By Jane Hyphen
I heard his voice in the rushing water.
Graham and I used to sing a song together. I can’t remember how it started but this was the late eighties and the song was by Starship, ‘We Built This City’. It was what you might consider a banging tune and a difficult song to sing, however Graham was a fantastic singer, even as a young teenager. He’d never joined a choir or had singing lessons, he was a natural but far too shy to audition for the school plays and musicals; saving his singing voice for his bedroom and sometimes mine too, only my voice was terrible so I used to sing in a whisper so that I could fully enjoy hearing him hit the notes.
‘You can sing so well Graham,’ I used to say to him but he would only blush and shake his head.
School had been an isolating experience for him, being dyslexic, introverted and overall, a bit of a misfit. He also had the misfortune of being born with a large mole on his cheek which earned him the nickname ‘Mole’. It wasn’t a misfortune in the true sense of the word but for the small minded among the schoolkids, those who only see in one dimension, it acted as a sort of stop sign and they didn’t engage with him.
Our fathers both worked for the same firm so we’d met a couple of times socially with our families at the company’s annual ‘Family Fun Day’. I was the only person he knew when we started secondary school. We didn’t take any classes together because Graham was placed into what was called the Remedial Class, a small class which took place in a wooden hut separate from the rest of the school buildings. It was for children with learning difficulties or who had fallen behind.
Remedial class was a term kids used casually to put others down when they got low marks or made a silly mistake, whether they were in the class or not. But the thing was Graham was more intelligent than most of the other pupils at our school, and the teachers too. He had a measure of people, a way of breaking things down and sussing them out, he was quietly calculating, perceptive and, in private, rather like a Sage. There had been many occasions when he had given me sound and stellar advice on everything from girlfriends to subject choices.
I like to think I gave him good advice too, on one occasion he told me that his mother was taking him to the doctors to ask for an appointment to get his mole removed. I told him not to go ahead with it and that his mole was part of him and maybe even his superpower.
The night he communicated with me for the first time, I was just running a bath, both taps were flowing, the bathroom was full of steam and white noise. I heard him singing, it seemed ridiculous at first but I heard it, his voice, clear and perfect, just as I remembered it. I smiled and for the next few moments as I imagined him lining up outside the school hut with his green rucksack, all by himself, staring at his shoes. There were fewer mates to choose from in the remedial class.
The truth was, Graham was never far from my memory and for years I had struggled to really enjoy life because I missed him and often felt chilled with loneliness, living with the open ends of his story, cold winds of confusion blowing in and out of my memory vaults.
He’d gone to college after school to study hospitality and then onto a hotel on the coast, one where he could live-in and work silly hours. From what I heard he’d settled well there and was popular, although still quiet and self-contained. He wrote to me a few times and explained that there was a lot of partying during rare nights off and people doing mad things but he informed me that he was staying away from drugs. It was the age of Rave and drugs were mainstream but I believed what he told me and I was looking forward to seeing him when the holiday season came to a close and he returned to the city for winter.
I remember the shock I felt when I heard on the local radio station that he had gone missing. Apparently there had been a beach party held in a tiny cove, a mile or two from the hotel where he worked. It was on a secret beach, difficult to access and a group of youngsters from the hotel industry had taken a steep and treacherous path down, gripping the coarse coastal grasses for support, torches lighting the way. It had been a warm night, a full moon and the party began sometime after midnight when they had all completed their shifts.
His friends remembered Graham at the party, they described him as being merry but not drunk. A fire had been lit on the beach, loud music played and people enjoyed themselves until around three or four in the morning, just as the sun was rising, when the group had hiked back up and returned to their beds. Graham was due to start his shift at six forty five, serving breakfast to the hotel guests but he never turned up. A porter was sent to his room but his bed was empty. A comprehensive search ensued.
He became a missing person, the young waiter with the mole on his cheek but nobody ever heard from him again, he was never found and neither were his wallet or keys. That was seven years ago and the gap in the lives of those who loved him continued to swell like a bubble which could only be popped by news, a discovery of some sort. But some people are never found.
A few days after the bath tap incident, I got up during the night because I’d woken feeling very hot and sweaty. I turned on the cold tap to cool my wrists and splash my face when I heard him a second time, Graham, he was singing our song again. I turned off the taps, held my hand to my heart and stared at my pale face in the mirror.
There was a few seconds of silence, then he spoke to me. ‘You have to stop feeling sad, Paul,’ he said. The sound appeared to be coming from the plughole now or perhaps the overflow.
I held my ear down, closer to the sink. ‘Graham, Graham is that you? Oh my god, I’m going mad…’ I whispered.
‘Yes, yes I’m here Graham, I can hear you. I can hear you Graham!’
He sighed, his breathing amplified through the plumbing. ‘I hope you can hear me, Paul.’
‘I can!’ I gasped, ‘I honestly ca…..’
He interrupted, ‘I just wanted to know that I’m okay, really. I never intended to leave but I didn’t intend on staying either, staying in the mortal realm, I mean. I just had so much pressure built up inside of me and the party, at the beach……it was a sort of release. Everyone started walking back up the cliff but I think they forgot about me. They left me behind but I was feeling detached anyway…..and the sea looked so wonderful beneath the moon. I waded in, the cold water lapped around my waist, then my chest and I closed my eyes and just let myself go.’
‘Erm….it’s okay,’ I felt tears forming in my eyes. I began to speak again but he didn’t seem to be able to hear me. Ridiculously, I even tried banging the chrome plug up and down in the sink, almost as if it were a telephone receiver.
‘You were my best friend Paul,’ he said. ‘I hate to think all this is somehow dragging you down. You’ve got to move on mate, remember me but not in the sense that it drains you. Remember me and feel energised, take my energy, the energy we produced when we were together and use it.’
‘Oh Graham, you don’t know how good it is to hear your voice. Please don’t go yet, I’ve got so much to ask you, to tell you…’
I heard him break into song again, ‘Say you don’t....’ I heard the singing fade away until it became a ghostly echo, followed by the regular whirring of pipes.’
I stayed there a while, leaning on the sink, whispering his name but I began to feel overwhelmingly sleepy. When I woke in the morning, I remembered the experience almost as if it were a dream but I felt so much happier and more settled, having spoken to him. It was as if a great weight had been lifted.
I never heard him again but after that experience I remembered Graham in different terms. I didn’t feel sad about him. I tapped into his continued presence in my life as a positive force. I carried his memory in a different frame and used his energy to be creative and do good.