Mandy had forgotten something. She didn’t know what it was (obviously, or she would have remembered it), and the thing scratched and prowled around in the dark hinterland of her memory, exasperatingly out of sight. A beast in the jungle, refusing to come into the light of the campfire. It was something tremendously important and it was gnawing and tugging at her, trying to make itself visible, to bring itself into the light. A great golden lion of a memory waiting to spring into life.
Before she was dead, Mandy had a brilliant memory. You came to Mandy before you went to Google. And if anyone was ever in doubt about what someone had said, who they had said it to, when they had said it, they would come running to her. Jonathan was always saying, “Who’s this chap who’s been on at me? Have I ever met him?” and Mandy would say, “Roger Peacock. At a constituency meeting on the twelfth of April 2017, you promised him there’d be an inquiry into his wife’s case. Andrea Peacock.”
“And has there been?”
Jonathan was currently in the Ministry for Health. Mandy had been with him for what seemed like for ever, right back when he’d been the assistant to a Junior Minister and they had shared a cramped cupboard in the bowels of the Chamber. There used to be mouse droppings on her desk when she uncovered her Amstrad in the morning. They sat either side of that ancient desk, so close that their knees occasionally touched, something that made them both feel awkward. (He wasn’t like that. Everyone else seemed to be, but not Jonathan. At least, not with Mandy.)
Seventeen years old when she started work, armed with her RSA certificates and a fuchsia lip-gloss and already thinking with nostalgic fondness of the drunken and careless youth she had exchanged in order to be tethered to a dictaphone. (Dear David, In regard to the findings of the sub-committee . . .)
There wasn’t a keyboard that was a stranger to Mandy. She had learnt to type on a big sit-up-and-beg Olivetti, graduated to a daisy wheel and then a machine with a little window where you could watch your words run in front of your eyes like ticker tape. Then the aforementioned Amstrad, with its tiny blinking cursor that followed her every move like a jealous emerald eye, until she finished up on a desktop Dell with a screen that wouldn’t have been out of place in a cinema. Of course, nowadays Jonathan had a vast office and a legion of staff, but Mandy Barrowman, née Watson, was still his minion, his terrier and occasionally his conscience. Also his designated driver. Except she wasn’t any more, was she?
Being dead was an ongoing state, rather than an end in itself. Even dead, the big questions remained—was there any meaning to existence, had Prince Alfie found a suitable bride, had Crown Prince Kenneth reconciled himself to his future as king? (Mandy was a staunch supporter of the royal family.)
And, perhaps more importantly, would she ever find out now who had killed Josh Ackroyd on Green Acres? Did it still matter? Yes, in a strange way. Interesting fact—some things didn’t change just because you were dead.
She had tried to watch television, once in South Shields in an old woman’s house, once in the electrical department of Currys in Newcastle, but neither on the modest set belonging to the old woman nor on the endless ranks of flat-screen TVs was she able to make out what was happening. She couldn’t really hear anything either, just a murmur, as if she was trying to listen to a radio turned down frustratingly low. The same with newspapers. In a newsagent’s in the Metro Centre she had scanned endless front pages, but words were like hieroglyphs now, the world and its doings obfuscated from her view. Being dead had increased her vocabulary. “Obfuscate” and “hieroglyph” were not words Mandy had previously needed to employ.
She would like to go home, to the robust brick-built semi in Ilford that she and Greg had bought when they married, but she seemed to be stuck in the North. Jonathan’s constituency was up here, so perhaps that explained her geographical isolation. She quite frequently travelled up by train with him from Westminster to his constituency, staying with him in the house he had up here. (Again, nothing like that.) She had her own room there, but it hadn’t been decorated since his children used to visit and the wallpaper featured spaceships and planets, and the cheap furniture was covered in stickers and crayon marks.
He had family up in the North as well, a brother in Ilkley, but they were mostly a disagreeable lot and Jonathan’s ego was locked in some kind of battle to the death with his brother’s, so it seemed unlikely that he had come to stay. (Even on family visits she found herself trailing after him. “Paperwork never sleeps,” he used to say. It did when you were dead, thank goodness.)
