Thursday, 24 February 2011

Knocking at Death’s Door 3

Walton sat up in bed, peering towards the bedroom door over a mound of crumpled paper handkerchiefs, through a miasma of eucalyptus and general debility. Any minute now his wife would appear in the doorway and ask, with bare civility, if he wanted another hot drink.

She did not believe he was ill. Or rather she did not believe he was this ill.

Walton was a primary school teacher. He tried to induce in his charges the rudiments of literacy, numeracy and a sense of wonder at the world. They’d responded by a sequence of killer viruses.

Walton sighed, which turned into a cough which kick-started his post nasal drip again. His wife opened the door and regarded him coolly as he thrashed around for a clean tissue.

“I’m going to the shops,” she announced.

He waved a hand tragically, rumbling something indistinct through his coagulated airwaves. She ignored this and turned to go. Then, over her shoulder, “I’ve left a soup on the stove for your lunch. You’d better turn it off if I’m not back in twenty minutes. The whole place could go up.”

And then she was gone. Walton was aghast. Did she seriously believe him capable of getting downstairs? And to leave this time bomb ticking underneath him!

Morosely he watched the minutes tick round on his alarm clock. Twenty minutes passed. Then thirty. Consumed with panic and irritation, he dragged himself out of bed, pulled on his slippers and staggered to the door. He fell giddy, nauseous and resentful.

He was half way down the stairs when he felt a massive myocardial infarction in his chest. His sight flared, his body spasmed and as he tumbled down towards the hall carpet and oblivion, he had one final flash of wishful thinking. This would show her.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Knocking at Death's Door 2

“I’d very much like a second opinion,” asserted the patient, buttoning up his shirt and stuffing the tails into his trousers.

“Dead, quite dead,” murmured Dr Millmoss, updating his notes in turquoise ink which he blotted carefully and then tucked away into his capacious wood and brass filing cabinet. Dr Millmoss, after fifty years in practice, intended to let the cyber-world pass him by.

“Bit of a cough, I grant you,” continued the patient, bending over gingerly to do up his shoelaces. “And perhaps a pound or two over what is considered fashionably healthy.”

“Would you kindly ask the next...” the ancient doctor gave him a vague wave of the hand along with his best professional twinkle over his half moon glasses, and then looked out of the window at the rose bushes in the practice’s garden.

The patient stood up and gripped the front of Millmoss’s desk to steady himself , as a wave of giddiness and, he had to admit, anxiety washed over him, “But ‘dead’, dammit?”

“Oh, yes. Dead as a doornail,”the doctor gave him an avuncular smile. “No pulse, d’you see? No pulse at all. Vital sign, the pulse.”

The patient grabbed his own wrist; his pulse appeared to be racing away. In time with the blood pounding in his temples and echoing in his ears. “What are you talking about? I can feel it!”

The doctor stood up and ushered him condescendingly to the door, “These things are best left to a medical man.”

With that he shut the door, leaving the patient face to face with the doctor’s receptionist, a kindly woman of a certain age.

The man thrust his wrist out towards her, “Dead, he says! No pulse, he says! Feel that!”

“Oh dear,” the receptionist sighed. “Doctor’s left his gloves on again.”

Friday, 4 February 2011

Knocking at Death's Door1

Fredric had been at the University in Nantes when the messenger arrived. The emissary went straightway to the chemistry lab, being assured he’d find the young nobleman toiling conscientiously over the molecular compounds now believed to constitute the makeup of the universe. Eventually he located Frederic in one of the cheaper bordellos, toiling conscientiously over a mountainous trollope known as La Grande Volaille.

Protesting vigorously, Frederic was bundled first into his breeches and then into a waiting coach, which set off back to the family chateau. He had barely time to retch out his hangover into a soiled petticoat he’d retained in the belief it was his handkerchief, when Frederic was informed that his father, the Marquis, was awaiting both him and the last rites.

Things were at last beginning to look up. Frederic, always an acquisitive lad, had managed to accumulate an impressive array of debts and a variety of social diseases in his short stay in academe. His father’s would not be the only release from worldly cares. He brightened up considerably, clapped the emissary on the back and asked if he had a bottle or two about him, and possibly some cold meats.

Rubbing his hands breezily Frederic bustled into his father’s sickroom, the curtains drawn, the old man lying gaunt and still in the half-light.

“Still hanging on, father?” cried the son. “Do hurry up.”

“This world can be a harsh and difficult place,” wheezed his father. “Even so, I could not in all conscience leave it to your tender mercies.”

He produced an ancient flintlock pistol from beneath the bedclothes and put a ball straight through Frederic’s forehead.

“A man has certain obligations,” the marquis murmured to the emissary before joining his son, albeit temporarily, on his journey to the hereafter.