Never, in all my years of education, has anyone explained that the inside of an executive class luxury coach rolling down an embankment resembles the inside of a tumble dryer.
A tumble dryer in which clothes don’t need to be taken off first. There’s a lot of screaming but this is certainly down to receptionists, IT technicians and various clerical staff (actual executives use cars to commute) and so on, failing to grasp the value of seat belts until too late. Screaming, yes … I’d love to cover my ears but I’m fighting off flying laptops, bits of laptops and fake designer shoes. At least it’s more fun than arriving at work which is as exciting and rewarding as watching paint trying to get wet again.
There’s a bit of a mystery happening too but I’ll deal with that when I get a moment. Oh, we’ve just landed on the next level of motorway: I may be some time. A lorry hurtles into the back of our coach and spins us round ready for the front to be smashed by the next. It’s all pretty busy in here, even gravity and general physics are having to concentrate like mad choreographing everything.
It’s amazing how lines of tidy seats, windows and acres of metal can be rearranged to make me feel like I’m strapped inside a crushed crisp packet – cologne, antiperspirant and perfume flavour.
I think we’re upside-down. Not that I care; I’m already planning the TV interviews, how I can fake concussion for an insurance payout and wondering how long I’ll be able to claim sick leave. Maybe I can wangle a therapist too – a nice hunky one with a low voice.
The mystery, now I can concentrate a little, is a woman about my age. She shouldn’t be here. The driver ought to exclude people with tattoos and dreadlocks … blond … I ask you.
She’s the mystery. Not strapped in, like careful me, she still managed to sit quite unperturbed and read a book – and actual paperback with no screen and didn’t need to be plugged in at all – while everyone else played space-station astronauts in an unscheduled re-entry party.
I can’t even see what she was reading. Her book is stuck, wide open on the floor above me, to a blob of ‘Professional’ chewing gum. This was that sort of coach.
Someone’s lunch box has landed within reach and I’m so glad it contains a raspberry jam sandwich. Smeared down my face it will look good on TV.
Oh, back to the woman. She’s pulled some sort of pendant out and is going from person to person and doing something weird with it.
I think I want my therapist to have an interesting accent and a beard, one of those sticky-out ones. I can always tell him to shave if things get hot.
Actually this hanging upside-down means the seatbelt is making my legs go numb. Everything is twisted and I can’t reach the clasp. I wave to get busy woman’s attention. She frowns at me and says, “You’re not ready yet. Am I a bit future or past in my speech?”
She must have concussion or brain-stabbage from flying stiletto heels, something severe anyway. She purses her lips, looks around the coach, and walks, climbs and wriggles her way to me. “How are you? Art though mortally slain … beyond splat?” she asks.
“I feel wonderful, thank you. Splendid day, isn’t it? I love it when we get cherry blossom and black ice at the same time. Can you open this belt clasp for me?”
“Is that blood?”
“Jam. The clasp here…”
“Sorry, not doing. I don’t wanna to freak dudes, innit.”
She must be one of those English as a second language people but I admire her enthusiasm. “Really, I think it’s a bit late for that. You have duded my freak right out. The clasp, if you would be so kind. And speak in a way that won’t give me a migraine.”
“I’ll try but I knoweth not the season, nor yet the year of our Lord nor whithersoever I have happenstanced, like. Oh, cars and horseless carriages abound here. I’ll get it right in a nano-nonce or two. Anyway, do you feel like you’re dying yet?” She frowns. “Dizzy, nauseous? Do a bit of vomit or something.”
“I can’t die yet! I’ve at least six months’ sick leave to take after all this.” I’m able to dig my phone from a jacket pocket, phew!
“What’s that?” the woman asks.
What a weird question. “It’s my mobile – a telephone you can speak to people with. I need someone to get me out of here. Don’t tell anyone I was talking to you; I’m supposed to be concussed.”
“But you need to talk into that thing?”
Damn, I need to think about this. “Are there any people wearing yellow jackets running around outside?” I hold the phone to my ear.
“A mobile. I think I’ve read about those.” She stops frowning and looks a bit happier, pulling the ragged notebook from it’s chewing-gum relationship. “Mobile … M…” Flicking through pages, she asks, “Do they blow up messily … brains everywhere?”
“A plague on thy … hang on, still orientating … internet? Am I up to date with swearing now? It really is a problem when landing in an era and not having the correct chrono … clock … timepiece … watch … display. I’m getting there, aren’t I?” Looking back at me, she jerks while staring at my hand. “Blood!”
She points. “No, you’ve cut your finger. How much blood have you got left?”
“Plenty for the moment. Please unstrap me!”
“Wait, wait.” She looks at the book, scrabbling through sections. “Something you get from cuts … this is so frustrating … a pox on your hovercraft or whatever I’m supposed to say to indicate annoyance. Wait. I’ll get to the right page in a moment.” Looking back at me, she asks, “Anus. Can I see your anus?”
“Not likely. Can you make some sense? and while you’re at it, open this blasted buckle.”
She flattens the book open on a thigh. “Oh … tetanus. Close enough. How’s your jaw? Is it a stiffy yet?”
“It’s one of my happier bits. Can we go back to dealing with the buckle?”
“Nah. Soz but I can’t touch you. Health and safety and shiz.” She stares at me, pinched expression and sadness. “Please die. It would make my day. It’s not a huge ask.”
I seem to have lost sensation in my left foot. Aha! All I need is a shoelace or something. I’ve seen it on YouTube. You can use them as saws and cut through things like seatbelts and relatives’ irritating children.
“What are you doing now?” maniac woman asks.
“Attempting to cut myself free.” I have custody of someone’s abandoned shoe. Chanel? That’s a fake if ever I saw one. No laces either. Designers need to understand real life. Breaking my phone up, I work with the edge of metal that always removes my skin.
