Let me tell you a story.
Are you sitting comfortably?
Then I’ll begin.
That’s hardly the most original way to start a story, but it’s as good as any. I still remember when I was kid and my Dad would play those old shows to me. I used to think it was so great, that my Dad was sharing his childhood with me. I loved the old guy, but I never realized it at the time how much he loved me and how much I must have disappointed him. I didn’t pay too much attention at school and he didn’t like that, so if I get my words the wrong way around, I’m sorry. “You’re a bright kid,” Dad would tell me. “Don’t waste those brains God gave you.” But I didn’t listen, that’s why I had to use those lines; they bring back the second happiest time in my entire life.
I can say that for certain, because I’m dead. Let’s get the sixth sense shit out of the way now. There’ll be no surprise twist ending here that says, “He was dead all along,” that’s just too easy and too predictable. I am dead, dead as a door nail, or, as Mr. Dickens would have you believe, as dead as a coffin nail.
Take it from me, they’re both wrong. No nails, be they door nails or coffin nails or the six-inch nails that were used to crucify Christ himself, have ever lived—so how can they be dead? Death has an…an essence that comes from the ending of a life. If something has never lived, it can never have that scent that makes it truly dead—that smell of loss and extinction that attaches itself when you die. Wood is something that once lived, so “Dead as a door” would work, as long as the door was wooden, of course, and dead as a coffin is equally accurate, and probably more appropriate. Although I really don’t like to talk about coffins.
Anyway, I’m going off the point here. I’m going to tell you about the happiest time in my life. And the worst as well; my death can hardly count as a high point in the history of humanity, or indeed of my life.
It all happened not so long ago. I’d just left college, where I’d finished an incredibly boring course in how to use computers and I was starting in an office job—also incredibly boring. I only wanted to stay there for a couple of months, get something down on my CV, move on to something interesting. I didn’t know I’d be working there for the rest of my life. Or that the rest of my life would be quite so short, for that matter. I wasn’t psychic. I had no way of knowing that this dead-end job, typing standard letters and photocopying tedious documents, was going to change my life so drastically. If I’d known in advance that I was going to start a chain of events that led to me dying, would I have still done it? Would I have still worked there?
It’s where I met Maria, so the answer would be yes every time.
I met her on my second day in the office. I was delivering the mail because the boss had run out of photocopying for me to do. She worked on the second floor, in sales and marketing. I know how corny it is, but I’d never believed in love at first sight till I saw her. She was absolutely everything I liked to see in a woman. She wasn’t too thin or too fat; she had beautiful shoulder-length brown hair, not in any real style, just natural. That was the thing that struck me about her first. She seemed so…so real. She wasn’t wearing much makeup, but she was still easily the most gorgeous girl in the room.
Plus, she had a glorious pair of tits. I know how shallow that makes me sound, but I was a red-blooded guy and she was just so perfect.
The instant I saw her, I knew that her heart would always have a home in mine. Just that first glimpse gave me that turned-on tingling sensation, but I knew that this wasn’t just lust. This was love. It had to be because the tingling wasn’t just in my bollocks. It was all over my body, from the tips of my toes to the small scar on the top of my head (a relic from a childhood accident involving a toy car—but I digress).
I handed her her mail. My mind was racing for something clever to say to her. The first contact is so important in these things. I nearly died of embarrassment when all that came out of my mouth was “Argle!” Talk about making a good first impression.
She looked up at me with those hazel eyes that could see right into the deepest depths of your being. (Well, I thought they could anyway.) “Sorry?” she said, “what was that?”
I regained some composure, just enough to stammer the immortal line, “Are you Maria Samuels?” I asked her this despite the ID card she was wearing prominently on her magnificent left breast, with her picture and her name on it. I prayed for the ground to swallow me whole.
“I was last time I checked.” She smiled, then she straightened her blouse, hiding her cleavage. She must have thought that I was ogling her breasts, not looking at her ID card. This was just getting worse and worse. I was almost glad when the fool sitting opposite her, a short, fat, balding guy with breath that could kill a camel from ten paces, suddenly asked if I was going to deliver any more mail or was I going to just stare at Maria for the rest of the day. It gave me a reason to move on and leave the whole sorry mess behind me so I could try tomorrow or in the canteen later to try to rectify the situation.
