Tea with the Reaper

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Nichole felt the cool breeze on her skin, so she pulled the light bed sheet over her exposed flesh. Normally, sleeping with one leg out was most comfortable, but tonight she felt a coldness creeping over her. Lifting her head and glancing with one, half open sleepy eye, she looked at the window. Satisfied it was closed and the wind was not blowing into the room Nichol laid back.

Perhaps, she thought, it was an already forgotten dream which woke her.

Nichole buried her head deep into the soft down of her pillow, tucked the loose sheet tightly about her and closed her eyes.

That was when the sound came.

A rasping, or maybe heavy fabric being dragged over the floorboards, or slothernly footsteps, lazy feet sliding along, scuffing the ground.

Nichole sat bolt upright. Her own breathing heavy with anxiety smothering any other noise. Holding her breath, trying to be a still and as silent as possible, she strained to listen, seeking the sound again.

Nothing.

All was quiet. The house was still.

Nichole’s lungs were to the point of bursting before she exhaled with an almighty sigh. Falling back onto her bed in relief, she noticed how her breath hung in the air, a wispy cloud slowly evaporating.

How could it be so cold in the house.

It was never that cold, not inside, not indoors. Unless the heating was off, broken. Maybe the boiler was out? Maybe that was what woke her, the coldness, not a breeze, not the wind blowing over her naked skin.

Maybe.

But the noise.

She heard it after she woke, didn’t she? Did she? Nichole was uncertain.

Laying her head back onto the downy comfort of the feather pillow once again, she pulled the sheet up to her neck and, as she closed her eyes, decided she would check the boiler in the morning. Right now, all she wanted to do was get back to sleep. Morning was still a few hours away, at least the civilized morning.

But sleep did not come. Each time Nichole began to drift off she would jump awake, almost startling herself with the suddenness, until she woke one too many times. Annoyed with her own restlessness she got out of bed and padded across the bedroom, grabbing her nightgown on the way to the door.

She was half way down the stairs, still dragging her gown behind her, when she heard another sound, this one coming from the kitchen. Nichole froze and listened. There was a muffled sound; someone was in her kitchen creeping about, trying to be quiet.

She wrapped her robe around her and tied the belt tightly, before cautiously creeping towards the kitchen. Poking her head around the doorway Nichole looked into the room. She could see no one, just the digital clock on the microwave. It read Three-thirty four precisely.

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Three steps and she was at the dining table.

This was weird. She was certain she heard someone moving about. The kettle began to gurgle as it came to the boil. Nichole stared at it in disbelief.

The voice came from behind her “Sit down Nichole, join me in a cup of tea?”

Spinning around, she saw a tall dark figure looming over her and felt the same icy chill which woke her earlier. In shock, Nichole stepped backwards, coming to an abrupt halt as she met the table’s edge.

“Sit, sit” said the dark figure gesturing for Nichole to take a chair. “We can have a cosy chat together.”

Nichole walked backwards around the table, feeling her way to the chair, not daring to take her eyes from the figure. She felt her mouth drying and her heart pumping against her ribs as realisation dawned on her of who he was.

“One sugar or two?” he asked, glancing over his shoulder towards her.

“Um… I… um.” Nicole could not form a single coherent word.

The dark figure placed the cups on the table and the sugar bowl in the centre. “Maybe you just help yourself, ehh?”

Nichole sensed the figure was smiling at her, but because of the cowl covering his head his face was in deep shadow.

“Are you… are you… him?” Nichole asked.

“Him? Him who?”

“Um… Death. Have you come for me?”

To Nichole’s surprise the dark figure laughed. It was a deep throaty chuckle, not the evil echoing howl she would have expected.

“Drink” he said, lifting his own cup from the table.

Nichole could not help but notice the way he crooked his pale, bony, almost skeletal little finger as he raised his cup from the saucer.

She took a sip from her cup. It really was a good brew. “I asked if you were… were Death?”

The figure looked over the rim of his cup. “Some call me that, others ‘Old Father time’ or ‘The Reaper’ even the ‘The Grim Reaper’, although I object to that. I am not grim at all”. He let another chuckle tumble from the shadows of his hood.