“Oh, you’ll fall,” she says. “Wait, I’ll get something which will stick into your head when you land on it.”
“Just don’t do anything! What are you actually doing here anyway?”
“Deathwatch. I’m an intern. It’s a bitch and this manual a friend wrote about it is … well she’s a friend. What can you expect?”
“I must be dead. Quite dead – or mad. Mondays are never like this. Er … do you know anything about psychoses and insurance claims?”
Peculiar person frowns, forehead creasing like a non-slip mat just before you break your neck. “I’ll see if it’s in the manual.” She flips through pages. “Pa … pe … ph… Wait, pneumothorax may be relevant … what on earth? I’m not reading all that shiz! I bet I can work it out. Do your tits feel bigger than usual? About to explode or anything?”
“Leave the manual alone… Hey, may I have it? I can refer to random pages every time I see an insurance-related doc… AAAGH!” I so hate crashing to the ceilings of buses when only halfway through a sentence. Ow! a bit of the phone just landed and cut my nose.
The woman hisses. “Stupid! See that sharp bit of metal? A few centimetres to the left and your tempestuous lobe would have looked quite arty mingling with the jam.”
“Why do you want me dead?”
“Everyone else managed it.” She points around the bus. “And I’m late for coffee.”
My legs are seriously bugging me. “Ow! How long does it take to die from pins and needles?”
“I’ll look for some. Nice to see you getting into the spirit of things.”
“What are you on about? I don’t want to die!” I’m toying with the idea of rubbing my feet to life again but the ambulance and fire teams will hear screaming. Can concussed people scream? I hit another educational failing.
“You don’t want to die? Why are you a human then? Pretty stupid. Did you think it through?”
“Of course I’m a … ooer … what are you?”
She looks at me as if I’m the lone survivor of some horrible motorway disaster. Well, sorry and all that but I’ve never seen an expression like hers and I’m struggling, OK?
She says, “I don’t know! No one’s ever asked me. I … I started off as a curse, I think. Then I was a haunted ornament – everyone needs to do that once at least – then things were a bit weird for a bit but I ended up as a blessing for a while. I got fired from that and had to be a stand-in for a poltergeist on maternity leave. Now I’m working with Death and developing a new service.” She beams at me and settles herself comfortably in a pool of congealing blood. “It was my idea. Bespoke deaths. People get to choose; dying is all a bit random at the moment. That’s what I’m doing, researching with this.” She waves the strange runic thing hanging on a chain round her neck. “Customer experience survey devicy-thing.”
“I must have a head injury after all, totally scrambled, minced brain simmered at gas mark three for twenty minutes. I never knew being totally bonkers was quite so entertaining. I want you to be my imaginary friend.”
She claps her hands. “We could work together!”
“Sounds great. My job is … a less entertaining form of madness, like having an imaginary friend too but it’s a man-eating warthog in your headache.”
“What do you do?”
“Work for the civil service … government. I fill out forms, tick boxes and condense seventy-page reports into single sentences and only let myself use the word bollocks once every ten seconds.”
“Oh, brilliant! Do you get into trouble a lot?”
“I would if politicians actually read anything.”
“I get into serious trouble dying but not being professional about it. Death is so up-tight. Really, I decided to research every way to die like being strangled – you know, hands on experience. Then there was the time I pretended to be a witch. The nice holy people made me walk barefoot in freezing puddles, tried the ducking stool but the river was solid and my feet stuck to the ice. Then they made me climb a pile of frosty wood and tied me to a stake. Some tosser asked me if I had any last requests and I said, “Something to warm my feet?”
“I want your job! I do, I do! Think about all the last requests. The guillotine ‘Something for a sore throat, please!’.” We roll on the ceiling laughing.
She says, “What about being stretched on a rack? ‘Can I have some shortbread?’.”
“A glass of squash!”
“And being thrown from the Tarpeian Rock?”
“Uh … a bouncy castle!”
Doctor Drozd has a lovely accent. He’s read all the reports about me being dragged howling with laughter from the wreckage, hugging the woman’s manual and making sure no one nicked my nice new pendant. Apparently I screamed, “Whithersoever art thou taking me, foul nobbling knaves?” fell over and tried to find out how much fun could be had while being run over by an ambulance.
I adore this new job – and my invisible friend. We’ve called ourselves ‘Thingy and Wozzer – Death Detectives’. I’m the only living human to have been issued with over ninety death certificates.
It’s the variety and the lack of nine-to-fives that I love. It took emergency services three weeks to dig me out of a glacier once but some deaths are over in moments and we have the rest of the day to ourselves.
Over-enthusiasm doesn’t pay off though. The incident at the reptile house in London Zoo was a bit rushed and I tried to do too much in one go. It became impossible to tell which rapidly-growing swelling was caused by which wriggly thing and I was carried away looking like a giant amoeba with rigor mortis.
But now is fun and involves lying on a couch … yes really … being in a room with bookshelves on all the walls and spoken to by a man with an enchanting voice. Sometimes I tune out of his accent and even try to understand what he’s saying.
I worry about all the books though. Wozzer likes to come to these sessions – invisibly – and never really got the hang of books.
Drozd says, “Is not possible to concur with you the reality of your friend. Is all imaginations.”
“Dude, get real. She go fraggy when frazzed innit.”
“I asking you to speak that not make brain sore.”
“Then don’t diss my mate.”
“We setting achievables target. Hours not thinking figment-person of imaginings. Every day you must … Arg!”
End of session.
Not even Drozd can keep his cool under a barrage of leather-bound first editions flung by a trained poltergeist.
I go through therapists a lot.
I shout, “Hey, Wozzer, while you’re there, kill me with books. We haven’t covered that yet.”
“Any last requests?”
©Gary Bonn, 2018