6flashbacks : Everybody is Dead

Her face floated in the mesh of floating lights and shadows, like a painted ball under water. His hands reached to touch her fading vision but his right hand detached from his arm falling to the ground as a bloodied, beheaded magpie.

The woman from the newspaper bit her lip, waiting for the signal. Hazel has fussed around her enough: she had deadlines to meet even for a paragraph. “If you don’t get much from him,” Hazel said, accent thick with Lancastrian heritage, “don’t embarrass him. Just say it’s coz of whisky or, you know, summut like that, eh?”

Hazel smiled, nodded, signalled to the woman from the newspaper that now was as good a time as any. He had be positioned, for “was sat” would suggest a conscious decision on his part, near to the window facing out towards the gardens. A starling tucked its beak into the soil around a clutch of early blooming irises. “Alexander, she’s here now, the woman from the newspaper about your birthday.”

He was like no human the woman from the newspaper had ever seen. His face appeared hidden behind a loose, wrinkled cloth; his eyes as narrow as fountain pen nibs. She received a polite shake of the head from Hazel to her outstretched hand: she sat near by, leaned forward. “Well I am very proud to meet you, sir, Alexander. One hundred and twenty years old, that is some achievement.” Don’t say “lucky”, Hazel had warned with bitter sarcasm. Alex turned his head to the mass of colours forming the shape of a woman beyond the peripheries of his vision. An upturn appeared on the edge of his dry lips, highlighting his opening eyes with the sparkle of sunlight through leaves. “I am called Lucy,” said the mass of colours, words forming around the gap in the fog Alex had guessed was the best place to look at for a mouth. “That is a lovely name,” he said in his weary croak.

Lucy did not allow her hand to be taken until she was
assured of the inability of her mother to follow the two
walking away from the estate. “She can’t see us now we’ve
turned the corner, love,” she said. “Your ruddy mother
has a bloody periscope,” retorted Alex. He took his fiancees hand
in his, looking towards the incline up to Church Street
rather than glance at Lucy’s face.

At Harry’s Bar he pointed to a table away
from the only window. “Pint of bitter and
a half for the lady,” he ordered. “Hey Mike who’s
that queer sort over there?” “He ain’t
with anyone so until he is, he’s more cash
in the till, Alex, that’s who he is”

Alex knew the woman from the newspaper had no new questions to ask. Ten years previously he had name checked whisky and poetry for best kept secrets for longevity. Maybe he should think beyond the normal responses, he once considered, before his brain began to lose its spark. Bungee jumping and sticking chocolates up my nose and always ending prayers with the word “shit”, he thought, once, in front of a camera crew. Hazel jumped in as a precautionary measure; she swore later how certain she was that the response would be ‘a bit cheeky’. In the face of the same woman with even less humour he offered more general answers. Dutifully he posed for the standard old age photograph; the harsh flash turned his pale gray colouring sickly yellow and cream. For the second in such unnatural light his eyes could see only static and shadow, the most subtle suggestion of death he had experienced that day.

Lucy could not recall when their marriage
had turned sour. Not even ‘sour’, she considered, as
she maintained the straight, dry-eye facial expression
before Alex returned from work. For twenty years she ensured
every vow and promise wavered nowhere
far from their understood constraints. Maybe
routine had finally drawn everything from whatever
relationship had existed between them. Alex did not
lie much, not that she had caught him at any rate. He did
not drink to excess, though he had started to visit
the public houses every other night. Spending what was
always referred to as “our money”.

Lucy had been satisfied that her decision
was sensible, and reasoned, and the best, and
everything else explained and assured by friends who had
bitten their lips for twenty years. She did not
know how heavy Alex had turned to drink in the following months.
Why should she? Should she?

Don’t ask about friends, Hazel had advised with a hint of the condescending matron. All his friends are dead, if I can be so honest. Parents and family, too. Very sad, really, I mean, once you’ve lived all these years it can be very lonely. “He seems very nice, though, he talks to people very easily,” said Lucy, fitting a memory stick into the only computer in the building. “And I didn’t get any attention from the more mobile residents, story of my life,” she joked. Hazel cleared her throat, killing any of the jovial tone in the air. “Not that anyone of our residents have that form of…expression, I’m sure.”

Her name rested on his tongue and lips, touched them with a taste no greater than a sip of water. Clouds moved across the sky as drawn curtains, the blazing summer sun shrank into its shadowed cover. Alex repeated her name in a whispered croak, moving his hands together in prayer.

Lucy sat down next to the old man, his appearance
different to anything she had seen in many years. His expression
wore through her confidence and control,
bringing the spark of tears to her voice.

“Maybe the issues were entirely my own, love,
I don’t know certainly now as I did all those years ago.
Something altered in….Not you, not you at all, it changed
with the both of us. That’s how close we had become,
love, you know? I had no intention of…Nothing
in my heart ever wanted to hurt you, Alex, nothing.”

He moved his right foot to shake out cramp,
knocking over a glass by the side of his bed. His
mouth changed shape to begin framing a curse
before an apology, but Lucy had stood up to clean the mess
before he could start. He watched her through
the haze of afternoon drink walk towards
the kitchen. Two fingers padded the carpet,
moved towards his face where he could dampen
his flesh with the freshly dropped whisky.

Oh, he sighed, he loved her still. And loved
others since. It was not a terrible life, he knew that.
She was his first love, and the first heartbreak. The first
real heart ache ever suffered. She had brought him
the best of times and countless good enough attempts
with forgotten women had come to prove just

how good she had been.

A flick of thumb and finger brought Hazel over to the window seat. Alex took short, sharp breaths. “She seemed nice. Always a good judge of nice women,” he said, sitting back to take some more breaths. Hazel smiled, blinked dampening eyes, nodded. You daft old sod, she thought, patting him on the knee. Don’t you dare leave us yet, mister, you dare even trying.

I wanted to dream about you forever, love,
not to feel bitter or bad or lonely or anything,
honestly love. But sometimes you’d be in
my dreams, so beautiful and so perfect, just as I remember,
when you’d turn into a clown, or a devil, or something
horrible and I’d wake up and I’d hate it, I’d hate it.

I want to remember you forever, love. I want to
be reminded about you every day that I live. Forever, love.
I want to be reminded about you forever.

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