It Comes To Us All

Cro Magnon Short-Listed 2015

He stared down into his teacup, wondering whether to attempt the task of bringing it to his mouth. Hour by hour he felt his life slipping away, the Lord of Death present in every dark corner. Really, was there any point?

     A shadow passed into the room. He held his breath and closed his eyes, his wrinkled lids hiding their playful light. ‘You cannot draw closer if I refuse to breathe’, he muttered, the words sounding gravelly and rare, for most of the conversations he had were in his head. He peered out and saw his daughter. He felt relief then disappointment.

     ‘Oh’, he said.

     His daughter threw her hand to her chest. ‘I thought you were asleep.’

     ‘Or dead?’ he replied.

     She tutted. ‘Oh, Dad,’ and reached for the newspaper on the sideboard. ‘I’ll be in the garden’.

     ‘Oh, Dad, ‘ he mimicked, wondering why his comic bones had leapfrogged a generation. His granddaughter was more fun.

     He stared back down into his teacup. Slowly, with rigid concentration, he brought the china to his mouth. He took a sip. It was lukewarm. He sighed, placing the quivering cup back into its saucer, its clink breaking the silence of the world outside his mind. The cup sat jauntily poised to spill. He raised his hand and inspected his little finger. ‘Crooked bugger’. He recalled it had been the first joint to fail, the lead domino that took with it the rest. He tried to wriggle it. It remained fixed.

      Would it help if he knew when it would happen? Every other aspect of his life had been so certain, why not death? But not even a man with a gun to his head knew, unless he was holding the gun himself. And even then …the winds of karma were so changeable, a stern-faced daughter would probably interrupt and prise the gun from his hand before he’d been given the pleasure of blowing his head off.

      He shook his head. No, there is no such thing as a timely death. What would be the point of becoming attached to anything if you didn’t tell yourself this?

      ‘What a hollow life I’ve led.’ He chuckled and then groaned, dropping his chin into his chest. He had been a passenger for most of it, rarely exercising a conscious choice about anything important, examining the world from no other perspective than that of a man in business. He was inherently human but he may as well have been inherently a dog for all the good he’d done.

      He shuffled in his chair. He’d suffered, yes, like any other, but the main cause of his suffering was of his own doing, the lies he’d told to protect his company, the cheat he’d been to his wife, the tax he’d dodged. Granted, he’d never killed anyone… but still, he had to attribute credibility to the idea that he could have been his dog, except …his dog was more loyal.

      Since his birth he’d had plenty of warning to prepare for this moment and now it was coming at him… well, why was he examining his autobiography with so little time to put things right?

      He reached out for his Zimmer and, clinging to the frame, rose unsteadily to his feet. He felt a stabbing pain in his heart. He clutched at his chest; gripped by a familiar craving to hold on, only this time for his life, not his business or his secretary or his money.

      So what rebirth awaited a human bystander? - For he believed in the mental continuum. It wouldn’t be so bad if he came back as his trusty Labrador, but what if he were a street dog in Romania or worse still China, where they ate them, didn’t they?

      He felt another stabbing pain in his heart and with it an understanding that he had no choice over where his consciousness would go now. The oil in the lamp was running dry. If only he’d been more virtuous, live well, die well, that’s what they say, the winds of our actions taking us to a favourable rebirth… A shadow passed in front of him, and again he closed his eyes, this time there was no playful light. He relaxed his grip from the frame, held out his hands and fell, feeling the full weight of his rigid body smash to the floor.

      ‘Daddy?’ He heard his daughter say from somewhere far, far away and then a warm tongue licked his cheek, a wet nose nuzzled his ear and he fixed a wry smile on his face, so that when his daughter entered the room she would take solace that his life had ended without his conscience praying on him.