“So, am I to die today, are you hear to take me?” Nichole asked.

“You see, this is what people don’t understand” he said, gesturing by waving both arms in the air, “I don’t take a person’s life. I don’t kill people.”

“Then why are people frightened of you?”

“Books, the movies, ignorance, conjecture, propaganda, who knows?” He shrugged his words away dismissively.

Nichol sipped her tea. “If you don’t take people’s lives, what do you do?”

“I take their souls. More tea?”

Nichole nodded. She was stunned by the ambiguity of it all. Here she was, sitting at her kitchen table chatting with the Reaper while drinking tea, not knowing if this was the last thing she would do before she died. Although she had certain apprehensions, as anyone would, she felt no fear, she did not feel threatened as one would imagine.

Perhaps that was how things worked? He lulled his victims into a sense of false security and then…. whack. Maybe, maybe not.

“But surely people must die? I mean, people must be dead before you take their souls?” Nichole asked.

“Yes, well sort of… at least for the most part. I gather their souls as soon as they die. You see, we cannot have thousands of lost souls wandering about aimlessly. Goodness me, what chaos and confusion that would beget.

So, I collect them and take them to the boatman for the crossing. That is the plan, at least that would be the way it worked, in an ideal world.”

“And this is not an ideal world?” As macabre as it was, Nichole found herself enjoying the conversation.

“Far from it. Have you any biscuits, digestive or a custard creams perhaps?”

Nichole brought the biscuit tin to the table. Sliding it towards the Reaper she said, “Help yourself.”

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“Thank you my dear. Now where were we? Oh yes… This is far from an ideal world. There are far too many people now. It is making my job extremely difficult.”

“How is that?”

“I have to be everywhere at once, I even have to stop time to get a little rest, some respite, like now.” The reaper pointed to the clock.

It still read three thirty-four, precisely the time Nichole entered the kitchen, when the reaper was boiling the kettle.

“Surely if you can stop time, then you have enough time to do whatever you need to do?” Nichole suggested.

“Ha, ha. Oh, I wish it was so simple. Time stops for them, for you, the people like you, not for me. That’s why I am exhausted, shattered. I have not had a good night’s sleep for years.”

“But now, I am talking with you, time hasn’t stopped for me.”

“No, but only because I want it that way” the reaper said.

“Why?” Nichole was curious.

“Oh, I was bored. I felt like some company. I don’t get much of that these days you know” again the Reaper laughed.

Despite the situation Nichole could not help but laugh with him. “I’ll make us a fresh pot of tea” she said, “unless you have to get back to work already?”

“No, another cup will be fine, thank you.” The Reaper lifted his head. Once again Nichole felt a smile, although she still could not see his face.

As she filled the kettle, she asked, “why are you here, in my house tonight?” Nichole was uncertain she wanted to know the answer, but then again, it was probably better to know the truth than not.

“I have come to collect a soul.” The reapers voice was factual. All joviality gone.

“I thought so. Tell me, how am I to die. Will it be painful?”

“I have no idea, no idea at all” the Reaper answered.

“But if you have to take my soul, surely I must die and, as you are here, you must know.”

“Not necessarily. Things have changed over the years. It’s all about efficiency now. It is not like the old days, then things were far more relaxed.” The reaper took the tea pot from Nichole and set it in the centre of the table. “Give it a minute or two to brew, I find it is best if it sits a while” he said.

Nichol sat back down, facing the Reaper. In a strange way she felt herself warming to this strange and somewhat unnerving character.

“So what’s changed?” she asked.

“What hasn’t” he snorted, continuing, “I have been told to be pro-active. To collect souls ‘in advance.’ Have you ever heard anything so bloody ridiculous? It will save time in the long run, blah, blah, blah.” The Reaper grunted in distain.

“I mean, if I do that, say if I collected your soul tonight, what would be left for you? You would have to live a soulless life. That’s not my job. It is not my job to make people’s lives a misery.”

