It was not a day on which I was expecting to meet a ghost. I know I write books with slightly eerie settings and incidents – also outright, unashamed ghost stories – but I don’t actually expect to actually find myself in one of those settings.
It was, in fact, a perfectly normal working morning. There was a chapter of my current book to get into shape, and it was going to contain an interesting, not too taxing, scene, describing how the main character was singled out by a lady as being a very desirable property. Actually, I had singled him out as a very desirable property, as well. It’s a sad fact of life but writers are fickle and heartless – in love with the current hero (sometimes also the villain), for as long as the book lasts, then on to the next one. Asked about a previous hero or heroine, they’re apt to say, ‘Who?’, struggle with memory for a moment, and then, with supreme indifference and even a touch of promiscuity, say, ‘Oh yes. That one. Yes, of course I remember that one.’
I described this particular hero as being in his early thirties, with soft dark hair, slightly too long, and wearing a green corduroy jacket, brown knitted tie, and cotton shirt. Rather like my beloved Victorian actor-manager, Sir John Martin-Harvey, whose photograph has hung above my desk ever since I can remember. Sir John played Sydney Carton, (for me, the all-time romantic anti-hero), in his own stage version of Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities. I’d have to admit Sir John’s brooding countenance has launched at least half a dozen of the characters in my books.
I re-read the scene with critical suspicion, convinced myself it might scrub up reasonably well, then went off to collect some shopping.
And in the supermarket checkout, two customers ahead, was a man in his early thirties with soft dark hair a bit too long, a green corduroy jacket, brown knitted tie… I watched, transfixed, as he put items into a plastic bag – pasta, wine, cheese and fruit. (If he had been buying the cut-price ready-made spaghetti bolognaise I would have had to abandon the entire chapter and re-think the seduction scene planned for Chapter Eight.)
He went out with his shopping, and I half fell through the check-out after him, scattering assorted items en route. Somebody helped field the tinned soup but the muesli had to be swept up and I don’t think they ever did find the scouring pads. But eventually I reached the car park, which by then was awash with torrential rain. Visibility was on a par with a Victorian London pea-souper.
And by that time, whoever he was (whatever he was), my dark-haired, green-jacketed man had melted into the mist. But I prowled hopefully round the car park anyway, peering into likely-looking cars, heedless of the melting bag of frozen carrots, never mind the CCTV.
I’d like to think he had gone quietly back to the netherworld of ghosts and fictional beings until wanted again (in Chapter Eight), but logically it’s more likely he had simply driven back onto the main road and gone home to cook his pasta and drink his wine.
I do know that the sensible explanation is that I had seen him in the supermarket on a previous occasion and subliminally absorbed his appearance and used it…
But I have never been able to rid myself of the sneaking suspicion – and the hope – that he had stepped, however briefly, from the pages of my own imagination, and that no one else in that supermarket saw him except me.