Okay, to any of my followers, I will admit that what I post tends to be very hit and miss, with more misses than hits, and some misses so severe it’s as if I’m facing the wrong way. However, in my defence, these posts tend to be about real things that I’ve put no thought in to whatsoever. Maybe the problem is that I don’t know anything about reality.
So instead of some mildly entertaining rant/uninformed cringe worthy rant. Here is a mildly entertaining/cringe worthy short story I wrote a couple of years ago for a creative writing class.
The Skeleton Dance.
I try to make the world a happier place, it’s a compulsion of mine. So, on that note I want to talk for a moment about death and its inevitability.
From the very moment we are born we start the slow decline towards the grave. My father once likened life to a casino. “Well my boy,’ he said twisting the curls of his fake moustache (he said it made him feel more fatherly and he wore it whenever he was about to make a profound speech). ‘Life is like a casino,’ (I told you) ‘You can either take a risk and make huge gambles which may or may not pay off, or you can play it safe and bet low. You can even spend the whole time at the bar taking no part in the games, but one things for certain, we all have to leave eventually.’ At this he took off his moustache and returned to his online gambling. He called it a hobby, everyone else called it an addiction, I called it a quirk. Dad wouldn’t have been dad without his gambling.
I digress; I’m supposed to be talking about death here.
Everything that exists in the world does so because of its opposite. Without its contrary buddy a concept would just fizzle away into nothing, like an artist who can only draw stick men. Hot has cold, up has down, good has evil and a delicious bacon and brie sandwich has mashed potato.
Death is no exception. In order to understand death, we must look at life. Life is a bizarre thing. It’s not great, but it’s not awful, it’s just there. It starts with screeches of pain followed by horrible confused wailing. This is rapidly replaced by a bold and often suicidal sense of curiosity. What does that taste like, will I be able to climb onto that telly, how hot are those burning coals exactly and how many marbles can I fit up my nose? Are all examples.
These juvenile questions are rapidly replaced by more sophisticated ones. Does she like me, how does the world work, what does that taste like and how many times can I pleasure myself in a day before coming to some serious harm(I’m not judging)?
That’s the general way of things, questions, questions and more questions. When it comes down to it, the answers to these rarely make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things, but they keep us occupied as we slowly expire.
Now you must be asking, what’s life without a little bit of love. Dad told me once, after hurriedly sticking on his moustache, ‘Love is invented by corporations to make you go overdrawn.’ I was eight at the time so I didn’t really understand what he meant.
Now, I respectfully disagree. Love is much more complex than that. It’s not as the romantic comedies would have you believe where the infatuated couple have a few kerfuffles involving a few ‘hilarious’ misunderstandings, before realising their undying love for one another and living happily ever after. Trust me, particularly in this modern era, ever after is a bloody long time. After a few years of marital bliss those two vaguely attractive fools will be looking back at aforementioned kerfuffles as the most exciting time of their lives.
Love does not last forever, but it does take on different forms. Take that as you will, be it a nice bit of prose or the most pretentious way of backing out of a relationship. So there’s life, questions and love and questions on love.
Let me tell you about my first love. I helped teach some woodwork classes some evenings (not the stuff they teach you at school) it was carpentry, proper carpentry, not putting flat pack furniture together. I still remember the smell of the sawdust, the feel of the pine and the mahogany the rasp of the saws and … well the rasps and the rhythmic scratching of the sandpaper. I was eighteen.
It was late September and still quite warm I remember, though that might just be me over romanticising the whole thing. I started by clearing the workbenches and making sure the tools were all in order as the regular clientele shuffled in. I literally stopped what I was doing when she walked in. She was Sarah Styles. She was tall, elegant, blond haired and beautiful.
She was not my first love.
A few paces behind her walked Stephanie Turrel. She was short, a little plump (not unattractively so) with the broadest smile you’d ever see on a woman… seriously, it was bigger than her head some times. She was quick to laugh and her laugh was contagious. I took to wooing her straight away.
This wooing took time, probably because I referred to it as wooing. It was awkward even cringe worthy, like someone denying a fart in a train. However, like the train farter triumphantly diving out of the carriage at the next stop and admitting the deed at the top of his voice, we found ourselves in a relationship. That simile needs work.
At first it was wonderful, though sometimes cripplingly frightening. Then it was not as good, and then it was great, and sometimes it was bad and good at the same time. We bought a cat together and named him Rongo, I know, it was sheer madness.
Stephanie is not just important because she was my first love. There was one conversation we had. We were twenty by this point, it was summer and we were lying in a field looking up at the copper coated evening sky. This would have been one of those cheesy romantic evenings we all love to think nostalgically about, only one of our friends was throwing up nearby, and a number of others were taking part in the most inebriated game of football ever recorded.
However, it was nice. She squeezed my hand and spoke softly in my ear.
‘What do you think happens when we die?’ she asked. To which my mouth opened, closed, opened again and remained so for some time like a particularly baffled trout. If my dad was in a moustache mood he’d say ‘after death we sit in a hole until our skin peels away and we do the skeleton dance.’ I don’t know whether he meant nothing happens, or we genuinely have some form of dead dance off, either way it was horribly final.