“I wouldn’t like that” Nichol said. “I want to live a long and happy life.”

“Exactly, that is why I refuse. I am not like that devil Lucifer. I would never lower myself to his level. Did you know he is just an uppity, fallen angel? Now pour the tea. Do you want a digestive or a custard cream?”

Nichole chose a digestive, which she dunked into her tea. “If you are not after my soul, I have to ask why you are here. I live alone, there is no one else in this house.”

The reaper placed his cup down carefully on the saucer. “That’s where you are wrong Nichole. I have a choice of souls here.”

Nichole could not help but look around the room. There was no one else here.  There was no one else in the house. Unless the Reaper had brought someone with him.

The reaper stood and walked around the table. A slender bony hand gripped Nichole’s elbow, encouraging her to stand. ‘Well, if this is it’ she thought to herself, there was no use fighting inevitability.

She stood, but did not expect the Reaper to slide his hand under her robe. She shivered as the coldness of his palm pressed against her stomach.

“There is the first soul. Five days old. I bet you didn’t know, did you?” the Reaper asked.

Nichole gasped. Pregnant. Five days. Oh my god, that must have been Tommy. She and Tommy had… well, they had… “Please, no. Not if I am pregnant. Please don’t take my baby” Nichole was crying with the thought.

“Did you know everybody’s soul is the same size, right from the first moment of life, from the point of conception?”

“No. I have never thought about it before. Please, not my child’s. Take mine if you must, but not my baby’s.”

“What chance would your child have if I took your soul Nichole? Imagine a child growing up with a soulless, self-centred, heartless mother. A bitch, a drug taking abusive whore of a mother. That’s no life for any child is it?”

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“No, no, I suppose not.” Nichole was crying, confused and angry. She tore the Reapers hand from her stomach and pushed him away. Re-fastening her gown she shouted, “get out, get the fuck away from me.”

The Reaper laughed again. “I have not come for you or your infant’s soul. Now sit, finish your tea before it gets cold.”

Nichole was still shaking. Part fear, part anger, but mostly frustration. “What do you want here” her voice was harsher now, demanding.

“I am sorry if I upset you” the Reaper spoke softly. “I guess I have lost my social skills over the years, it is so very rare for me to talk to anybody nowadays.”

Despite herself, Nichole could not help but snigger. “I guess you have.”

“Well, it is time I got back to work” the Reaper announced.

“Wait” said Nichole loudly, “you haven’t told me why you are here, in my home. Whose soul you are to collect?”

“Oh yes, maybe I should have made it clear earlier. Only you surprised me when you walked in the kitchen. I wasn’t expecting you.”

“You were not expecting me. I was not expecting you. You frightened the life from me… although that is probably not the best phrase to use under this circumstance.” Nichole giggled at her own joke.

“I should have said I am here to collect the soul of the previous tenant. They called him Mr Abrahams. The poor man died over a year ago and has been wandering about ever since, in limbo… that’s the technical term. You might say spirit or ghost, or something like that.”

“The truth is, I am catching up on a backlog. Do you know, if they stay uncollected for too long people’s souls can become a little pesky, a bit troublesome? That is when they start banging about and chucking things around, when they get called poltergeist, manifestations and apparitions.”

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“So those noises I have been hearing, that wasn’t you?”

“No, it was Mr. Abrahams getting bored. So, if you will excuse me, I have work to do, or I’ll get even further behind. Charon gets a bit cranky if he doesn’t have a full boatload each trip.” The Reaper held out his bony hand with those elongated cold fingers. ”Thank you for the tea and the chat, I have quite enjoyed myself. Goodbye Nichole.”

Nichole grasped the Reapers gnarled hand “In a strange way, I am glad to have met you. If you ever want to drop in for tea again and have another chat…..”

“I might just do that. Having Death as a friend isn’t all that bad, you know.”

 

© Paul White 2015

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If you enjoyed that story you might like to read some more of my short works? Check out ‘Tales of Crime & Violence’. This is a three volume collection of shorts and flash fiction.

