Anton's ghost

While other girls worshipped David and Donny, my bedroom was adorned with photos of my favourite actor, Anton Walbrook. I didn’t have many friends, but it didn’t matter, as my mum and I were always so close. At weekends, she’d put the kettle on we’d snuggle up on the sofa and watch old movies. Anton starred in our favourite films: tales of obsessive love, brainwashed Nazis and suicidal ballerinas. He was always so handsome and mysterious. I loved his neat moustache, luscious dark hair and soft Germanic accent. He was my first real crush, despite inconveniently dying a decade earlier. 

As I grew older, I got a job at a university. I kept myself to myself, but I enjoyed my work. At lunchtime, I would head to the library and study the film books and borrow DVDs to watch at home later. But then one day, mum had a stroke and she died two months later. It was a huge shock. I decided to take some time off, while the students were away, hoping it would give me the chance to adjust.  With mum gone, I was lonely but my movies and film books kept me going.

On the day that it happened, the summer heat was becoming unbearable. I hadn’t been outside of the house for a while and I thought a little outing would do me good. I was deciding where to go when I realised it was the anniversary of Anton’s death. I could go on a trip to visit his grave. I got up and searched through the mound of books in the hallway and eventually found the location. St John’s Church, Hampstead.

I started to get excited - it would be a day to remember. I made up some sandwiches and then eased my way through my overgrown garden to the tangled old rose bush, selecting the biggest blooms for a floral tribute. I also unearthed a small trowel, in case the grave needed a tidy.

And then, on a whim, I went back inside and fetched a small card from the bureau. I would write him a note. Dear Anton, I have always loved you, and I will never forget you. Forever yours, Miss Audrey Matthews, Bear Gardens, Morden. I wrapped the flowers in some paper and sticky-taped the note on the side. Perfect. I laid everything on the back seat of mum’s navy Morris Minor, and I was off.

It was a horrible journey, even with my Satnav to guide me. I usually avoided driving through London and I lost count of the beeps from angry drivers. But I didn’t care. I was on an adventure. A homage to the film star I had loved for so many years.



By the time I had got to St John’s, it was late afternoon and as I had hoped, the churchyard was empty. I began my search to the left of the church, but the headstones looked too overgrown and eroded to be markers for a sixties burial. I crossed the path to the other side of the cemetery and spotted Anton’s grave almost immediately. His name was emblazoned across the white marble stone in black letters with the dates of his birth and death and ‘Our dear friend’ written underneath. A wilting posy of sweet peas lay next to it, probably left by another fan like me.

 I laid down my bouquet, and used my trowel to scrape off the birdlime and moss from the stone. The sun was beating down on me and I could feel myself sweating and slightly dizzy. When I was done, I sat down as cross-legged as I could manage, in front of the headstone. I closed my eyes and images of Anton danced in front of me as I pictured the scenes from my favourite films. I’m not sure how long I sat daydreaming, but after, what seemed only a few minutes, I heard the sound of a familiar voice.

‘How kind of you to come and see me, Audrey.’

 I opened my eyes and looked around. The fading sun was shining in my eyes so at first, I only saw the figure in silhouette, standing behind the headstone. I struggled to my feet blinking rapidly and shaking my head - scarcely believing what I was seeing and hearing. ‘Anton?’ I said.

The figure stepped around towards me and then I recognised him – the hair, the moustache and that beautiful smile. Everything I loved and remembered.

 ‘But you, you’re dead’ I stammered. ‘I’m standing by your grave.’

 ‘Yes, Audrey, but time is not linear. There are parallel universes. In your reality, I am dead, but in another, I am very much alive.’

 He certainly looked solid enough, tall and elegant in a blue suit and cravat. ‘I think you’re amazing’ I said, blushing bright red. ‘I mean - I’ve always been a great fan of your work. I don’t really know what to say.’ I felt embarrassed and elated at the same time.

 ‘I’m very pleased to meet you too,’ said Anton. I was a private person when I was alive, but I always enjoyed meeting people who took an interest in my work.’

 ‘Oh, yes, I really did,’ I said. I knew I was gushing, but I didn’t care. Seeing him standing before me made me breathless.

 ‘So what would you like to do now he said?’

 I blushed again. ‘I don’t know what you would like to do?’ I said shyly. I mean - what you can say to a dead film star? Nothing had prepared me for this.

 ‘I think I would like to have a cup of tea – do you like tea?’

 ‘Why yes, that’s my favourite drink!’

 ‘Wonderful. Shall we go back to your house and take tea together?’

 Oh god, I thought. My home was far from tidy, nothing like the home he was used to I was sure. But I didn’t want to risk him disappearing again, not now I had him here.

 ‘Ok,’ I said. ‘But I must warn you my house is a bit messy. We can go in my car, it’s just parked around the corner.’

 And so we drove, Anton and me, back through London to my home, chatting away like old friends. And he came in and sat down, politely ignoring the chaos. I made him some tea and found him some biscuits from the back of the cupboard. They were only a bit out of date.

 After we had finished, we fell silent and sat holding hands, staring into each other’s eyes. It was almost dark now, but sitting in the shadows made the moment seem even more romantic.

 ‘Has anyone ever told you how lovely you are?’ said Anton.

 ‘No never,’ I whispered, and I closed my eyes in joyful anticipation, as he leant forward to kiss me.

The deafening sound of banging on my front door forced me to open my eyes again. It was like someone was trying to break the thing down.

 ‘Are you expecting guests?’ said Anton.

‘No, I’m not,’ I said. ‘I’ll just ignore them.’

But the banging continued, and so I got up to the door and looked through the spy hole. Two police officers were hovering on the steps, looking very angry and impatient to be let in. I opened the door a crack. ‘Can I help you?’ I said.

‘Are you Audrey Matthews?’

‘Yes, that’s right. Is there a problem?

‘I’m afraid so madam. We need to speak to you about an incident at St John’s Church in Hampstead today.’

‘Yes I was there today,’ I said, but there didn’t seem to be anything untoward happening. I’d rather you didn’t come in, as I’ve got someone with me.’

‘Miss Matthews,’ said the meanest-looking officer. ‘We have reason to believe you have disinterred some ashes from a grave and as I’m sure you’re aware, this is a very serious offence. The churchwarden found a note with your address by the graveside, and the car in your driveway was seen in the vicinity.’

I opened the door. I thought - what an earth were they talking about? At least Anton would be able to tell them I’d done nothing wrong. But as we walked into the living room, I saw that Anton had disappeared from the sofa and in his place lay a large brass urn. The lid of the urn had come loose, and a cloud of gritty-grey dust had spilt out and spread over my cushions.

‘Excuse me a moment,’ I said. I ran to the bathroom and was violently sick. As I flushed the toilet, I noticed my hands were caked with soil and my fingernails were black and all broken. 

‘Are you ok?’ called out one of the officers ‘Do you need any help?’

‘Just coming,’ I said.

I took a deep breath and forced myself to go back into the living room.

Anton had appeared again, he was standing by the mantelpiece and smoking a cigarette. He exhaled slowly. ‘Oh, Audrey,’ he said. ‘I think you might have some explaining to do.’


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