It is not about who I should be or even who I could be, but who I am and how I got here. Where “here” is, isn’t relevant, neither is “when.” It could be today or it could be Gurnsey which wouldn’t mean anything to you even if I told you it did.
What does matter is I can still think and I can write, which must mean something.
Seeing as how things turned out, it isn’t half bad.
So why doesn’t it matter where I am? Well it matters to me – as far as I understand it, I am dead.
Apparently, you can be dead anywhere. It is a lot of tosh, saying that the dead are fixed to one place, tied to their last events. In fact, it is nothing like that at all.
If someone had a particularly awful death – more on that later, it is too complicated for a simple introduction.
As I was saying, you can be dead anywhere. I have seen more of the world in the past few decades than I did when I was alive. Travel now, thankfully, is free. Totally free. I just click my heels, and I’m in Tahiti. Okay, the heel clicking is optional, but I like to do it – it seems a little dull just to think “Tahiti” and arrive there without have done anything at all, just a thought and I arrive without another moment passing by. By the way, don’t go to a tropical paradise when you are dead. It is quite difficult to swim without substance.
Personally, I prefer the past, visiting ports and only an occasional diversion into paradises. When you are as dead as I am, you do get a certain privilege of being allowed to travel into yesteryears – but you can’t travel back to your past. I spend my time exploring the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Though I think in the future I will avoid France in any of those, once was really enough.
I wish I could tell you something of my life. Frankly told, I don’t remember very much anymore. At first, I thought about it all the time. I know my death was sudden and very stupid, really forehead-slapping stupid, like stabbing yourself in an artery by accident or slipping on ice stupid. Not that I did that. No, all I can tell you is I was very, very drunk – and I vaguely remember a donkey, but maybe that was just me.
Anyway, I left behind the usually accompaniment of grieving family members, a nice looking wife who fretted herself into my cousin’s bed, poor thing. She played “Dead March in Saul” at my funeral. Obviously, she didn’t know me very well. “Don’t Dilly Dally on the Way” would have been better.
Just after the deed was done, and my mortal remains were securely poured into an attractive jar that my thoughtful wife placed in an outhouse, I spent some time grieving for my loss of life. I moped around my house, worried the cat, made my neighbour’s baby cry when they came to visit – the usual ghostly things, until one day, while hanging about in my attic, I found an old travel railway poster of Cardiff.
“The City of Conferences” it declared! In my life I had attended many conferences but none of them had been in Cardiff. Remembering what my after-life consultant had told me (yes, there are those, but I can’t tell you more, you will find out for yourself one day) about “travel if you feel you want to shake the mortal coils,” I clicked my heels for the first time and away I went.
It was cold and wet and raining in Cardiff. A stiff breeze blew through my un-muscled frame and there wasn’t a conference in sight. The people looked glum and the sky threatening. (I have been back since and it has been lovely, though I think, speaking from experience, The Road of the Dead is a little disappointing from my vantage point.) However, it was the most ecstatic I had felt since dying by donkey, my first trip out of self.
I quickly made my way to Glasgow, then to Edinburgh, and eventually to Yarmouth, and then further afield. Always one click more and further away from home. I have seen the world now, in all of it’s uncompromising compromises, the ugly and the serene, a world where I am truly the finest spectator and you don’t even know I am there, just over your shoulder, reading your paper on a Parisian street, sitting next to you on the bus in Rome or on your lap in a bar in Bermuda. (I do try not to sit on the living. They always complain of feeling cold when I do. But it isn’t really my fault or yours. If I am already in the seat it is actually you who is sitting on me, through no fault of your own).
Unlike in films, death does not come with a manual.
It doesn’t come with the welcoming smiles of deceased relatives, angels singing in chorus, or pretty lights. Your relatives are off being busy, thank you very much, and haven’t the time to wait for you to show up. I have yet to see any angels but I hear they are a pretty surly bunch. As for the lights, well, it is a trick, you see. When you die, it goes dark so the lights are supposed to make you feel better. Not that I really noticed; my death, as I have already mentioned was quite light headed.
The reason you don’t get a manual when you die is the same reason why you don’t get one when you are alive. It would take the fun out of it if you knew exactly what to do, and how, all the time. What would be the purpose of living if you knew how it is is supposed to end? Who would care about August sunsets if you already knew that the October ones were better?
And besides, what would such a manual for the dead be called?
“Death for Beginners”
“Elegant Deceasing” ?
No, you die and just like life, you shift for yourself. I will take a little of my precious time to even debunk a few myths.
#1 – Ghosts are Transparent
I am not transparent and my world is not shadowy. It is exactly the same as yours but mine has perks. For one, I don’t starve now that I am unemployed. And of course, travel is free, as is lodging. I don’t have to worry about showering either. The only reason you can’t see me is, well, I am not here for you anymore, am I?
#2 – Ghosts are Melancholy
Well, some of them are. Poe was a misery when he was alive, why should he be different now that he is dead? Though I must say, his Sunday night recital of “The Raven” at the zoo is supremely entertaining. Pandemonium in the monkey house is all I can say.
Einstein is still dull, rattling on about some theory or another which he now really has no way to prove and I won’t even tell you about Queen Victoria. 100 years later and she still can’t understand that Albert needs a little breathing space from time to time.
So basically, it is not very different to being alive. You can just continue the way you did before, just minus the discomforts of a living body. Some of us look at it like a second chance at life – I know an accountant who is still accounting in the same place he worked when he died, only this time round he fiddles the books. I call it “alternative living” with an emphasis on alternative and without growing your own vegetables.
