The green light subsided and Gerald found himself alone in a room with his corpse and an ignorant wife.
If he were being completely honest with himself, Gerald would most likely put this down to one of the weirder experiences he had ever had. It certainly wasn’t every day that one waited beside one’s own corpse for the Grim Reaper to return from the supermarket. As inpatient in death as in life, Gerald sank to the floor beside his dead body.
“Well,” he said, patting his corpse’s leg. “What do you suppose happens now?”
Gerald waited. He wasn’t sure whether he had actually expected a response from his dead body or not, yet today was shaping up to be rather unique. Slumping back against the internal wall, he settled in to wait for Death’s return.
Is this really the end to it all? Gerald considered. It was a weird thought, given his natural inclination against reflection. Whether it was death’s effect on the passing of time, or on himself, Gerald couldn’t say, but he found himself at this dramatic juxtaposition.
I mean – I never did anything special. He glanced around the lounge-room, taking in the half-finished renovations. Undercoated walls, sticky tape still protecting the cornices years later, stared back at him. I never did decide on a colour.
His view flashed over Agnes, nestled in her armchair with her cross-stitch: as always. The chair was dated and falling apart, yet Gerald and Agnes could never agree on a replacement. Did I ever finish anything?
Gerald’s gaze drifted back to the figure on the floor. There had been one or two times during his life that Gerald had felt confident. Thirty-odd years ago, before he had met Agnes, he had been in a decent shape. Now, that shape was simply round.
Bah! What a waste of a life? Never travelled far. I always wanted to visit Europe – I didn’t even see the Grand Canyon! Gerald dropped his head into his hands. Learn to dance? Nope. Learn another language? Never could decide which one. You’re a worthless man!
Gerald began to sink into his frequently visited well of depression when the doorbell chimed out in its default melody.
“Doorbell,” Agnes said, hands stitching away. As the chime rang again, Agnes glanced up from her cross-stitch. She cast her gaze about the room as she let out a second, more forceful, “Doorbell! Totally oblivious to anything that’s going on around him, that man.”
The flicker of hope within Gerald died as her eyes looked past him, and his corpse, and continued on their track toward the door. Didn’t even notice me. I’m sure she loved me at some point. . . I’m sure I loved her for that matter.
The melody started for the third time in the space of fifteen seconds. Gerald heard the loud scoff from Agnes as she placed her rosebud pattern aside. The scoff turned into a string of condemnations as she shuffled down the hall to the front door. The handle groaned – Gerald never had gotten around to fixing that – as Agnes let a wild gust of leathery intolerance inside.
“Oh! Agnes darling. You do too much! Why are you answering the door? Where is that useless lump of a husband?” The barrage continued down the hallway as Agnes and her mother shuffled back toward the lounge-room. “Good heavens, Agnes. Don’t tell me you’ve finally left the man? Right you should. You know what I’ve always said; would rather be folding laundry than spending time with the sorts of him.”
Gerald sighed and glanced at the clock on the wall – not that he needed to. The arrival of Betty meant one thing. It was Tuesday lunchtime – midday. He had learned to dread Betty’s visits early in his marriage. Every Tuesday, she would arrive in time to watch El Mejor Romance, a Spanish soap-opera. Her and Agnes would watch, eat the lunch he prepared, and – of course – gossip about how useless Gerald was.
Agnes had often told Gerald the only thing she loved more than her cross-stitches was lunch with Betty and El Mejor Romance. All of which placed higher than himself. She had, quite truthfully, told Gerald he was fifth on her list. Solidly placed between folding the laundry and flossing her teeth.
Hurricane Betty subsided as she lowered herself into her regular chair. The opening bars of El Mejor Romance cut the huffing and muttering mid-rant as she settled back, transfixed on the opening sequence. Agnes joined her, and as one they lifted their respective stable-tables over their laps.
Gerald found himself strangely satisfied at the look of confusion on both of their faces. Agnes’ expression of dismay matched her mother’s at the lack of soup and scones on the tables.
“Well! I don’t know why I expected any different,” Betty said. “Fifteen years I’ve been telling you that lazy man will forget our lunch one day. Fifteen years! And wasn’t I right?”
“Oh Mother, I’m terribly sorry,” Agnes fussed, “I’m so embarrassed, I could positively die.”
“Don’t you worry yourself about it, dear. You do enough. There’s nothing left to do but wait.”
Thank God I never had to watch this. Gerald could barely hold the laughter in as the drama reminded what happened last week. Look at them. He stood and walked over to Agnes and Betty. The pair sat unmoving, fascinated by the soap-opera. Gerald huffed, resigned to his duties of waiting for Death. He settled in to watch his first ever episode of El Mejor Romance.
Well, that was an emotionally roller-coasting hour of artistic brilliance. Gerald thought as the closing sequence scrolled the television. Meanwhile, Agnes and Betty applauded.
“I suppose it’s too much to ask for a cup of tea. I guess I’ll have to do it myself.”
Blustering as she went, Betty streaked out of the lounge room into the adjoining kitchen. The constant stream of criticism floated back to the lounge room, underpinned by the furious tinking of teaspoon on china.
Gerald crouched in front of this wife as she took up her cross-stitch once more. Where did this all go wrong? When did we become so. . . boring? Gerald stared into the face of the woman he once loved, trying to remember the last time they truly lived.
“. . . and one other thing I will tell you. That Gerald is always hovering about. Would you like this? Or can I do that? Pathetic! You would never hear Alejandro treating Maria like that. Now that El Mejor Romance knows how to. . .”
Gerald found it odd that Betty had stopped talking and looked over his shoulder at the kitchen doorway. Apparently, Agnes had noticed the peculiar behaviour as well and glanced up from her cross-stitch. Standing in the middle of the lounge room, head tilted slightly left and sipping from her teacup, the wiry woman looked perplexed.
“Agnes, darling. I don’t mean to alarm you, but did you know your Gerald here is. . . well . . . dead?”
(to be continued)