Natalya Edwards

Updated: Sep 13, 2021

Ghost Directory (abridged)

1. Five years, ten months and a day before. We’re sitting in your back garden eating ice cream.

It was the day before I was leaving for university and you’d asked me to come over. It was just like every other time I’d come over that summer. The two of us, sitting on the small patch of grass at the back of your garden, drinking bottles of Strawberry and Lime Kopparberg cider and eating ASDA’s own Neapolitan ice cream straight from the tub, a spoon each.

Just before I left, I told you I was scared.

Scared of what?

That we won’t be friends anymore.

You told me I was being paranoid, that we’d been friends for six years why would a little distance change anything? I couldn’t explain it because it wasn’t something I had been thinking about, it was a feeling, really. There was a space between us, and it wasn’t just the physical space I had made so I was no longer in the direction of your cigarette smoke.

I had this strange ache in my stomach. Like there was some entity at the bottom clenching and twisting up my stomach lining. I wanted to see if, maybe, you felt it too. But, your nonchalant shrug and dismissive short laugh, well, that was enough to tell me you didn’t get it. This fear of tomorrow, of losing today, didn’t touch you at all. You were too busy looking forwards to consider what you might be leaving behind.

2. Five years and ten months before. First night of Fresher’s week.

I am standing in the alcohol aisle in Tesco’s with a flatmate. We had been invited to a Pre’s in a flat on the floor below us and neither of us had even thought to pack alcohol. I stared bewildered at the rows of cheap wine.

The flatmate told me to get a spirit, she said it’s better for getting wasted. She asked me what I drank and I blurted out Vodka before I could even properly think about it. It was the first spirit I’d drank. You’d stolen a bottle from your parent’s alcohol cabinet during a sleepover when we were fourteen.

The flatmate dared me to take a shot outside of Tesco. I did.

Immediately, I was fourteen again. Shotting vodka from the cap, pretending I couldn’t feel the disgusting burn it ignited. Telling you, yeah, it’s alright, so you thought I was cool.

3. Five years and five months before. I’m in a 24-hour off-licence, drunk.

Over the past few months, I’d become one of those girls who lingers in the smoking area outside clubs, begging people for cigarettes. I had about a 50% success rate and a growing nicotine addiction. Then, finally, one guy said to me just buy them yourself you cheap bitch. So, I did.

The short bald man behind the counter smiled.

What can I get you, love?

I scoured my brain for cigarette brands before asking him if he sold yours. I watched him roll back the screen and retrieve a recognisable plain white packet with an image of a blackened lung printed on the top.

He also asked if I had a lighter. I didn’t, so I bought that too.

I stood outside the shop, watching the ever-growing line for the club, and lit the cigarette.

Maybe it felt even more intense because I was drunk, or because for the first time I could taste it as well as smell it. I had never actually smoked your brand before.

Suddenly, I am standing outside a social club with you. It’s the start of our final year at sixth form, we’re at a friend-of-a-friend’s 18th birthday. You are telling me about the latest guy you are seeing.

You had taken his virginity and you were more than happy about it. He’d asked you how many men you’d slept with. You had given him a more than thorough answer.

I remember cutting you off as soon as the words left your mouth.

Wait, why would you tell him that? You said you’d never tell anybody.

It’s fine! It was just a bit of fun we had once, I kind of like it now. It’s like we’re real best friends, closer than anyone else. And, he thought it was really hot…don’t be like that, look it’s fine, I trust him.

Well, I don’t trust him, I’ve never even met him. Don’t tell anyone else, okay?

You pursed your lips and stayed silent.

…Who the fuck else have you told?

The taste of the cigarette had twisted. The tar now clung to the back of my throat like a chemical lining. I pressed the ends of the cigarette against the wall until it crumpled in my fingers. Then, I dropped it on the floor, scuffing it against the heel of my trainer. In my slightly hysteric, drunken state I must have thought the more thoroughly I stubbed it out, the more thoroughly I would eradicate the memory.

I took the nearest cab I saw back to my accommodation.

4. Four years and five months before. I was out. Thankfully, I’d replaced cigarettes with sticking my tongue down a girl's throat.

She was beautiful. I don’t even know how it happened. We made eye contact, maybe I smiled, and we were off.

I began to feel like I could see this moment. Like, I was watching it from afar, another body within the crowds that surrounded us. But I couldn’t see her face, just mine. So, I pulled apart in an attempt to commit her face to memory. But when I looked at her, under the blaring club lights, all I saw was you.

Immediately, my arm grabbed her shoulder, pulling my lips to her ear. Just need the toilet, sorry.

