle.” To which he replied, “I’ll drink till I die.” And
so she left, taking the kids with her. My grandfather died
shortly thereafter; a victim of cancer.

My grandmother found work and managed to support her
kids, one of the first single mothers in her neighbourhood.
She kept hidden the growing lump in her breast, the one
that would eventually take her life, because she had no time
for it. Family came first.

My mother, aunts and uncles were young when their fa-
ther passed away in ‘68, but they remember growing up in
his absence. At one of the only family reunions they ever
had, years later, they finally discussed him. One by one, they
shared stories in hushed and uncertain tones, as if describ-
ing someone in the room. They tasted fear in their wine
glasses, and placed them down on the table.

My aunt described hearing her name whispered from the
dark corners of her mother’s house on lancaster Street. My
mother recalled feeling the presence of him in her room
and his hands on her covers, as if he was tucking her in.
She remembered strange noises, and recalled banging her
head against the headboards repetitively before bed as a
child, trying to make her mind stop. They all heard and felt
strange apparitions and witnessed doorknobs rattling. Each
echoed the experience of their father’s ominous presence, as
if he was waiting for his wife in purgatory, trying to atone for
his fateful choice – a restless spirit.

A last shared story emerged. One day, while my grand-
mother was still alive, she and her middle daughter saw a
bright, eldritch light emerge from the bedroom, expand-
ing as it moved towards them. It was made of fire, a soft,
serene tongue of it, and it swept into the kitchen and was
gone. They chased it down into the living room, horrified
and astounded, but it disappeared. They saw it as an omen,
a warning that their time was coming. Shortly after, both
women would be gone, my aunt dead before her time at 29,
cancer again. All the children agreed on these stories; each
had their own, but they all related. It was the one and only
time they ever spoke of it together.

The haunting stopped when my grandmother passed, 10
years after my grandfather’s death in 1978. There were no
more strange noises, no footsteps, no whispers. They slept
soundly from that point on, their father apparently satisfied
that his wife had joined him, that he could be forgiven for his
choice, the one sin that burned away all his good deeds. But
my mother recalled one last event, told to me.

In the two months following my grandmother’s death, she
felt a strange presence in her basement, the house I grew up
in. It hovered there, simply watching, observing the eldest
daughter begin her own family. Eventually, it faded, all of
a sudden, and she was free from the spectre of her loving
mother who had sacrificed her own life for the good of her

I was around two years old then, and that’s when I began
hearing the whispers in my own mind, the dry and rasping
voices from the end of a long, dark tunnel. But that is a
different story...

// Kevin Murray,

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