The scissors were not in Flora’s workbox, though she remembered putting them in there just a minute ago, next to the new packet of black ribbon. She emptied the whole box out, but no scissors. They were the pretty stork-shaped ones that Frank gave her for her birthday, just before his last leave ended.
Frank, her brother, looked down at her from the top of the upright piano, frozen forever at the age of eighteen, in uniform, looking proud and cheerful. Two years later, when he gave her the scissors, he had looked much older, though he tried, still, to be cheerful.
Ma and Pa still missed him, as did Flora. She did not feel that her continued existence was of much comfort to them, in spite of all her efforts, and that made the thought that the scissors were lost even more distressing. She piled everything back into the workbox any old how and started to cry. She looked under the sofa, behind all the cushions, in the creases and folds of the dress she was mending, failing to find them.
Flora looked up at Frank’s picture to say she was sorry, and screamed. They were there, standing upright, leaning against the silver photo frame.
Ma came in and had to be told the story, which made her go all a-flutter. When Pa came home he heard the details and, though gruff, was not unmoved. He agreed to the idea of a séance without a moment’s argument.
So, two days later in the evening, Madame Sylvie, the local medium, the family and a few select friends were sitting around a small table in the dimly-lit parlour, calling for Frank to come to them.
The scissors still rested against the photo. Flora had not been permitted to retrieve them.
‘I sense a presence,’ said Madame Sylvie.
Ma whimpered a little, her hand trembling in Flora’s.
‘Is that you, Frank?’ asked Madame Sylvie.
Flora hardly knew whether she wanted an answer or not.
‘Your Mother and Father want to know that you are happy.’
The strings of the piano began to vibrate most unmusically. It probably was Frank, thought Flora. He always hated piano lessons.
The scissors took up the vibration. No-one moved or said anything, but Ma made a few squeaking noises. After a short build-up the scissors leapt into the air and flew across the room, missing Madame Sylvie’s nose only because she leaned backwards in time, and embedded themselves an inch deep in the dark varnished door.
There was a great deal of noisy confusion, and Madame Sylvie declined to continue with the séance or even to take a brandy in another room.
‘Frank always did have a bit of a temper,’ said Ma.
Pa pulled the scissors out of the door and locked them in his bureau. The next day they were back in the parlour. No matter how many times he locked them up they returned to the parlour, until he took them out of the house and ‘disposed’ of them.
Flora bought herself a new pair of scissors and stopped missing Frank so much. Ma would slip into the parlour to talk to him when she thought no-one was watching. Pa said nothing.
Shortly afterwards Flora moved to London and got a job as a telephone operator. Life began again. For her, at least.
It was a Friday afternoon. The neighbours were all at work or out, but Phil had the day off. He slipped the album out of its sleeve, checked it for dust and then put it onto the turntable. He could crank up the volume and listen to Dark Side of the Moon all the way through. Grinning with pleasure, he lowered the needle into the groove and scooted back across the room to settle on the sofa in the perfect position for the stereo sound, ready to let the experience wash over him. Bliss.
About a minute in something went wrong. There was a screech through the speakers as the arm flew across the record. Phil jumped up, swearing, and found a deep gouge cut across the grooves of the album and the needle broken in two, as if someone had pressed down on the arm and pushed it to cause maximum damage.
He could not work out how it had happened. There would be hell to pay when his dad got home. He had to run out and buy a new needle and get it fitted. The album he could not afford to replace yet.
While he was changing the needle a little bit of gravel hit him on the back of his head. Then another, and another. He got the job done in spite of that, and then a whole handful of gravel pelted him. Phil refused to go back into that room for days.
His Mum listened to some Dean Martin, his Dad played some Vaughn Williams. Nothing out of the ordinary happened. As soon as Phil ventured in with an album under his arm the gravel pelting started up again. He didn’t even try using the turntable.
When him Mum trod on some of the gravel, he had to tell them what had been going on. (He did not mention the broken needle.)
‘That’s a bloody load of nonsense,’ his Dad said.
Changed his tune when Phil showed them what happened when he tried to play a record. Even Dad got hit, and ran about the room yelling and threatening the invisible thrower.
‘It’s a poltergeist,’ said Mum. ‘We should call the Vicar.’
‘Or the local paper,’ said Phil.
‘You’re not calling anyone. This is nonsense. The pair of you have been watching too many films.’
A piece of gravel pinged across the room and caught Phil right on the ear.
A couple of months later he rented a bedsit in town and got his own stereo. His neighbours liked his taste in music no more than the poltergeist had, but at least they did not throw stones.
‘Where have you put my wallet?’ he asked, not bothering to conceal his utter exasperation.
‘I haven’t put it anywhere,’ she replied with an equal, countering contempt. More of this, she thought.
‘I left it here,’ he said, slamming his hand onto the empty spot on the chest of drawers.
‘It’s in the dining room,’ she said, ‘on the table.’
More of this, he thought.
‘Why did you put it there?’
‘I didn’t. Why would I move your wallet?’
‘That’s what I’d like to know.’
‘I did not move your wallet. You must have left it there and forgotten.’
‘I did not. I distinctly remember putting it here, where I always put it.’
‘You probably just think you did because that’s what you always do.’
‘No I… I put it here and thought I should get the new bank card and change it for the old one. That’s why,’ he said, ‘ I am holding my new bank card and wondering where the hell my wallet is.’
‘Well, something slipped your mind, because it’s downstairs on the dining room table. I saw it just now.’
They went down to the dining room, but the table was bare.
‘I don’t understand,’ she said. ‘It was here. You must have moved it.’
‘I haven’t even seen it this morning.’
They searched the dining room and found three biros and seventy-three pence in small change, but no wallet.
Back upstairs he pointed accusingly at the chest of drawers. She pointed to the floor.
‘There it is.’
There it was.
‘You said it was downstairs.’
‘It was. You must have picked it up.’
‘Or you did.’
‘I didn’t touch it.’
He bent down and grabbed the wallet before it could disappear again.
They turned away, each wondering why the other was trying to gaslight them.
At that moment, the car keys vanished from the bowl in the kitchen where they were always kept, to be found later in the pocket of a jacket he had not worn since it came back from the dry cleaners last autumn.