Come back.

I didn’t.

Next thing, I was squatting over the toilet, focusing on my breathing, trying to dissuade the tightness in my chest.

No more gingers.

Five minutes later, I found my friends. A part of me couldn’t help but look around for her. She had either left, or she just didn’t look like you anymore.

5. February. One month later. I just had sex, and I ruined it—I started crying.

6. Four years and four months before.

Oh no, are you okay...was that your first time?

I choked out a laugh. No, just ignore me. I’m pathetic.

Tell me.

I’ve been with one woman before, back in school.

She shook her head, oh dear, straight friend?

Yeah, how’d you know?

She laughed. It’s a rite of passage! Then, she kissed my cheek, her thick dark hair brushing against my bare elbow. It was strange, I no longer felt the suffocating concoction of yearning mixed in with an aching fear of rejection. Instead, it was replaced with muted desire, laughter, and sleep. Her name is Tiya. You would have liked her.

7. Three years, seven months and a day before. I was home for a few days and met up with a mutual friend. As soon as I arrived at the pub, she told me you had dropped out.

What, seriously? She texted me, like, six months ago. She didn’t even mention anything about Uni.

She explained how she had been clothes shopping in town. She went up to pay and there you were behind the till.

I asked what clothing shop it was.

Urban Outfitters.

You’re kidding? You hated Urban Outfitters with a passion. Overpriced middle-class white girl shit I remember you calling it.

We talked about how inevitable it was that you dropped out. You never liked law. You didn’t care enough. I thought you sold yourself on the idea of it from watching too many films where the defendant lawyer manages to save the wrongly accused through hours of meticulously searching through the small print, finding a loophole in the law. You thought you could be Atticus Finch, but an Atticus that manages to save Tom Robinson.

Jenna thought perhaps you had been pressured into it by your parents, or your teachers, but I knew you hadn’t. Everyone at that age was easily influenced—myself included—but not you. I remember we had got in an argument once because I bought a top from Urban. You sent me tons of articles about how fast fashion was polluting the planet, abusing their workers. It’s just a trend piece. You’ve wasted your money; you’ll hate it in a week.

It was hard for you to understand a point of view that differed from your own. Maybe, that’s why you thought you would make a great lawyer. Exuding only confidence and pure hard facts until you got your way.

I guess it hadn’t all gone the way you intended.

8. Three years and seven months before. I did some shopping in town and temptation drew me into Urban Outfitters.

It was busy. Really busy. I intended to go in and say hello maybe how are you? something, anything, but you were rushed off your feet serving. You didn’t even notice me; I suppose I must have blended in with every other person there.

I waited for the queue to die down. I entertained myself, running my hands through the racks of clothing, all slung on brown wooden hangers. It gave the illusion of quality, but all the fabric felt thin and stretchy, and when I looked down, I was met with a mountain of tops strewn across the floor.

You had your hair down. You always wore it in a tight bun at school, with a few loose tendrils of hair to frame your face. You hated wearing your hair down, you always joked how it was an untameable mane. These curls refuse to abide to authoritative figures.

I thought perhaps I had caught you on a bad day. Your skin looked chalky and your cheeks a little bloated. You weren’t smiling.

The queue had gone now. I swallowed my spit and began to approach you. Suddenly, another girl appeared. I stopped and watched you serve her. You spoke only out of necessity and barely made eye contact. Then, as you passed the girl her receipt your eyes darted up and looked directly at me.

I was expecting a recognising smile, maybe even mouthing a hey or a small and awkward wave, anything. Instead, you held my gaze in a way that left me clueless to whether you were seeing me or seeing a ghost you’d locked in the closet.

As soon as you served her you turned around to speak to your co-worker. You seemed serious, deep in conversation. I took it as my cue to leave.

9. Seven months before. You were waiting outside the cinema for me, vaping.

I’d moved back home and recently started an internship in a publishing house. Then, I ran into you at a mutual friend’s housewarming party.

You were different, calmer. You asked a lot of questions, so many I didn’t have a chance to ask you any back. You left before midnight, but not without asking me if I wanted to go to the cinema with you the following week. The third instalment to a horror film we’d both loved was coming out. I lied and said I had seen the sequel. Instead, I watched it the night before we met up. I hated it.

The third film was just as bad. It was so incredibly boring I kept slipping my phone out of my pocket every ten minutes to check the time. Every time something ridiculously cliché happened I’d roll my eyes and look over to you to see if your reaction mimicked mine. But your eyes remained fixed to the screen, engrossed.

As we left the screening you asked if I remembered going with you the first time. I said yes, but I appeared to have a warped version of events because you started talking about a double date.