Kindle and Paperback

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Eyes like a ghost

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I play with Blake.

Sometimes, when it is sunny we play in the garden. Sometimes we play catch or we dig the dirt up and make mud pies and find worms and stuff.

My mummy and Blake’s mummy sit at the garden table, drink wine and smoke and talk. They talk a lot.

Most times though and when it is raining, we have to play indoors. That is when we get the cars and soldiers and animals out of the toy box.

Sometimes the soldiers ride the animals and sometime the animals drive the cars.

We play at the end of the room, under the big window.

My mummy says we have plenty of room here and Blake’s mommy says it saves us getting under their feet. But I am too big to get under her feet. My head is as high as her waist, well nearly. Blake is a bit shorter than me, but not so much as he could be stepped on.

We are not allowed out of the big room… ever.

Especially not at night when it is dark. Unless it is to go to bed or to use the toilet.

My mummy and Blake’s mummy talk all the time. Even when they are not in the kitchen they sit at the dining table and talk. Sometimes they laugh. It makes me jump when mummy laughs because she is so loud it hurts my ears.

But they do not laugh very often.

Most times they are angry about something “I would not understand” and sometimes Blake’s mummy cries. In fact, she cries a lot. My mummy cries when Blake’s mummy cries.

They say rude words too. I pretend I do not hear them and make a growling noise as the sergeant falls off the hippopotamus and bangs his head on the truck.

“Shhush, Crystal” my mommy says, “the kids will hear.”

“Fuck the kids” Blake’s mommy says, glancing at us. “They’re fine. “She lights another cigarette. ‘Fags‘ she calls them.

My mommy pours more wine into their glasses.

I drank some once. The glass was on the table and I was thirsty, so I took a big gulp. It looked like Ribena but tasted horrible. I spat it out.

I don’t know why my mummy drinks it. I once heard her say it was like piss. But she and Blake’s mummy always have a bottle of wine when they come to the house.

They come to the house a lot.

Nearly every day, now.

I am glad they come here, because I do not like where Blake lives.

He lives very high up, near the sky.

To get to Blake’s house you have to stand in a silver box that smell like a toilet. My mummy says it is called a lift, but I know its name is Otis because it says so above the number 20.

The number 20 is the one you have to push to get to Blake’s house.

Once Otis did not get to Bake’s house. I cried because I did not like it inside Otis and the smell made me sick. Mummy was cross because my being sick made her sick too. All her dress was covered in my sick and her sick and when the men opened the doors you could see they were not happy either because they looked at us funny.

Mummy washed me in Blake’s house and I had to wear some of his clothes. He laughed at me wearing boy’s stuff. Mummy washed too and put on some of Blake’s mummy’s clothes. It was funny because we looked strange dressed like that.

The other reason I do not like to go to where Blake lives is the men. There are lots of men. They stand near where you get inside Otis and they say rude and nasty things about mummy. Sometimes they grab her and sometimes they push her against the wall and put their hands inside her clothes. They say, “you like that, don’t you?” and they say, “how about a freebie, little slut” and other bad words I am not allowed to repeat.

Once a man took me from her and held a knife up saying he would pop my eyes out. I did not like that man and did not want him to pop my eyes out. The man made mummy kneel on the floor in front of him and open her mouth. Blake’s mummy came running up to us shouting and saying lots of rude words and screaming at the men and hitting them with a big stick. The men laughed and ran away. The man holding me dropped me and mummy had to take me to hospital to see a doctor. He said I was lucky I had not broken my arm.

But it hurt forever and I do not think that is lucky.

That is why I don’t like going to Blake’s house, even though you can see a long way from his windows. From his house, everything looks small and quiet, like a map. But I think I am going to fall out of the window or the building will fall down and it’s a long way down. It is scary and it is not nice.

So, I like that Blake comes to my house. None of the other mummies bring any children when they come. I don’t think any of them have children.

Our house is a really big house, but I am only allowed in this room, the big room, the toilet and the small room at the back, behind the kitchen, where mummy and I sleep. The rest is ‘out-of-bounds’ because it is where the other mummies work.

