Debating With Mister D
The last thing John needed after a stressful day was some stranger knocking on his door. Especially this stranger.
‘There must be a mistake.’
The stranger sighed and checked the details on his smartphone.
‘Are you John Howard Pettifer?’
‘Born 25th June 1990?’
‘Then there’s no mistake.’
John felt sure this was a scam but couldn’t for the life of him figure it out.
‘Wait – how do I know you’re who you claim to be?’
‘Seriously? Come on – I’m Death. I don’t carry ID.’
‘But – those clothes….’
John gestured at Death’s outfit: an orange sweatshirt with a white D on the chest and baggy blue shorts.
‘These? I just fancied lightening things up for a change. That black shroud is horrendously drab.’
‘Aren’t they rather…. inappropriate?’
‘Give me a break. Fifty million times a year, I do this.’
John was surprised to find himself sympathising. Nevertheless, he wasn’t ready to submit just yet.
‘Listen, I realise you’re appallingly busy, but can we talk?’
‘Sure. I’m omnipresent; I’ve got infinite time. Unlike you….’
John gestured for Death to step inside and take a seat.
‘Look, I don’t want to tell you your job, Mr Death….’
‘Please, call me D.’
‘Right. The thing is, D, I’m only 31. I’m in my prime.’
‘You know, I’ve never understood this “prime of life” thing. Who decides if you’re in your prime? There’s more to it than just being young, right?’
John took a deep breath.
‘It isn’t a question of age, per se. It’s a quality one recognises in one’s self….’
‘…. or that others recognise in you.’
D studied John for an uncomfortably long time.
‘Help me, John. What am I looking for?’
‘Well, I’m young….’
‘Didn’t we discount that?’
‘….and I’m bursting with creative potential. I’ve a plan, well, an outline sketch, for a business. And a podcast, possibly. I may even write a book.’
‘Is that it?’
‘It’s more than some people I could mention.’
‘That’s, what, a ten-year plan?’
‘Great. So, if I come back when you’re forty, you’ll be done?’
‘Ah, no, I’m not saying that. In fact,’ asserted John, as if quoting established doctrine, ‘the end of a person’s prime can only truly be recognised retrospectively.’
‘After they’re, say, 100?’
‘I have to say, John, I’m surprised you didn’t mention your wife and children. Where are they, by the way?’
John was puzzled.
‘I’m not married. I don’t have any children.’
D frowned. He swiped at his phone until he seemed to find what he was looking for.
‘Well, I’ll be damned. Un-be-fricking-lievable. Another John Howard Pettifer, exact same birthdate as you.’
‘I knew it!’ shouted John. ‘Didn’t I say you’d made a mistake?’
D grinned wickedly.
‘I’m messing with you, man. It’s definitely you on my list.’
He stood and reached out his hand.
‘Come on, Johnny, time to go. Someone else can decide if you were in your prime or not.’
Word count: 497 words
I don’t remember how I got here but then I don’t remember much these days, my daughter would know. My oldest daughter that is, the one responsible for taking me to all my heart related medical appointments. My youngest, signed up to take me to all my opticians and dental appointments. Large swathes of my body seem to have no carer at all.
‘08.08.53,’ I hear eldest say to the exhausted looking nurse in answer to his question to me, about my date of birth. ‘Would you like a drink,’ he continues looking straight at me. ‘Mum would like tea, 2 sugars,’ replies eldest. I can’t remember when I stopped answering for myself.
It was suffocating in this tiny room; I needed some air. Lifting her gaze momentarily from her screen.
‘Where are you going mum?’
‘To open the window, I can barely breathe.’
‘I’ll do it mum, just let me finish reading this email.’ My ability to breathe with ease, is now in a queue.
Eldest’s phone suddenly bursts into life with ‘Staying alive’. I’m trying, I thought. Obviously, the boss. She likes him, but I wouldn’t dare to suggest. Apparently, she’s got to meet him somewhere in an hour, I hope she opens the window before she goes.
I am bursting now ‘dear’, I dare to whisper. Phone is thrust against chest.