“Don’t be so mean to poor Eric,” Maria replied to the fool, “He’s new. Thanks, Eric.”
My heart leaped for joy. She already knew my name. The gods were smiling on me; she must have spotted me and asked about me to find out who I was. I was in with a chance. It never occurred to me that I had the name Eric Cooper in nice large print on the ID card pinned to my own shirt pocket.
“Go on, Eric, you’d better get on with the mail round. Mr. Tompkinson can be a real monster when he wants to be. Don’t pay any attention to Craig there. He just likes to pick on the office juniors.” She smiled at me again and the sun rose in my soul.
“See you around,” I said, tearing my eyes from her at last. I set off around the rest of the office, whistling, glad of the trolley in front of me, hiding my obvious excitement.
That was our first meeting. I saw her on and off like that for a couple of weeks, passing her her mail and finally managing to exchange some pleasantries. In those weeks I found out more about her, what times she took her breaks, where she went for lunch, how many sugars she used in her coffee, among other things. Where I could, I took the same breaks as she did and I started going to the same sandwich shop. I eventually managed to gather the courage to sit next to her at lunch and start talking.
We both had the same tuna mayo with mixed pepper salad on a brown Vienna and we were both reading copies of the same book—Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. She was halfway through, but I had barely started. I think if I could have gotten away with wearing the same clothes as her to get her attention, I might have done it.
The book did the trick and we had our first proper conversation. I managed to find out that she was single (yippee!), lived alone, had one sister and one brother (both older), and that she was reading the Stephen King book for a reading group, but she didn’t like horror. I asked her where the reading group was and could I come along; I was still new in the area and didn’t really know anyone yet. She said yes and our first date was sorted.
I say date, what it really was was our first meeting outside of work. It was still progress. We went to the book club, where a group of dreary old men and women droned on about something to do with the book. I don’t know what they said, the only thing I could see or hear was Maria. Just sitting next to her in the bookshop was heaven. It came to my turn and I said something inane about it and why I enjoyed it. The group listened politely to me and ignored everything I’d said. I didn’t care. I was sitting next to Maria. That was enough.
At the end of the meeting, I asked if she wanted to go for a drink. She refused, but suggested we go out on Friday. I agreed, probably too eagerly, and offered her a lift home instead. She did accept the lift and climbed into the passenger seat. I only just remembered to ask her directions to her house—it wouldn’t have been good to let her know that I already knew where she lived and I’d watched her from a distance a few times over the past few weeks. Working in personnel, it’s easy for even a low-level filing grunt to get intimate details of most people in the company.
Friday couldn’t have come soon enough for me. I made a huge effort; we were going out straight after work so I dressed in my best going out clothes in the morning. At five o’clock, I almost ran to meet her. That was when I found out that her whole department was going out together and it wasn’t just a quiet night for the two of us. If there is a word that tells how disappointed I was, I don’t know what it is.
Late on in the evening, Craig, the fool that sat opposite Maria in the office, started making lewd suggestions that she did not like. It meant I got the chance to play the hero and rescue her when he tried to grope her. As a result of this, I managed to secure a proper date. This time, just the two of us, the three ‘P’s together—Pizza, Pictures, Pints. Not the most glamorous of dates, but a great way to get to know her.
The next day, I paid Craig a quiet visit at home. I needed to explain to him how much I loved Maria and the numerous reasons he should stay away from her. I think the discussion went as well as you’d expect.
I met Maria for our first proper date the following week. After initial small talk about the office, why Craig hadn’t been in all week, it wasn’t like him not to call in sick at least, that sort of thing, the date went well. As did the second and third dates. On the fourth date, she let me stay over at hers and we…you can guess what we did. I won’t go into detail because you don’t kiss and tell on the woman you love. I was in heaven. This was officially the happiest time of my life. On our fifth date, I told her how much I loved her and wanted to be with her forever. That date finished early with me going home by myself while she had to think about what I’d said.