Aunty Caroline organises everybody. Every now and then she comes into the big room and calls my mummy away. “She will be back soon” Caroline says, “mummy has some work to do.”

“Soon girl” she points at me. “Soon girl you’ll have work too. I got some fellers wanting to get to know you while you’re still fresh.”

My mummy does not like Caroline when she says that. She shouts, “shut your fucking face.” Caroline just laughs.

Even Blake’s mummy has to work when she comes here. Caroline shouts “Crystal, get your nigger arse out here girl, I got men waiting on you.”

Caroline does not like Blake’s mummy. She does not like Blake. “Little black bastard” she calls him. I don’t know why, because Blake is not black, he is brown, like me when I have been playing in the garden when its sunny. But Blake is like that all the time.

Blakes mummy is a darker brown than Blake. But she is still not black. I think Aunty Caroline has something wrong with her eyes.

That’s why I don’t look at Caroline. She has nasty eyes like a ghost, a bad ghost.

 

© Paul White 2017 


Read more of my short, and not so short, stories in Tales of Crime & Violence, a three oie_transparentvolume collection.

Tales of Crime & Violence do not contain standard stories of theft, greed and wrongdoings, as one might expect. Far from it. Tales of Crimes & Violence looks deeper into the human psyche, the mind and spirits of those involved.

Are they the perpetrators or the victims?

The innocent caught in the crossfire, or is there more to their presence than meets the eye? Maybe they are willing participants, or have they been forced, or coerced into taking part? Or perhaps circumstance has colluded to force their actions?

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Hitchhiker

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I am old school.

From a time when life seemed simpler, less hectic, less complicated.

It was not.

It was just different.

Some will say that, ‘way back when’, life was safer, people were happier, times were better.

They were not.

Life was simply lived at a slower pace.

But there was less fear.

Less anxiety and more acquiescence.

I think life was more honest.

We were more honest.

With ourselves.

Life holds risks. You have to live with that.

Take your chances. Accept the possibilities.

Face the consequences.

That is how it goes.

We recognised that fact.

We did not fight it, we acknowledged it.

That is what made life simpler.

 

Like hitchhiking.

Like the figure I see ahead of me now. Checked shirt, blue jeans, backpack, thumb-out.

Quite rare nowadays, hitchhikers.

Too much fear. Mostly unwarranted.

Phobia, nurtured and spread by the media.

But who should hold that apprehension.

The driver?

I could drive on past. No one will make me stop.

Is the hiker a danger? A mass murderer?

A Rapist?

Is their thumb a lure for the unsuspecting?

Or

The Hiker?

Simply travelling home.

Should they get into the car?

Could I be a psychotic killer?

Could I be the Rapist?

Is my car a trap?

 

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As I get closer, I see the expectant look on the hiker’s face.

A bright smile.

Willing me to slow.

To stop.

I feel a compulsion.

An obligation to a fellow human.

I have been there myself. Thumb out. Waiting, hoping.

Praying for the next car to stop.

To give me a ride.

A ride to somewhere warm. Somewhere with hot coffee.

The hiker looks clean. Normal.

Conventional.

I slow. Maneuver towards the roadside.

Stop, a few yards beyond.

Looking in my mirror.

Watching.

 

The hiker picks up a small rucksack.

Running towards me.

I lock the doors.

Clunk. Safe.

I can leave. Go.

Put my foot on the accelerator.

Speed away.

The hiker is close now.

My last chance.

Decision time.

A smiling face appears at the window.

I smile back.

Still time.

Go?

Stay?

 

I press a switch.

The window hums. Open.

Half open.

I hear my voice. “Heading North” it says.

“Me too” the hiker replies.

I nod.

The hiker smiles.

Expectancy.

I smile back.

Trepidation.

Time stands still.

Momentarily.

 

Click.

I unlock the doors.

My own thumb jerks, a backward motion.

“Put your bag in the back” my voice speaks again.

Autonomously.

The bag lands on the rear seats.

Drive away, I think.

Take the bag.

Go.

Now.

