After the events of that night, for a couple of days, Edward felt strangely satisfied, and as such nothing happened.
Ten days passed, and his life took over, again.
Rose was still in his thoughts, but at work, he had too many things to do, and no time to meet her. Actually, she was working on different projects than his and as such, he had no other way to see her but at the coffee machine. In these days, though, she was spending most of the time in the office of one of the managers of the firm, with whom she had started working more closely in the last weeks, and rarely spent time in the leisure room.
Maggie wasn’t showing herself at the office much either since he was almost always working with someone. At least, his career seemed to have taken a good turn: his boss, one of the owners of the law firm, had started giving him small clients to manage in semi-autonomy. That was the reason for all the meetings: they needed to discuss the strategies for those customers the boss was migrating to him. In the boss’s idea, he would take care of the biggest clients while Edward would leverage his work on the small customers to get the necessary experience, to grow personally, and in the company.
Edward liked the turn of events. The company was evidently growing – three new freshly graduated boys had joined in – and that had changed his view about his job, and with that his overall mood.
At home, with Maggie too, everything changed for the better. He didn’t feel ashamed of his own desire anymore and felt free to touch himself when he needed it. Margaret, on her part, liked to discreetly join him, looking at him from behind or staying invisible when he did it. Only once, she had participated actively, like their first time. Edward was looking again at some porn and she had – once again – started imitating the actress, with very good results too.
The little petite ghost seemed to be restraining itself though, sometimes. As if she wanted more, and yet she couldn’t, or wasn’t sure about how to do it.
He interrupted his thoughts to get off the bus. A couple of minutes afterwards, he was out of his building.
That evening though, when Ed pushed the wooden gate of his building, something felt off. The lampposts in the yard had been turned off, and there were two low red-wrapped candles at the sides of the path to his stairs, nothing more. On the farther side of the yard, he noticed someone moving but didn’t care too much: he just wanted to arrive home as soon as possible, and relax.
Maggie appeared as soon as he entered his apartment. He had got used to keeping on only the necessary lights, so he could see her and talk to her while he brewed his evening tea. It was a small routine that made him feel “home” as he hadn’t felt for long. Even if he knew Maggie was with him all day, having to come back home to see her was like having someone actually waiting for him.
Maggie had become more cheerful too. The ghost was undergoing a transformation that was clearly visible to Edward.
Tonight, though, as he tried to speak with her, he couldn’t get rid of that feeling he had gotten in the yard, that something was off. He looked down the window, at the dark yard.
It wasn’t, actually, completely dark. From above, he could see the two candles he had noticed were not the only ones. There were other candles in the corners of the yard, all wrapped in their red containers.
And Mrs Turner was there. She had evidently just lit the last candle and she was positioning it with care, as if it was a very important job. Then, one of the doors opened and a man came out of it. He was a man living in an apartment on the ground floor, Edward had never spoken with him.
The man started yelling at Mrs Turner. Ed couldn’t hear his words but it was clear he was complaining about the candles in front of his windows. He kicked one of them, and it flew a couple of yards away, extinguishing itself.
The old woman must have replied back with her usual stubbornness, because as she tried to re-light the candle and reposition it in front of the man’s window, he got angrier and the quarrel quickly escalated.
Once again the man extinguished the candle and another time Mrs Turner lit them. It was at that point, as the woman knelt to light another candle, that he pushed her and made her fall. Then he kicked the candles away again, and entered his apartment, shutting the door behind him.
Mrs Turner had been left on the ground, alone, in the darkness, and even if Edward had never liked that old woman, he had been taught you should always help someone in need. There was no way he could ignore that.
“Maggie, I’m going downstairs. Stay here; it’s dark and you risk being seen.”
“Mmm… Ok. What happened?”
“Nothing particular, just a condominium quarrel,” he said, even if he wasn’t sure about that. Everything had felt surreal, without any sound reaching him, and he wasn’t even sure if he was doing the right thing going downstairs or not. Indeed, there was a high chance the old woman would yell at him too.