We didn’t have a sixth date. She told me I was too pushy, too intense. Couldn’t she see that what we had between us was the best thing she would ever have? She said she wanted to break up with me. I couldn’t understand what had gone wrong. I still don’t know. We were soulmates. I knew it instinctively. She knew it too, but was too scared to admit it to herself. All I needed to do was to make her admit her true feelings. I bought her presents. I sent flowers. I waited for her outside the office, outside her house, at the pub I knew she liked to drink in.
She ignored me. When she wasn’t ignoring me, she was shouting at me to leave her alone. When she stopped shouting at me, she pleaded with me to stop. I told her that I couldn’t. We were in love. Why couldn’t she see that? She must have had some repressed emotional trauma that wouldn’t let her be happy with anyone. There was no other reason for her to behave like that. She called the police to warn me to stay away from her. I lost my job. It gave me more time spare to watch her.
One day her brother showed up at my front door with a group of thugs. They dragged me out and beat me senseless. They ordered me not to go near her again.
They shouldn’t have done that.
When I was released from hospital, I waited outside the brother’s house till he returned from work. After tying the handle of his back door to a tree so he couldn’t open it, I put gas-soaked cloths through the letterbox at the front of the house and followed that with a couple of lit matches. Then I sat back on the other side of the road and watched. I never did find out what company he got his double glazing from. It was really good stuff. He hammered at it with something for ages (I couldn’t see what, he was backlit at the time) before the smoke got to him and he collapsed.
My next visit was to see Maria. I needed to tell her I forgave her. I knew that her feelings were just too strong and she was having difficulty accepting the way she truly needed me. I opened her front door with the key I’d secretly had cut soon after our third date. I’d spent a few happy days sitting in her house while she was at work, being very careful to clean up before I left. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t leave presents inside the house—if she changed the locks I’d lose my visitation rights.
She was in the living room when I walked in, having her tea and watching one of those talk shows where sad, pathetic losers whine on about how no one loves them. She screamed. I thought it was a bit unfair. I was still bruised, but I didn’t look that bad.
“Hey,” I said. “I just want to say I forgive you.”
“Get out of my house, you freak!” she yelled. “My brother will be here soon. Get out!”
At that moment, the phone rang.
“Leave it,” I said. “We need to talk.”
The answering machine picked up the call. It was her sister, hysterically proclaiming that their brother was in the hospital with severe burns and his house had been deliberately burned down.
Maria stared at me. “You smell of gas. You did that!” She launched herself at me, trying to dig her nails into my face. With as gentle a force as I could, I threw her onto the settee and held her down till she stopped struggling.
“I don’t understand what you want, Maria,” I explained. “All I want to do is love you. I’ll do whatever you want me to.”
“Get out of my life then!” she said. I was amazed she could joke at a time like this.
I laughed. “Anything except that, obviously. You sent your brother after me. Why? If you want me to bleed, I’ll bleed for you…look.” I picked up a steak knife from her plate on the coffee table and hacked at my wrist. “See, if you want me to hurt, I’ll do that. I love you so much.”
The knife nicked the artery in my wrist and a gout of blood spurted ten feet across the room. It was fascinating. I watched as my blood, my life fluid, shot across her room in rhythmic arcs of color. She was screaming again now. Was there no pleasing this girl? She wanted me to hurt and bleed so here I was doing it in front of her, and all she could do was…
The detail goes a bit blurry here. I was still weak from the hospital so I didn’t need to lose too much blood before I passed out, and I was dead soon after. I don’t even know if she called an ambulance.
So that’s my story. I need to go in a second anyway. She just got out of a car and is going into her house now.
I thought it was all over when I died, but then I woke up in my coffin. Have you ever tried to claw your way out of one of those things?
Stupid question, of course you haven’t.
If I had any working nerves in my hands, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. Lucky the coffin was cheap and not lead lined. So here I am, sitting outside her house, still covered in graveyard dirt, hands ripped to shreds, about to go in there and give her my heart—I could do that literally if I wanted to now, it’s not like I need it any more.
Quick check, no more maggots on my scalp?
No? That’s good. I‘m going in there now to beg forgiveness for making a mess of her house like that. It was so inconsiderate of me.
I hope she’ll have me back.
Wish me luck.
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