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Varma: Raising The Dead

By Kate Barss, Winner of 2011 Varma Prize

Kate Barss. Photo by Katherine Wooler
Kate Barss. Photo by Katherine Wooler

When my son has been dead sixteen years I start noticing changes in his behaviour. He’s started coming home late, smelling of smoke, the cotton of his formally bleach-white sheet turned a dusty brown and singed with small, suspicious burn holes. Late at night, I hear him howling and rattling chains from his bedroom, but he only sneers at me when I appear in the doorway, bathrobe-clad, and ask him to please, keep it down. After I catch him behind the shed one afternoon with Wendy, the pretty little blonde witch from next door — sunlight shining through his translucent hands and onto her breasts; she rushes to pull her robe down over her skin when she sights me rounding the corner — I ground him. I tell him he needs supervision when his friends come over. He shrieks ghoulishly at me and tells me how I just don’t understand and I’m ruining his afterlife. I yell back that I am doing this for his own darn good and he tells me he wishes I were dead. I stand in silence, shaking my head, wondering where my friendly little ghost has disappeared to, the one who used to playfully sneak up behind me, shouting “Boo!” and laughing as he lightly tugged my hair. Still glaring, he turns from me and even though he could quietly escape, slipping like shadow through the walls, he slams the door roughly behind him — letting the whole house vibrate with the anger of his memory.

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