He reached downstairs in a couple of seconds, and ran to the spot where Mrs Turner was.
“Mrs Turner, is everything OK?” he asked.
She had pulled herself up to sitting, at least, and didn’t seem to be harmed in any way. Against all expectations, though, she answered with a voice tone he had never heard before, from that woman.
“I’m fine, thanks,” she said grabbing the arm Edward was giving her, and standing up. Again, as soon as she stood up, she silently reached out for the candles and began positioning them carefully.
“What are these candles for? Is there some kind of celebration, tonight?”
“Oh boy, do I look like I care for celebrations?” she said, acidly, and in fact, she didn’t look like the type to celebrate anything, not even her birthday. There was a higher chance those candles were part of some dark-magic ritual to kill someone in the building, he thought, and smiled basking in his own silliness.
Edward picked up the matches that were still sparse on the ground, knelt in front of the three candles the woman had already positioned, and lit them.
“It seems I should consider the fact you may be a good boy, in the end.”
“Well, I’m good enough not to kick a lady and leave her on the ground on a cold night, that’s for sure,” he bitterly joked.
“It’s nice of you to help me,” the old woman said in a whisper, as if she didn’t want him to hear it.
“So, am I being pushy if I ask again what are these candles for? I never noticed them before.”
“It’s a long story, and I’m feeling cold already,” she complained.
“Well, I like tea with honey and milk,” he answered, and it seemed to him the corners of the old woman’s lips curved in a slight smile.
The apartment of Mrs Turner smelled of antiques and dust. It was the typical scent of books left rotting for years, unopened, in the libraries; the scent of textile covered armchairs and sofas, long since left uncleaned; it was the smell of freshly made soup, that every good grandmother would cook for her nephews, but there was no soup on the stoves on which she put a kettle to prepare the tea.
Ed liked the fact she was doing it in the old way, not using an electric kettle as he was used to. He sat in an armchair, in front of a small tea table, and waited patiently, looking around.
Apart from lots of books, though, there was nothing in particular to see. Old black and white photos were positioned on a low, wooden dresser on the opposite wall of a library. Some were covered with dust, but two seemed to have been dedicated special care. Their silver frame was shining, their glass was clean. Inside, the photos of a man that could have been in his fourties, and of a group of people he couldn’t identify well from that distance. He guessed he could be her husband and, maybe, her family, and thought how nice and pure was the love of an old woman, even after all those years.
He didn’t dare to ask, anyway.
It took some time for the lady to prepare the tea: she was moving slowly, and seemed to have lost her usual edge. At least, Edward thought, something good could have come out of that event.
Then she sat in front of him and for a moment she seemed even older than she was. Her cheeks were hollow, her shoulders curved, but when she began speaking she regained all of her usual composure, and with it, a voice tone that – if not arrogant now – was sure and clear.
“You may not be aware of the past of this building, since you have been living here for only a couple of months, and yet… There are legends, some of them scary, some not. Some find their root in the previous centuries and it has been lost track of whether they were true or false.”
She sipped her tea. Ed noticed the cup was trembling in her old hands.
“But I lived here for more than eighty years, and I learnt most of them. There is the legend of the soldier who became a hero and bought and rebuilt this building with his money – you may have read the old plate on the inner wall, close to the gate,”
Ed recalled noticing something like that, but he had never actually read it.
“There is the legend of the three sailor brothers, sons of a poor woman who rented a place here for years. It’s said they sailed abroad looking for money and fame and – the tale says – they became rich lords in far, eastern countries,”
Edward took a mental note, he wanted to know more about those sailors, he had always liked old legends and had never thought that old building could have its own. He didn’t ask, though. It was clear the old woman had yet to reach the most interesting part of her story.
“There are other tales, of course, but among those, there is one my grandmother used to tell me and my brothers and sisters, that was both scary, and sad at the same time. She used to call it “The legend of the chained bride.”