‘In a minute mum,’ she snaps, ‘this is important.’
Bladder is now in a queue, hopefully not for long. A grasshopper hops onto the bed and then leaps onto the window ledge with such force, it hits the window. Before this fall or was it the fall before, I was a lecturer in psychology, and now, I find myself deemed as ‘past my prime’ and needing care.
Cup of tea arrives. Sighing I take a sip, I gave up sugar a year ago. Eldest is now talking to youngest and running her finger along a crack on the far wall. ‘You have to step up,’ eldest was hissing. She thinks I can’t hear.
‘This is the third time; I can’t keep taking time off. Eyes and teeth are your domain, they are in her head so when mum falls on her head, technically she is your responsibility.’ I ease myself slowly off the bed and tip toe out into the corridor, emptying my bladder in the nearest ladies as I blend in with the organised chaos of the A&E ward and emerge from the revolving doors into the last of the sunshine.
‘Take all of me home,’ I say to the rather bemused taxi driver, ‘but wait!’ Reaching into my bag I carefully pull out the specimen jar which had been left on the nightstand and gingerly unscrew the lid. Opening the window, I tip the jar on its side and the grasshopper lands deftly on the pavement. Strictly speaking ‘the prime of life’ I would tell my students, is when one is at the peak of one’s Powers, and I, was about to reinstate mine.
The Wrinkles Being the Only Sign of Aging
The customary waft of lavender and vegetable soup. Not unclean. I scanned the room. There should be a placard or sign shouting: LOOK! ANOTHER RELIVITIVE ASKING WHO WILL INHERIT THE FINE BONE CHINA. I saw her and quickly hurried over. Usually, she faces the flickering screen, flashing furniture and Coronation memorabilia everyone here used to consider junk. Unusually, today her chair was confronting the room. The single black hair still protruding from her upper lip. One arthritic hand frozen around her brightly coloured walking stick I’d gifted last Christmas. See, not just in it for the inheritance.
‘Hello Grandma. It’s Elise. How are you today?’, I said brightly. No reply.
She takes a little warming up. I sat back in my pink plastic chair, trying not to touch the arm rests. Not unclean. My eyes surveyed the room. A group of men, one in a blue tunic, were sat around a scratched table playing cards. Two residents were sitting by the window talking and another, adjacent was reading a tatty large print Ken Follett novel. The crescendo of clanking teacups turned into:
“Teatime!” announced a plump, orange lady, who had clearly not been on holiday.
After a few of the men had been served, I stood up. A stern,
“Sit down,” sounded from behind me.
“Tea Grandma?” I enquired.
“You make a better door than a window,” Grandma snapped. See, she takes a little warming up. I sat down with a huff. From beneath the mop of curly chalk white hair, a pair of vivid hazel and green eyes glinted at me, the wrinkles being the only sign of aging.
I sat straighter. I’ve seen that look before. I looked around expectantly.
Right on cue there was a commotion happening directly where her chair pointed. One of the men playing cards was being slapped repeatedly on the back by the man in the tunic. It was clear Mr Tunic didn’t know what he was doing, as he ignored the dismissing feeble hand waves and low grunts. Unaware of the commotion the man with a light green tie placed down a card, grinned, and collected the set.
‘Mr Fraudo, do I need to call an ambulance?’ Mr Tunic shouted.
Mr Fraudo quite unable to answer, just glared at him, fumbled for his tea, gulped, and proceeded to retch anew.
That was when the cackling started. Grandma rose almost in slow motion. Brandishing the walking stick above her head, she began hopping, whooping, and dancing around the room. Stunned everyone stopped, apart from Mr Fraudo who was still coughing and watched as Grandma gave her Olympic Victory dance to a rhythm only she could hear. She swayed, swung and stomped on the discoloured floor coming to a stop in front of Mr Fraudo. She picked up the sugar pot from the card table and thrust it under his nose.
‘Salt’, Mr Fraudo rasped.
‘That will teach you to not cheat at scrabble again’, Grandma grinned.