There is a saying: “The walls have ears.” It means that you should be careful of discussing secrets too loudly because you never know who is listening. I used to think it started in World War Two because of all the secret spies in dark, belted raincoats. But no… as early as 400BC in Ancient Greece they had listening posts installed in their palaces to eavesdrop on gossiping visitors.
But, sayings aside, walls really do have ears. And they have eyes too. The first time I learnt this I was five years old and at my grandma’s house. I was in trouble for stealing a biscuit from the cupboard without asking, and my punishment was to stand in the corner of the hallway facing the wall. That sounds strange, but Grandma was a retired Geography teacher and missed her job with all her heart. She would talk to my brother and I as if she was taking a class, and liked to test us on capital cities and river names.
Standing in the corner of my grandma’s hallway in my disgrace, the stolen shortbread still melting on my tongue, I placed my hands on the walls, closed my eyes and saw Grandad.
He stole in quietly from the garden in his gardening slacks, mud on the knees, holding a small bottle of golden liquid. Peering around like a burglar, he lifted the bottle, took a swig, and opened the hall cupboard. With supreme care the lid was screwed back on, the bottle lifted high and placed behind a tin of paint on the top shelf. Then he tiptoed back outside and came in again, this time full of noise. Stomping feet, sighing, swishing hands together. ‘Hey, Joan, put the kettle on, will you?”
When my grandma released me from the corner and I told her what I’d seen, her face drained of colour. She marched over to the hall cupboard, moved the tin of paint to one side and brought forth the half-empty bottle of golden liquid with a shaking hand. She surprised me with the force of the sobs that bent her in half.
When I saw Grandad that day, he had already been dead for two years from liver failure, and she continued to find hidden whisky all over the house for a long time to come, each bottle a painful slap in the face.
This short story belongs in my work in progress: ‘Appleheart’
For more on ‘Appleheart’, which takes place in a haunted Art College :
APPLEHEART First Day Nerves
APPLEHEART How Long Does it Take a Book to Cook
Photo Credit: Cdd20 (Pixabay)