What is in the bag.

Some clothing.

An iPad.

Money.

Or the hiker’s life?

Their entire possessions.

A lifetime or memories.

Lost loves, lost mother.

A bag of dreams, hopes for the future?

Is that where they are heading now?

The future.

Thiers. Mine. Ours?

Has this moment inexorably entwined our lives?

Left an indelible mark.

Or just a scratch. Unnoticeable, hidden.

One that will fade, become rubbed out as life progresses?

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The door opens.

Blue eyes, bright teeth, pale skin.

The hiker sits next to me.

“Thank you” she says.

“That’s okay” I reply.

I put the car in gear, heading North.

Our lives are meshed. At least for the next one hundred miles.

If she makes it that far.

If I make it that far.

Who knows?

Life holds risks. You have to live with that.

Take your chances. Accept the possibilities.

Face the consequences.

That is how it goes.

You see, I am old school.

I know what makes life simple.

 

 © Paul White 2016


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A Big red bus

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Three months.

That is what the doctors gave me, almost three months ago to the day.

Three months to live. That is not long, not long at all; a microsecond of the life I thought I had ahead of me.

I am uncertain if it is better knowing.

Maybe an unexpected death, an instant death; like getting mowed down by the proverbial bus is better. That way you can be happily going about your regular everyday business and BANG.

Nothing.

That is it. Finito.

This way is worse. This way everybody around me is living on tenterhooks. No one knows what to say, how to act or what to do.

There is nothing they can do.

I did not, still do not, have the time or the inclination, to do all those things I have never done in my life before. Like driving a Ferrari around a racetrack, base jumping into a canyon, or running naked through the snow in Finland.

I shall never get to empty my bucket list.

I could do them, some of them at least. I cannot afford to go to Australia, or for a space flight to feel weightlessness. I could do some of the other things; but truthfully, I cannot be bothered to make the effort.

You see, the whole point of doing such things is not so much for the ‘doing’ of them, however exhilarating they may be in the instant. It is what they leave you with after the events, what you carry away with you, the experience, the memories.

Memories which will last you a life time.

Yet a lifetime is something I no longer have.

So, to do all ‘that stuff’ seems a waste of the time I do have left. All those things I should have done before now, could have done when I was younger, fitter, stronger and of course, healthier.

The strange thing was I did not feel ill, not even in the slightest.

I have done. Two months ago I felt terrible, sick, dizzy, lethargic. You name it, I felt it. But now that has passed.

The doctors said it sometimes affects people in that way. It comes and goes in stages.

I had things to do. Make a new will. Organise my life, my ‘estate’ as the solicitors called it. My own thinking was more in line with Johnny Cash’s lyrics, “You can have it all, my entire empire of dirt”.

I know that is a slight misquote of the lyrics, but it is my version.

Hey, look on the bright side. I got to choose my own coffin! I was going out in a style I have chosen myself, not some pimped up piece of shit foisted on my dead corpse. Not many people get that opportunity.

Basically I was set. I had written letters to those I loved which they would receive after I had been interned. I have also made a video to be played at Christmas. In which I wish them all happiness and joy, explaining they should all do their ‘stuff’ now. Not put it off as I had, or else they too might never get the chance to do whatever wants they secretly harboured.

I have accepted my demise.

I am pensive, but only about the dying bit, not death itself. I do not want to suffer or be in pain. I do not think I could handle that well. But being dead, I am certain, is not painful at all.

At the time of writing, according to the doctors, l have three more days to go. I still feel good in myself and was wondering if it will just hit me. If it is to be like a countdown, a stopwatch, and at midday on Friday my lights will just go out.

Click… game over!

But I know timing is just an estimate, a guess. But that still cannot stop me wondering about so many things, like a miracle cure, or the discovery of a new procedure, or Martians landing on earth with a cure for all ills and the formula for everlasting life.

I suppose even though I have accepted death, I do not really want to die, not yet anyway.

I suppose these are the type of thoughts which run through everyone’s mind when considering one’s own death, imminent death.