You don’t remember? We came with James, my ex, and his mate. He was super into you, remember?

I clenched my teeth, remembering it now. That guy’s hands. My upper thighs. Me rushing to the toilet slightly hysterical and begging you to come home with me.

Well, I couldn’t leave James. Plus, the movie was good, it was worth it.

I remembered how I had returned to my seat. I had zipped up my coat so high the cool metal zipper touched my bottom lip. I kept my legs crossed and pressed my body into the chair. I waited until the moment the credits began to roll before jumping up and mumbling out some excuse before leaving immediately.

No, it was shit, Carey. Even that one was shit.

Well, sorry... You didn’t have to come. I only asked because I thought you’d be interested.

I drove you home. The whole journey we spoke in pleasantries, the way you’d speak to your hairdresser.

As I dropped you outside of your parents’ door you gave a tentative smile and mumbled a quick see you before you quietly unlocked the passenger door.

You unlocked your parents’ front door under the porchlight. I waited, watching as the door opened and closed, you fumbled a little with the lock until you were eventually successful. I stayed until your shadow in the frosted glass disappeared, and the porchlight flicked off.

10. One month and three days before. You called me. I missed it.

It was 9 pm. I had just got home from drinks with a few friends from work. As soon as I unlocked the door, I ran to the toilet leaving the bathroom door wide open. It was only my partner who was in and after four years together we were on a disgusting level of comfortability.

I heard my phone buzzing away in my bag. I assumed it was my Mum. No one from our generation randomly calls each other.

It wasn’t until I had a toothbrush in my mouth that I picked up my phone.

Five missed calls from Carey-Beary (Wifeeey)

I cringed. My SIM card must have picked up the name from an old phone.

I called you back, forgetting I had a foaming mix of toothpaste and saliva in my mouth. It didn’t matter, you didn’t pick up anyway.

Holding my phone out in front of me I looked at your contact details. It had a photo of you from high school, in an ill-fitting white translucent blouse. You had a deadpan expression, holding up your middle finger to the camera. No makeup.

I locked my phone and went back to the sink to spit out the toothpaste. It had been about ten years since that photo had been taken, and yet you hadn’t aged at all. Back then I saw you as so much more mature than me, with the alcohol, cigarettes, condoms. All these physical things you’d acquired to project your complete development into adulthood. We both perceived your fifteen year-old-self as fully formed—your personality set.

It was only as I was drifting off to sleep that I realised how dangerous that was.

11. One month before. Your mum called me. I picked up this time.

Hannah? It’s Claire, Carey’s mother.

I took a few seconds before replying. Something felt off. Your Mum had never called me. My stomach began pulsating.

I’m sorry. I have some bad news…

Her words washed over me, it all sounded so mechanical, rehearsed, as though she was reading from a pre-written note.

Carey went missing last weekend. We didn’t think too much of it because she always would go off for a few days, stay at a friend’s house. But her work called and said she hadn’t turned up…have you been in contact with her at all? Any information would be so helpful.

I asked her what day you had last been seen. It was the day you had called me.

12. Today.

And that brings me to now. Well, earlier today. Your mother invited me to your funeral at the very last minute, I should have known then how hugely inadequate I would feel. When I entered the church, I was charged with an overwhelming feeling that I was trespassing on other people’s grief. It was a hierarchy. Those closer to the front had a better title to claim you as theirs. Aunty. Cousin. Family friend.

I realised how much my relationship with you was fuelled by a horrible feeling that there was someone else, someone better, in front of me.

As the funeral progressed, I saw it wasn’t just me who felt like that. Everyone I spoke to seemed so shocked, bewildered. There was a sentiment among everyone I spoke to of utter shock and dismay. She seemed like such a strong girl. I never saw her upset, not once.

I came home that evening, a little drunk from the open bar and opened up my laptop. I began to write a list of all the reoccurring memories I had of you to prove to myself that I did know you as intimately as I so badly wanted to.

As I was writing I began to realise how we’d moved past each other. You had been the antidote to a different version of myself; an incomplete version of myself. Perhaps I had been yours too. Or was I just telling myself that so I could sleep soundly tonight, knowing that if I’d answered that phone call I wouldn’t have been any help to you anyway. Either way I still felt like a bitch.

My eyes finally released themselves from the screen the moment I typed the last word. I wanted to write more but everything seemed to get muddled on the page, all I had was these sporadic memories that even I couldn’t completely make sense of. As I retired to bed, I told myself I would write a better one, to better comprehend how you haunted me all these years. For now, though, this is all I have.

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