Jonathan had been going North a lot recently—there was an election on the horizon, and he was afraid he was going to be deselected. There had been some questions about his finances. Mandy knew she could answer some of those questions. (Could have—past tense. Nobody was going to interrogate her now, were they?) Perhaps their train had crashed on the journey up—a points failure, a head-on collision, a derailment. How is it that she can remember her life, but not her death? And should she be using the present tense at all in regard to herself ? Time no longer obeyed the normal rules. She wondered if it was like those fairy tales where you found yourself in some enchanted land and stayed there for years and years, but when you found yourself back at home only seconds had passed. Perhaps she would leave this place after aeons had gone by and she would walk through her front door and Greg would look up from the television and say what he usually said: “You were ages, I was about to send out a search party.”
It was the lack of control that was disturbing—flitting from place to place like an abandoned sweet wrapper, never still for a second. Or, on the other hand, stranded for what seemed like an eternity, roosting on a wing of the Angel of the North. Another interesting fact—you still had to sleep when you were dead. And it was lonely. It seemed a shame that she couldn’t at least have brought her cat with her, the straightforwardly named Kitty. The Egyptians knew the value of a cat companion in the afterlife—they were buried with them in their tombs, weren’t they? (Alive? Kitty wouldn’t like that.) And wasn’t there an Egyptian cat god? If there was, it wasn’t here. No gods at all.
Mandy wondered if she might meet her parents again in this afterworld. Her father, Bill, had been “in insurance,” which meant he trudged from door to door in all weathers, weighed down on one side by a heavy leather briefcase that had over the years slowly arced his spine like a tree bowed by the wind. Mandy’s mother, Carol, was an Avon Lady. “The Avon Lady cometh,” her father used to say when she came home lugging her big suitcase of samples. Her mother was better at selling than her father. Neither of them sold anything any more. They had died together, fifteen years ago, of carbon monoxide poisoning in their little Sprite Alpine. They had set up a portable barbecue inside to escape the Scottish midges on the Kyle of Lochalsh. The inquest had made the papers. It was a lesson to caravanners, the coroner said.
They weren’t here. No one was here. Absolutely no one. On arrival, no one had greeted Mandy, no one had offered to show her the ropes. No one said, “Can I get you a cup of tea and a Bettys vanilla slice and what kind of dog would you like now you’re here?” Three questions that entirely encompassed Mandy’s previous hopes for heaven.
Jonathan had just fallen out of government and was in the Shadow Cabinet when Mandy met Greg. She was a few weeks short of twenty and had been invited to a dinner-dance at a local hotel in Croydon by her friend Jacqui. Those were the days of dinner-dances. It was years since Mandy had been to one. There had been a mediocre meal, composed of reheated slices of roast lamb, duchess potatoes and tinned peas, followed by individual sherry trifles that were heavy on the jelly. Mandy was wondering if it would be all right to leave once she’d finished eating when, as if sensing her dilemma, the four-piece band struck up a rather stately version of the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” and Greg appeared at her elbow and asked her to dance.
He was a terrible dancer, but he was a skinny, cocky twenty-three-year-old with good teeth and nice hair who looked her in the eye when he spoke to her. She should have set her sights higher, she realized now. Should have drunk herself stupid in her twenties and slept with every man she met, instead of working her way through Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course. She still cooked Delia’s “Omelette Savoyard.” Well, not now, of course. The dead were hungry, but not for food.
Greg had been on the up-and-up on the middle-management ladder in John Lewis, something he spent a lot of time talking about when he came to meet her parents in Croydon for the first time. “Your beau,” her father called him. Greg was wearing a fashionable but funereal suit and tie from his own company’s department. (“Twenty-five per cent staff discount, Mrs. Watson.”) He seemed “quite sharp,” her mother said, although it was hard to know what meaning she was attributing to those words. Mandy’s mother had been eager to get her daughter off her hands so that Mandy’s father could take the early retirement he’d been offered (redundancy by any other name) and the two of them could caravan around Britain in their Sprite. (“Ever been caravanning, Greg?”) Look how that had worked out for them.
They ate “supper,” a meal previously designated “tea” but Mandy’s mother was trying to impress Greg, when it should have been, in Mandy’s opinion, the other way round. Carol Watson served up her signature tuna-and-pasta bake, and Greg dutifully said, “Very tasty, Mrs. Watson,” with a bonhomie that he was still in the process of learning but would soon perfect and then eventually lose again as middle-age broke the rungs of his hopes and ambitions.