‘I think…’ I began desperately trying to think of something pleasant, funny or intellectual. ‘I think that death is like… it’s a bit like the ostrich and why it can’t fly, the real reason it can’t fly, we’ll just never know.’ Yes unfortunately I failed all three. She did laugh her infectious laugh however.
‘You know they say the universe is always expanding?’ she asked. I nodded, though I had read somewhere that it would eventually slow down stop and then hurtle back towards the centre again. She seemed excited though so I didn’t interrupt her. ‘It seems too coincidental that people are always dying as well.’ She continued as if she was on the verge of some Einsteinesque breakthrough.
‘I reckon, that when we die, our essences – our souls if you like, become like, pure energy. That energy then goes on to fuel the expansion of the universe. So it’s like a constant, people keep dying, the universe keeps expanding.’ She concluded with that certain nod she did whenever she decided on a fact of reality.
‘So, nothing really remains of us?’ I asked feeling that was very much like my father’s theory.
‘Yeah, we still have conscious thought, we become a bit like a hive-mind, all those dead souls becoming part of the universe, we are one and we are single at the same time.’ She declared. This may be a good time to say that she too had been drinking.
‘Oh! And we keep our voices! We can all hear each other’s voices!’ She yelped excitedly squeezing my hand.
‘What, the collective dead throughout history? That’s loud.’ Well it would be wouldn’t it? I find the pub gets a bit noisy on a busy day, a cosmos full of the dead, now that’s bound to get a bit irritating.
‘It is, but a different kind of loud, remember we don’t have ears, we’re energy. We’ll be more sophisticated without these fleshy things.’ She said poking her belly. The first thing I thought was I liked her fleshy things, two things in particular, but I thought that would ruin the moment, so I kept my mouth firmly shut.
‘ALEX WATCH OUT YOU FUCKING IDIOT!’ Yelled one of our friends, after narrowly avoiding death by a football. I mentally kicked myself, the moment was ruined anyway.
‘When we die will you listen out for my voice?’ Stephanie asked. I looked into her lovely green eyes, green like the sea, when the sea looks green. I squeezed her hand again.
‘We won’t die, we’ll have our brains put into robots, or medical science will make us invincible.’ I said.
‘But… if we do die before then, or if the robots don’t work, will you listen for my voice and try and find me?’ Her thin red lips looked tight and serious and her eyebrows had risen creasing her pale forehead.
‘You’d just have to laugh, I’d pick you out easily,’ I assured her.
We broke up half a year later.
Strange how things work out. Despite her theory she didn’t opt for a career in science or philosophy. She became an estate agent, a pretty successful one. I spent my time trying to sleep with anything that moved with moderate success.
Then I got stomach cancer.
I didn’t have treatment. Was told there was only a small chance anyway, which to be perfectly honest was a bit demoralizing. Medical science didn’t make me invincible and the most advanced humanoid robot we have keeps falling over so I’m not holding my breath.
I still love Stephanie, not in the same way as then, but I love her and always will. Just as I love everyone I’ve met, even the people I hate. I love moustachioed dad, who visits me in hospital sporting a real moustache now. It’s strange how as a man gets older the hair leaves his head but grows everywhere else at twice the speed. I’m pretty sure ears were never supposed to be hairy, but he has thick tufts sprouting from his. It almost looks as though he had planted seeds in them and only now were they beginning to sprout.
He still gambles, but in a different way. ‘Every time I stand up to go make a sandwich it might be my time to keel over and head off to do the skeleton dance. But I still get my bacon and brie at lunch time.’ He said. I had given up trying to get him to stop saying ‘the skeleton dance’ when surrounded by terminally ill patients, there’s just no telling some people.
So there you go, there’s a bit of life and love for you, and a hint of death. Stephanie’s words are ringing in my ears these days. She came and visited not long ago. She made no mention of her cosmic community of the dead so I didn’t think to bring it up.
She has two children now and is married to a guy called Bret. I know! What kind of name is Bret? It’s like bread only different. If I was a gambling man like my dad, I’d put money on him being an arse with overly gelled hair and one of those annoyingly handsome smiles. I shan’t judge, not too harshly anyway.
She still looked pretty, and the few times she laughed it set excitement coursing through my veins and I almost seeped into a coma of nostalgia. You need to be careful with that stuff, it’s like a drug, linger too long in your memories and you won’t want to come out of them. My dad said that happened once. He got lost for three days somewhere in the sixties and missed Countdown.
She looked sad when she left. As if she knew I wasn’t long for this world, in fact she definitely did know as I told her. I suppose I should be scared. People tend to be at this sort of time. Nobody looks forward to death but to tell the truth, I’m very tired. I hope my dad’s wrong because I don’t think I’d have the energy to do any dancing, skeleton or otherwise. I think if anything I am uncertain, apprehensive even. It’s the pre-exam feeling only amplified by nine and a half, and instead of facing possible failure, you’re facing definite death, so maybe it’s not like exams at all, that’s the trouble with similes when you look at them too hard.
Every night I close my eyes half expecting not to open them again, if I listen hard enough I think… yes I think I can hear voices. I can’t quite make out what they’re saying –they’re quiet, close to whispering, but they’re definitely there.
The eternal spirits of the dead floating around in space? I hope so… I really hope so.