Truly, madly, ghostly

29th October 2004 at 01:00
Oh, why can't we use real blood? Why?" Their Hallowe'en homework was to write a letter from a ghost. Now it is time to display it. Parents may not like this, I was warned. You know, it is all a bit, well, deathy. And there's a lot of blood on the walls. I nod and frown and carry on stapling ghosts. I mean, really.

Ooh, look, it's Miss Paver, isn't she one of those Daughters of Satan? Yeah, she does these scary old plays. Ghosts, murder, suicide, madness and witches in one of them. Ghosts, murder, suicide, madness and some bloke who talks to a skull in the other. Weird.

Meanwhile, my Year 7s are happily arranging real cobwebs on a worried plastic skull. It's all quite sweet, really. Then you start reading the letters: "I will find you. You do not hear me in the storm but you will feel me in the sun. I will burn you as I am burning now!"

"You took my house and my girlfriend and I hate you! I am coming to get you and you will never know when, hahaha!"

"I am dead but I still love you. Be happy. Remember me. We may meet again."

They are 12. It will be another two years before they meet Macbeth, and who knows if or when they will meet Hamlet? But they have thought about why the dead might want to write to the living. We talked about it before they started writing.

"What could matter so much once you're dead?"

Puzzled faces.

"Well, it's not going to be, Oooh, I forgot to hand in my English homework, is it?"

"If someone killed you! You'd want to haunt them."

"And then you'd want to kill them too."

"Yeah. Or you love someone, and you miss them."

"You'd write to say you're dead but you're OK."

Now the last bloody fingerprint is in place and the last few cheerful ghosts flap securely above the worried skull. The tea-stained paper and the singed edges really work. The letters do look quite old, and this time, no one's homework caught fire or got drowned in tea. There was an incident with fake blood and a sofa but I don't want to know. Much as I love the laughing ghosts, it is the words that move me. Simple stories about big questions that will never go away. Do love and hate still stir us "in that sleep of death?"

These great mysteries haunt because they matter. They transcend fake blood and paper ghosts because I know no more about them now than I did when I was 12.

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