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These are the thoughts running through my mind when the doctor arrived at the house.

Usually, once a week, the nurse comes and checks me out, takes blood and writes a lot of notes on her charts. I do not think a single notation, a single word, scribble, line or mark on those charts and papers actually had anything to do with trying to making me better. My suspicions they are records for protecting the doctors own backsides in case of any litigation if the future. But maybe I am just being cynical?

Anyway, this morning the doctor came with the nurse. This is it, I thought, this is the bad news, this is when the doctor tells me I shall deteriorate fast from this point onwards. This is when the pain starts, where I become incontinent, where my dignity as a human disappears.

I am not ready for that.

Dignitas becomes an appealing option.

“Mr Harvey”. The Doctor started to speak in a slow and deliberate voice.

He was rubbing his little goatee beard with his hand. Nervous tension. Although why he would worry was beyond me, it was I who was dying, not he.

“I am not sure how to explain this to you”. The Doctor sighed. I noticed the nurse was concentrating on inspecting the toes of her shoes.

This was it I suspected. This was the worst news. If a professional was having trouble telling me, I was to steel myself as best as I could.

I stood in the centre of my lounge, clenching my jaw and trying not to shake. I felt cold sweat forming on my brow and palms.

I knew this was coming, was inevitable, but I still felt like vomiting.

“Mr Harvey, there has been a mistake”. Again, the doctor paused.

“Your notes were mixed up I’m afraid”. The Doctor stopped speaking, he just sat there looking straight at me. The Nurse looked up too. She was chewing on her left cheek, just where her top and bottom lip met.

I watched as her tongue flicked out and licked a trickle of blood which was seeping from the biting.

I frowned and shock my head. “I don’t understand’.

“You are not going to die, Mr Harvey, at least not yet”.

My mind went blank. My head dizzy with confusion. I heard what the doctor said, but honestly did not comprehend a single word.

Again I said  “I don’t understand’.

The doctor spoke again. “Your notes, Mr Harvey were miss-filed, you ended up with another patience’s diagnosis in your file. You are well. You are fine. You are nowhere near deaths door”.

Slowly it began to sink in. I was not going to die at midday on Friday, or the next Friday, or the one after that. Not unless that bloody bus ran me down!

I was relieved. I was happy. I was angry.

In fact, I was bloody furious.

How dare these so called medical professionals put me through so much grief, so much mental torture for so long? How can they justify putting my wife, my kids, my family and friends in this position for three whole months?

I stood up. My mouth was running away with me. I cannot tell you what I said, because one half of it I do not remember and the other is unrepeatable and unprintable. Suffice to say I let go a tirade of verbal abuse for a good fifteen minutes, in which time I do not think I stopped to draw breath, even once.

To give the Doctor and nurse their due, they stood and took my entire sermonising diatribe on the chin without flinching. When I eventually ran out of words and expletives, I was panting like a hound after a long run. I collapsed back into my chair sitting silently and awaiting a response.

I would have said I was awaiting an answer, but I do not think I asked a single question during my ranting rage.

“We understand your frustration Mr Harvey, which is why I wanted to pass this news on to you personally” said the doctor quite calmly.

I could feel my hackles rising once more. How dare he be so controlled after the months of tourture he has put me through?

“I would like you to consider, if you will” the doctor continued, looking directly into my eyes, “that I have to speak to the patient whose notes were confused with you own”.

“What on earth has that to do with what you have put me and my family through for all these months?” I asked indignantly.

“Because, Mr Harvey, we have to give the other patient the news that he has only a matter of days to live. A man we told was only slightly ill, that would soon be better and back to his old self again. If you think you have been inconvenienced, how do you think he is going to feel when we tell him he is about to die?”

I must admit, I have not stopped thinking about that poor man.

I do not call him ‘poor man’ because he is about to die, but because he has so little time to come to terms with dying.

I had three months. Little time, but enough to accept the inevitable.

I wonder if the other man ever drove a Ferrari around a racetrack, or visited Australia?

I do not envy him. But I have concluded it is far better not to know your own future, especially when it involves your own demise.