#3 Poltergeists aren’t Real
Don’t get me wrong, some of us don’t move on. These spirits eventually go mad. I mean how would you feel if you cooped yourself up in one place for eternity, and dwelled forever on your worst memories, with nothing but a mindful of horror to keep you company? A healthy spirit needs a healthy mind, just like you do. If spirits are allowed to fester in their own misery, they finally start to throw things – which would probably be your reaction too after 59 years or so.
I don’t understand poltergeists very well. They are brooding, overgrown, bad-tempered spoil sports for the most part.
Some however, are quite entertaining. I know of one, named Carl.
Carl died in a century when being named Carl was a compliment. He died in his mid-50’s, which was considered ancient at the time, and he had lived a pleasing , middle-class life of a reasonable lawyer in a thriving German town. So pleasing in fact, that he simply refused to leave his surroundings. He kept up with the fashions of his time, still sporting extravagant side burns and a fantastical mustache complete with waxed end twirls.
The only concession Carl has made to modernity, is he recently started dressing as an Edwardian gentleman instead of a Victorian one, but he has only managed to get his hands on one suit. I find the collar is ridiculous and postively dangerous but Carl says it keeps his neck warm, as if that really matters now.
He is still tall and well propotioned and minds all of his manners while steadfastly haunting his old study. Carl doesn’t like change and certainly lets the new occupants of his home know it. It is difficult to watch new people wander into what is technically still your house – and this over and over again. The living have little respect for how previous owners might feel when they wander around a house sledgehammering walls “to make it open plan”, installing bathtubs in kitchens and turning kitchens into parlours, blocking up windows and putting in skylights. This turns Carl into a fearful cad – he likes to steal workmen’s tools, pull carpets out from unsuspecting feet, break glasses and when he gets the chance, rip doors off of their hinges. But eventually he settles down, and goes back to his old corner in what ever is left of what was once his study. If he feels the new owners are particularly loathsome, Carl turns up his lecherous side. He knows all the easy ladies in this kingdom come and invites them with frivolous abandon to his lodgings – his wenches wench, so to speak and he along with them. And suddenly the living can’t understand why they feel embarrassed to undress in their own bedroom and forget all about having a peaceful night’s rest. It is down to Carl and his ladies. They are watching, partying and laughing at you.
Carl stays in his old home because of a sad hope he still holds onto, that one day, the parlour maid, who pushed him down the stairs and hung for his murder, will find her way back to his arms. He says there is a conversation he wants to finish.
#4 Ghost Don’t Eat
That technically isn’t true. Who do you think finished the roast chicken you blamed your husband for eating on the sly? We don’t have to eat and most of us forget to eat. But we can still enjoy the sensations of food. Afterall, food is in the same realm we are – it is dead, and thus just as accessable to us in the here after.
#5 Ghosts Like to Frighten People
We don’t. In fact, the living terrify the dead. But you would have to be dead to understand. We see the living for what they are and that is quite disconcerting. It is our reactions to you that frighten you. There are some ghosts who do get a kick out of rattling chains, moaning loudly and saying “boo” but it is no longer de rigueur to behave like a cheap Canterville.
So much for the myths.
I know ghosts who spend their time wisely, reading books they never had time for when alive, others who enjoy analysing art. Mostly though, we are creatures of ego. Since I have figured out how make my death work for me, it has become so much easier to put myself first. I no longer have to worry about creating a successful life, finding the right direction or even see things through to the end. If I fail at something no one is going to judge me, are they? I do try to keep a few living habits like visiting my parents. My mother chose to be dead in Ibiza. There is no accounting for taste, each to their own. She prefers to spend her time being 30 again which is mildly embarrassing since she is now younger than me.
It is harder to get in touch with my father. He has recreated himself as a big game hunter, a secret wish of his when he was alive and spending his weekends shooting sparrows. Currently he is irritating the lions of Tsavo.
I keep up with reading, though I must say modern literature is perfectly pointless – Fifty Shades of Grey? Marquis de Sade and I spent a weekend in stitches over that one. It is also entertaining to flit into a film or two, yet the living should show a little consideration for the dead instead of resorting to crude mockery of the lives of others. The opening night of “Titanic” almost started a riot – a well-mannered riot compared to what the living get up to nowadays, but nevertheless, booing and hissing in public is very ungentlemanly. I decided to miss “Nicholas and Alexandra,” but I have heard they are still trying to live down the shame. It is not flattering to have your life interpreted by others – we might be dead but we we still have dignity, leave us that much at least.
When not reading ( I spend an inordinate amount of time at national libraries, regardless of what nation) or critiquing films, I enjoy the endless thrill of travel. I spent 6 weeks studying, pampering and feeding elephants. I don’t really care for elephants but infinitely better than the 10 weeks lost in the Amazons. Stuck in the middle of a great jungle, surrounded by the ghosts of everything unimaginable, the constant sound of their ridiculous complaining (which the living hear as the “sighing of the wind in the trees”) and the wrath of a million deceased mosquitos – the experience left me wishing I was dead. Recently I have taken up spelunking in Belize. Not so much for the caves but the Mayans know a thing or two worth listening to.
I am unashamedly self-entertaining like many of my counterparts. Maybe that is why death does not bother me so much. I never had anything holding me to life. At least now, I can live a little more.
(Footnote: the author of this story is very much alive…however, boredom does have a way of murdering the mind. I wrote this in one of those fits of nothing to do…)