She sipped her tea again, looking for the right words to continue. In her dark eyes, Edward could see the reflection of the candles outside her window. Again, he found himself silent, unable to speak or question her. He just waited, his cup of tea close to his mouth and nose, enjoying its comfortable warmth.
“This building, even if it seems so fancy now,” – at these words Edward had to restrain a laugh – “was originally only an extension of the main mansion that was located near the end of the road. There is no trace of it anymore, it’s been destroyed in a war and demolished to build new houses. Of all the buildings in the mansion, though, this one resisted unscathed. My grandmother used to say there is a reason to this, and the reason could be her.”
Ed could feel the tension in her words, and his anticipation grew.
“The girl was the daughter of a servant of the lord, a girl dreaming of a man to love and a family, nothing more. And yet they say she was so pretty, that every man who saw her wanted to get his hands on her. The lord of the mansion wasn’t different, and once she became a woman – at the time that happened very early, as soon as a woman was able to conceive a baby – he formally requested her to become one of his concubines.
It doesn’t even have to be said, but the lord wasn’t actually in love with that girl. For him, she was a mere object to show off to his guests, and as such the girl was treated. She lay chained in her chambers most of the time, served by her handmaids, with a heart sadder than her body, which the lord repeatedly violated.
The man was a smart man, though. He didn’t want to ruin the beauty of his ornament girl and he did everything to prevent her from getting pregnant. Eventually, though, years of captivity later, it happened.
The lord’s initial – probably fake – happiness soon changed to indifference and disdain as the baby grew in her belly and her body changed. His decorative girl had lost his beauty. After some time he just disposed of her, sending her back to her family.
Complications during the delivery, though, consumed her so much that she died soon after it, cursing the man that had been unable to love her.”
The old lady stood up and, slowly, brewed some more tea in the empty cups, then continued.
“There are stories… Stories of her ghost living in the building since that time, stories of it appearing on dark nights, stories of a girl’s voice speaking from the void. And boy, I know what I’m talking about: I heard her myself. I could never forget that sound: the slow, sad lament of an entity cursed for eternity.”
Ed knew it was Maggie she was talking about, there was no way she could be any other woman, that ghost. The age matched, and the fact that old woman had been able to hear her voice, matched with what the ghost had told him, about her past in the building.
“Me, my sisters and brothers – ooh, we were eight siblings at the time, and I’m the only one still alive! – listened to that story so many times that, when we heard her voice, we knew who she was.”
After that, the old lady seemed to drift in the thoughts, unable to decide how to continue.
“So why the candles?” Edward asked.
“Tonight is the night she died, and the women of the building should light candles in her honour, if we want her to continue protecting us. Twenty candles, one for each year she spent in this world.”
Now, Edward was overly curious. That old lady was the only one that could help him to find a solution for himself, and for Maggie. Maybe there was still hope to find a way to free the ghost from her curse, and regain his freedom? He had to ask.
“If her ghost is living in this building, could it be because she still has something to do in this world?”
It was common knowledge, that a ghost would remain linked to our world only until it had resolved it issues here, and then leave for the afterworld.
“My wise grandmother used to say, that there is only one thing able to break the chains of hatred.”
And of course, Edward knew what it was.
“This girl… Did she had a name?”
It was pointless to ask, but he had to be sure.
“Of course she had. It was Margaret, as all the first girls of the family had been named, from that moment onward.”
The old lady suddenly stood up and took cups and kettle to the kitchen. When she came back, there was no trace of the melancholic expression she had had just before.
“I’m tired now, would you excuse this old lady?”
Edward understood it was time to leave.
“It has been a nice evening, thank you for the tea and the tales.”
He exited the apartment, closing the door that led into the yard behind himself. Then turned around to turn on the light.
For the first time, on the side of the switch just under the ring bell, he noticed the plate with the old lady’s family name.
And just before her surname, there was a black, handmade “M”.