From now on I shall live my life one day at a time.

When the reaper eventually comes for me, I hope he will be driving a big red bus.

01ab8

END

© Paul White 2017    

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I don’t love you.

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I poured another whisky.

Amber liquid flowing smoothly, small waves licking the side of the tumbler. The aroma rose, oak-wood, peat and alcohol.

Twisting the glass, looking through it, into it, my words came back, like an echo, a haunting.

“I don’t love you”.

I lied.

But that is what anger does, frustration. Temper.

It makes you a liar.

I twisted the phone in my hands.

I was not sure if I was going to make the call, or if I was waiting, hoping, willing for her to call me.

Of course she wouldn’t. Not after what I had said. Not after those words.

I did not blame her.

I would not call. Not if that was said to me. Not by someone I loved. 

Which is where she was at now. Crying. Huddled, cuddling her pillow. Teardrops and mascara soaking into the crisp fresh white linen.

I drank the whisky. All of it. One gulp.

It burnt. All the way down.

I poured another. A large one. Larger than the last.

My heart was heavy for her. But why, oh why…and how can a woman, a woman you love more than life itself, make you so angry, so easily?

Was it me?

Am I an angry man? Do I have a short temper? An uncontrollable rage?

No.

No, I do not.

I am mister average. John Doe. Fred Bloggs. A.N. Other.

I am angry now. Frustrated now. Or am I?

I have so many emotions, questions, feelings spinning around my head, my mind, I do not know what I feel.

I know how I feel.

Lost.

Sick.

Bewildered.

These sensations are not just in my head; they are flowing through my whole body. I feel sick, hungry, anxious, wild, sad, tearful, from the pit of my stomach to my fingertips and toes.

guilt_by_mare_of_night-d3a5szp

 

 

 

The whisky should help. It should deaden the senses.

But it doesn’t.

Still, I tip the glass, letting the smoothness of single malt drizzle onto my tongue. I savour it this time, taste it.

It still burns, but a pleasant pleasing burn, warming. Comforting.

I pick up the phone again. My fingers dance over the screen. I am shaking. Scared.

Scared of what I ask myself?

I have lost her already. I have nothing more to lose.

Except myself.

Myself. I chuckle at that. I hold no value of me.

I am worthless. So again I have nothing to lose.

Nothing.

This time, I fill the glass, almost to the rim.

I drink a third. Three quick sips.

There is no burn anymore, just the warmth, a silky warmth tinged with a hint of sadness. A lingering aftertaste of longing.

I slide a cigarette from the pack, resting the filter against my lips as I breath in, pulling the flame closer. The cigarettes end glows red.

I exhale, softly, slowly. Letting the smoke twist its way upwards, towards the ceiling. Here and gone.

Dissipated.

As I wish my words had.

The table holds a few items. Whisky bottle, glass, lighter, cigarettes, phone, Colt 45.

I have used four items.

Just the phone and gun to go.

Call her?

Or not?

If she says she hates me. No loss.

Nothing of value to lose, except a single shell.

If she does not answer. No loss either.

I will still get the message.

Or not to phone.

Not to chance her wrath.

Just pick up the 45.

Get it over with.

Why do I want to call her? I wonder.

To say sorry?

To say I was wrong?

That I made a mistake?

Feeble.

“I don’t love you” is not a mistake. It is a clear, precise sentence.

A sentence I uttered.

Foolishly. Unmeant. Stupidly. Without thought.

laughing-woman

I stroke the black glass of the screen once more, a little to firmly. It lights up and there she is; smiling at me, laughing.

I should delete her picture. I think.

I don’t want to press call.

I am scared, frightened. Yet my finger squeezes down.

Dialing…

I want to stop it.

Connecting…

I cannot move. I cannot function.

Her voice.

“I love you” she says, “I am sorry. I’m missing you”.

I still can’t move.

“Can I come over…like now, right now. Because I need you. I want you to hold me, tight, forever”.

I lift the phone and say…

.

 © Paul White 2016

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http://paulznewpostbox.wix.com/paul-white