“Can you guess the secret ingredient, Greg?” Mandy’s mother simpered in an uncharacteristically flirtatious way, brought on, Mandy suspected, by the heady notion of a twenty-five per cent discount.
The tuna-and-pasta bake (“Cornflakes, Greg! That’s the secret ingredient”) was followed by a Vienetta (“Go on, Greg, spoil yourself ”), after which Mandy’s mother invited Greg to a reconnaissance of the Watson family photo albums.
“Very attractive,” Greg said, looking at a photograph of Mandy primped and preened for a school dance. She had gone trussed in skin-tight black leather in homage to Olivia Newton-John’s metamorphosis at the end of Grease. Hard to believe now when it took such effort to squeeze into a size fourteen. The hips don’t lie.
“She looked like a black pudding,” Mandy’s mother had snorted.
“Thanks,” Mandy said.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Greg said, squaring off ever so slightly against his future mother-in-law, even though in that future they would frequently side with each other against Mandy. “I think she looks sexy.” Mandy felt rather than saw her father flinch at the word—never previously uttered in their reticent household. Mandy, on the other hand, felt ridiculously flattered by this encomium. (Another new word in the vocabulary-rich afterlife.)
Greg and Mandy were married a year later. Mandy wore an off-the-peg wedding dress, and her only bridesmaid was her friend Jacqui, who felt particularly invested in the wedding because of that fateful dinner-dance. They spent the morning in the local hairdresser’s, sitting next to each other in front of the mirrors watching their wedding hair-dos being curled and backcombed higher and higher in a style that Marie Antoinette would have envied. Mandy’s was finally topped off with a little pearl coronet. “Gorgeous,” the hairdresser and Jacqui declared in unison.
For her hen night, Mandy and a flock of her friends went to “have a reading” from a clairvoyant who lived in a bungalow in a cul-de-sac. Mandy had never believed in any of that stuff. No afterlife, no ghosts, no crystal-ball gazing. There was this life and then that was it. How many times had she heard say (said it herself ), “Life’s not a rehearsal”? Now it looked as if it might have been. Except that the performance at the end of it wasn’t much to write home about. And no audience.
At the clairvoyant’s, Mandy had imagined they would all sit round in a circle as if they were at a séance, but instead they waited in the clairvoyant’s living room—silk flowers, vertical louvre blinds at the French windows and a slight perfume of Dettol—while Shona (that was the clairvoyant’s name) took them, one by one, into her spare bedroom as if she was going to submit them to an intimate medical. While they each waited their turn, they pecked at a bowl of salted peanuts that Shona had put out for them and conducted a murmured conversation while admiring (or otherwise) the clairvoyant’s three children, who were hanging on the wall in the form of framed school photographs.
Mandy couldn’t imagine what it must be like to have children and it turned out she never did. At the beginning, Greg was keen to put parenthood off—mortgage, travel, et cetera. “A baby would be too expensive just now,” he said, and Mandy said, “Don’t be silly, babies are free,” but Greg managed to prevail, and then when they did get round to starting a family, they found they couldn’t. What could you do? “Adopt?” Mandy suggested, because she was pretty sure by then that there wasn’t a baby in the world she couldn’t get on with, but Greg gave a small but noticeable shudder and said, “Another man’s child? I don’t think I could, Mand. Sorry.” (Another woman’s child, too, she pointed out.) None of this was foreseen by Shona the clairvoyant. Or if it was, she didn’t say anything.
Eventually it was her turn and Mandy was led into Shona’s spare bedroom, where the two of them sat at either end of a single bed, increasing even further the feeling of imminent examination. The room was decorated with a toile de Jouy wallpaper that was very attractive to Mandy. The eighteenth-century people trapped in the wallpaper were in some kind of rural scene—sheep and classical temples and endless picnics— that looked very inviting. There were even baskets of kittens.
Shona was the most normal-looking woman you could imagine—no headscarf or jangly coin earrings, just a lambswool turtleneck and a skirt that Mandy recognized from Next. She was softly Scottish and asked Mandy to shuffle a pack of Tarot cards and lay them out face-up in a half-circle on the dated candlewick bedspread. She didn’t do any of that “Oops, the hanged man” stuff—in fact, she didn’t refer to the cards at all, but she did take Mandy’s right hand and clasp it in both of her own hands and then she closed her eyes, which was a bit unnerving, although it was even more unnerving when she opened them again and said, “Oh,” as if she was surprised, and when Mandy echoed “Oh?” Shona laughed and said, “Oh, you know,” but looked discomfited. “Go on,” Mandy said, leaning in, suddenly eager to know the diagnosis.
