The shrieking ghost of ice-cream past

SECOND THOUGHTS

Memories fall into two categories. There's the sort you carry on your person all the time, such as keys and coins; and there are the random images which float back now and then, biting and pervasive, impossible to ignore. And of these last, the dead

have their own particular pull.

It's a rainy Sunday night and we are propped in bed watching the OJ Simpson trial on BBC2 when she barges without warning into my head. Why now? Is it the ice-cream? (For the uninitiated, a tub of the stuff was found melted at the scene of the OJ crime.) Whatever it is, suddenly Iris Morgan, maker of ice-cream and dead these 21 years, pops up and says hi.

My partner sees me stiffen. "What is it?" he says.

"Nothing. I just remembered something." And we go back to watching the inscrutable Judge Ito and his egg-timers.

Like a tourist between towns, Iris hangs around all week - just bumming, just there, a face floating in my head. This persistence is true to form. She was (I think) in her forties when I knew her but, as far as I remember, she never did say please or thank you or wait her turn.

When I was 13, we moved to a steep, leafy road in the city centre, on the edge of the five-acre cemetery and the red-light district. Our house had gothic turrets, a billiard room, a Victorian grotto, crumbling walls. My mother painted the hall baby

blue and the sitting room Chinese yellow and single-handedly purged the house of its shadows.

My sisters, stepbrothers and I practised handstands in a garden strewn with rubbish chucked over from the street. It was a matter of hours before Iris knocked on our heavy, warped black door: "I love seeing their five pairs of feet over the wall," she told my mother. "Send them round for ice-cream - all or some of them, I don't mind."

It was her first order. We obeyed. Iris had the reddest, crinkliest hair we had ever seen. She sat us around he long oak table and gave us ice- cream in bowls thin as shells. She said she'd spank us if we broke them.

She told us she'd been brought up in the Far East and forced to eat raw liver at school, and that she'd been "a beauty" (photos bore this out). When my littlest sister remarked that she wasn't any more, Iris gave her a look which would have turned a less innocent heart to stone.

That summer, Iris sat in the garden all day in her bra sun-bathing, which she confided was bad for redheads. She smoked and wore a lot of purple and her confidence made us feel both more and less important.

We rarely saw her husband, Trevor, a GPO engineer who wasn't allowed to talk about his job. "He's the sort of man who might turn out to be a spy," my mother said. "There's something fishy about the whole set-up."

They had no children of their own (mother: "it figures"), but amicably shared their house with a ghost named Maud who appeared on the landing now and then with a pile of laundry. "She's just been," Iris would announce as she rummaged in the deep freeze. "You just missed her. A great pile up to here," she'd demonstrate, touching the bridge of her nose. And we'd shiver, though she was the one up to her elbows in ice.

There were various fallings-out with Iris. Once, for some dark reason of her own, she purposely tore my nine-year-old sister's scrapbook. She said she couldn't see what the fuss was about, but we knew she was lying.

Another time, our parents went for dinner at her house and my stepfather accidentally splashed red wine on her damask tablecloth and Iris was so abusive to him that my mother insisted they leave. "She thinks she's so fascinating," my mother fumed, "but in fact she's just plain bloody rude." After the cooling off, she'd come knocking and we'd be back for more.

I don't remember what sort of cancer she got, but the idea that Iris was actually going to die - right there next door - was a searing shock. It wasn't that she was an especially good person, but she had a big effect. She'd perfected the art of shaking up other people's lives; she was the most noticeable (and manipulative) person I knew.

The last time I saw her, she was sitting up in her big white bed at home, yellow-faced and snarling. Her hair was drained of its colour, like a dead flower. Every irritable comment she made, we accepted, absorbing the blows as though she were dead.

A month later we moved, to a better area. There was a cherry tree in the garden and five boys next door. I got my first Mary Quant bra, and the weather grew warmer. By the time Iris died a week or so later, we'd emptied our packing crates and switched our allegiance and she was already in the past.

That was 21 years ago this spring and I'd never have believed that she'd still haunt me now. Iris Morgan seems to live on in my head thanks to sheer bloody-mindedness - as if she knew very well that if she let go for a split second she'd be forgotten. Go on, she hisses at my elbow, write about me in a newspaper, make me real. And she shrieks her approval as, without hesitation, you and I comply.

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

    £60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    General Cover Teacher

    £110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

    Day In a Page

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?