“Well, I know this is going to sound a bit corny,” Shona said, “but I see you having an exciting encounter with a stranger. A man,” she added.
“When?” Mandy asked. She was getting married in three days, it didn’t leave much time to fit in a man, strange or otherwise.
“I’m afraid that’s in the hands of the Fates,” Shona said. Fates, plural, Mandy noticed. She imagined them sitting around knitting and smoking as they made their decisions.
Afterwards they all piled into the lounge bar of the nearest pub and smoked and drank vodka martinis and laughed about their “readings.” No one else was going to have an exciting encounter with a stranger, Mandy was satisfied to note.
On the way home they bought chips and Jacqui said, “This is the life, eh, Mandy?” and privately Mandy thought there must surely be more to it than this, but right now she would happily settle for clattering down the street on too-high heels with a bag of vinegary chips in her hand.
As a wedding present, Jonathan gave her a Marks and Spencer voucher, which, despite its banality, was touching, as he must have had to go to an effort to get it because she was the one who usually bought gifts on his behalf. Mandy and Caroline, Jonathan’s battle-hardened wife, conspired together over Christmas and birthday gifts so that Caroline always got something she wanted, the exorbitant cost of which was a vengeful punishment on Jonathan for the hours he spent in his office at Westminster, the “Holy Office” as Caroline referred to it. Mandy and Caroline got on as they shared the same problems, i.e., Jonathan. “He’ll be the death of you, Mandy,” Caroline used to say. “He’s got you running around all day long like a headless chicken.”
“Get something just for yourself, a treat,” Jonathan said when he handed Mandy the gift card that contained the M & S voucher, but she bought a duvet set and a lamp for their new Ilford home. The bedding had worn out long ago and the lamp had been broken when she threw it at Greg after he lost all their savings betting on a single horse, which was a surprise because she’d never seen him gamble, not even on the Grand National. He said he had got a tip “straight from the horse’s mouth, literally, Mand. It spoke to me.” Insanity, she thought. Maybe early-onset dementia. Divorce had been on the cards. She’d even consulted a solicitor, a nice woman who had the nurturing bedside manner of a palliative-care nurse. “You need to think of yourself now, Mrs. Barrowman.”
Things were changing. Mandy had started becoming. Sometimes she was particulate. It was a word she had learnt from crime shows on TV. She shivered and became a teardrop of rain, quivering and fat-bellied. She hit the pavement and became the pavement. A grey slab, slick and darkened with the rain. Sedimentary sandstone, if she wasn’t mistaken. She didn’t know that before. I am a rock, Mandy thought.
She could smell the soil beneath the flags and the metal of the pipes that ran under the city and the unpleasant things that flowed inside them, gas and sewage, and the hum of the electricity in the big cables that ran alongside them. There were brittle, discoloured skeletons down here, medieval, Viking, Roman. She had been here many times and now she was York. There were worse places, she supposed. Any of the post-industrial, benighted towns of the North, for example, one of which Jonathan represented, calling its citizens “the salt of the Earth” in public and “benefit scroungers” in private. He was not what you would call a good person.
A massy block of magnesian limestone and stained glass— a cathedral of stone and air. York Minster. One minute you’re accepting a package at the door, the next you’re a gargoyle vomiting water. A package? Was it a package? (Was it a door?) She tried to grab on to the memory of the package and the door, but it was like trying to hold on to a tiger by its tail, and then without any warning she began to ring out a quarter-peal on her massive bells and everything else was obliterated by the throb and boom of her own tolling.
She could see and hear things better now, as if the thunderclap of the bells had cleared something. And this was new—she was in a hospital, an operating theatre. No, not an operating theatre—a mortuary. A pathologist and an assistant and a couple of women police officers, all gowned and masked. And there, the focus of all their attention, was Mandy, a cold wet cod on a fishmonger’s steel slab, and the pathologist was saying, “Brain-sectioning knife, please, Dougie,” to the assistant.
It gave Mandy a fluttery feeling to see her body being reduced to its anatomical parts, all those bits of her that she had never seen before. Of course, she had known they were there—kidneys, lungs, intestines, et cetera—but seeing them was different. She was surprised to experience a curious sense of affection for her subcutaneous fat. She had been so antagonistic to it in the past, but now she liked the way it padded and quilted the vulnerable insides of her body.
The younger of the two police officers looked as if she was going to be sick and the pathologist glanced at her and said, “First time?” and she nodded miserably. Me too, Mandy thought. The other policewoman gave her colleague a sympathetic pat on the back and said, “It’s something you get used to, Lauren,” and Lauren said, “I suppose so, Boss.”
“Have a violet cachou.”
There was some discussion about the etymology (another new word) of the word “cachou.” The women both had Geordie accents, so Mandy supposed she was back up in Tyneside. York was the furthest south she had managed to go. The Great North–South Divide existed even in the afterlife.
When the pathologist took out Mandy’s heart she wanted to say, “Be careful with my heart,” which was something she’d said to Greg in the first flush of their romance, although, to be truthful (easier when you were dead), she had been parroting something she had read in a book in an effort to make her relationship with Greg seem more passionate than it was. Their entire life together had been about as mundane as a Marks and Spencer voucher. A wave of sadness washed through the air around her, which made Lauren shiver.
The autopsy over, Mandy was sewed back up again, an ugly seam that she would have made a much better job of herself. If she’d been a bit quicker she might have struggled back inside her body, like donning an awkward overcoat, but she had been distracted by the lovely soapy smell on Lauren’s neck which for a moment quite overcame the butcher’s shop scent that pervaded the room. Violets again—Yardley’s April Violets, if Mandy wasn’t mistaken, an old-fashioned scent on such a young woman. Mandy’s grandmother had worn it.
She took a deep inhale and became warm grass and soil and was studded with sweet violets. A bee droned deafeningly, and she felt the tickle of its delicate cantilevered legs and the pollen-crusted hairs on its reverberating body. Mandy had just reconciled herself to the idea that she was a field (again, there were worse things) when the pathologist spoke and brought her back to the room. “That’s it, then, everyone—gunshot wound to the head. Fancy getting us a coffee, Dougie?”
Gunshot wound? She had been shot? Hang on a minute! Mandy’s heart flipped like a pancake—not the heart that had been plopped into a stainless-steel dish (yes, rather carelessly) by Dougie, but the one that felt as though it was still beating in her chest. Again—shot? Mandy tried to ask more, but everyone had already left the room.
The door, the package. Think, Mandy. She had opened the door to someone, someone who said, “Can you sign for this, Mrs. Barrowman?” Who was that? A courier? And what had she signed for, and where was it now? It had been a man, certainly. He was her nemesis, she understood that now—the “exciting encounter with a stranger” prophesied by Shona all those years ago. The memory was right there and all she had to do was drag it into the light of the campfire.
Yes! They had gone Up North on the train! She remembered. The great exodus from Westminster on the East Coast line on a Thursday evening, all of those politicians convivial in First Class, “Crossing the great North–South divide,” Jonathan used to say as the train ploughed non-stop through Grantham station. (That was before the actual Great North– South Divide, of course.) They ate the hot meal—vegetarian pasta for Mandy, chicken for Jonathan—and Jonathan worked his way through several small bottles of red wine. “Train wine,” he said, disgusted, but he drank it anyway. “I thought we’d do some door-to-door this weekend,” he said, and Mandy supposed she would be following around after him as usual, his faithful dog. (“You’re lagging, Mandy.”) He was in a flushed, careless mood. What happened then? She might have dozed off—she’d had train wine too—
But then she was yanked away again, so abruptly that she had an attack of vertigo.
She had always thought it would be nice to come back as a tree, a great English oak, home to myriad small creatures, but being a tree was probably quite hard work. This was better. This was lovely. No work involved at all. She felt incredibly warm, as if she’d become a hot-water bottle, soft and furry. Something rumbled comfortingly in her throat. She was curled up on a bed. Her nose twitched. Her ear flickered. She opened one eye and saw a woman asleep in the bed. She regarded the sleeping woman with curiosity for some time. Only the gentle rise and fall of her chest indicated sleep, not death.
Mandy stood up and stretched extravagantly, arching and elongating her back in turns. She extended and retracted her claws. She was so supple. She’d done nothing but a beginners’ Pilates class in the last five years and now she was as graceful and limber as a dancer. And utterly, astoundingly gorgeous. Divine, even. She had no idea that Kitty felt like this!
Oh, and hungry! Ravenous, in fact. Her eyes narrowed. She needed meat. She would have to wake the woman up. She batted the woman’s face with her paw. Arise, servant, she thought, and then felt a horrible jolt as if an invisible fist had punched her, and there she was, finally facing the great golden lion of memory, the beast from the jungle.
“We have him on CCTV, Boss, we can pretty much trace his whole journey. This is his car here, see? The cameras picked him up in the town centre, but here he is again now on the A1058, and here he is turning on to Jesmond Park East. This camera catches him on Melbury Park Road, where Jonathan Kingshott’s house is. Kingshott has his own security cameras. This is the one on the door, we can see Roger Peacock on it, and here’s Mandy opening the door. There’s sound . . . Hang on, I’ll pump up the volume.”
“What’s he saying, Lauren? I’m sure I’m going deaf.”
“Must be old age, Boss.”
“He says, ‘Can you sign for this, Mrs. Barrowman?’ so I guess he’s pretending to be a courier.”
“What’s that? ‘You’re writing all these letters . . . ’?”
“ ‘You’ve written all those letters to me, but nothing’s ever done.’ She did. Mandy wrote about twenty letters on Kingshott’s behalf. She was very patient with Mr. Peacock. Kind, even.”
“How long since his wife died?”
“Andrea. Several years now, Boss. He’s been nursing this grievance a long time. He tried to sue for malpractice but got nowhere.”
“Was it? Malpractice?”
“The inquest said not. Mandy’s just a secretary, it was hardly her fault. There was nothing between them, though, was there? Mandy and Kingshott?”
“Strictly professional, Boss. He’s a bit of a plonker, isn’t he? Mandy and the wife were friends—and there, look! The gun— see? Peacock was hiding it beneath the package. You can’t see her being hit, but you can hear the gunshot. It’s surprisingly quiet. Just a pop, really.”
Both policewomen flinched as Mandy dropped like a dead game bird.
“Poor fucking Mandy.”
“I know, Boss. You’re just going about your day, and bang. It’s over.”
“Right, then, let’s find Mr. Peacock and bring him in.”
She felt like a balloon that had been tethered and then suddenly released, shooting up into the air. It was an extraordnary feeling. She didn’t know what had happened or why, but she was free. She wasn’t the rain or the pavement. She wasn’t a cat or a field or the city of York, she was herself, a steady state, no more whizzing around. She lived in—or at any rate near— a little neo-classical temple. There were a lot of these temples dotted around in a landscape that was composed mostly of rolling hills and streams. There were flocks of pretty sheep everywhere, and although Mandy often wandered amongst them, holding an attractive shepherd’s crook in her hand, no real tending of the flock was necessary. There was a man with a rake and another with a hoe and the two of them popped up all over the place but never did anything particularly agricultural. There wasn’t any work at all actually, just strolling around with a group of like-minded people.
The women all wore lovely dresses and had dainty feet in dainty shoes, and the men sported knee breeches and, quite often, tricorn hats. There were a lot of trees and many big urns full of flowers and some attractively ruined stone arches. (Mandy suspected they were follies rather than the remains of actual buildings, but same difference here.) A couple of little curly terriers romped around in the ruins and there were also some dignified hounds that were for hunting, but no one ever hunted, no one ever killed anything here. One of these dignified hounds had taken a fancy to Mandy and could always be found lying on the ground next to her, eternally raising its head to be stroked. There were—and this was particularly lovely— several very well-behaved little girls, who sat on the grass and played with baskets of kittens.
Mandy ate a lot of picnics with her new friends and the conversation was always pleasant if utterly unmemorable. There was a woman Mandy didn’t know who wore a ribbon round her neck and who sometimes played a lute, and occasionally one of the men would doff his tricorn hat and fall to one knee in order to declare his undying love for Mandy (annoying the dignified hound), but Mandy would just laugh lightly and reach for a peach from a Sèvres dish that was never empty but replenished by an invisible hand every night. This is the life, she thought.
The story “Blithe Spirit” is excerpted from Normal Rules Don’t Apply by Kate Atkinson. Used with permission with the publisher, Doubleday. Copyright © 2023 by Kate Atkinson.