How long is it since anyone saw Death all black-hooded and robed with one of those old fashioned scythes in his hand? Years, I suspect. Or decades. For whatever reason, Death’s gone all modern, likes to read the fashion magazines, likes to scrub up, look cool, have his whiskers trimmed in some hipster barber shop catering for ‘gentlemen’.
The scythe was just for show, anyhow, some sort of harvesting-of-lives symbolism, probably conjured up by an over-excited renaissance artist between commissions for the Borgias, the Kardashians of the time; nowadays it’s against the law to wander around with a blade longer than a few inches so our good friend has had to come up with some sort of alternative but you wonder what – light saber or tazer gun.
I thought I saw the feller last week, happily going about his business, concentrating on the old age homes – low hanging fruit, no doubt. I skulked behind a bus shelter in case he spotted me and mistook my hangdog face for that of someone ready to try their luck on the River Styx. But maybe it wasn’t him; maybe it was just one of his zero hour contract apprentices.
Nonetheless, I was a bit shaken and so I ducked into the local Subway for a Footlong and a can of sugar-plus, non-diet cola and for a few minutes meditation and pondering on how life could have been different had the wheels not come off my bus in such a spectacular way – the drink, the drugs, the divorces, that maybe deserved beating in the alley just between Boots the Chemist and Clarks the shoe shop which left me with this gammy leg and a touch of agoraphobia.
One thing I do know and that is that Death knows where I live – I occasionally see the absence of footprints in the flowerbed outside my rented caravan, study the absence of hot breath on the window; I smell the absence of putrefaction and rot, and I just know he’s been standing there, watching, wondering, waiting – and I also know that he got my address from several willing sources – the wives, the kids, bosses, ex-colleagues, the neighbours – all those ill-wishers who make up the badly patterned fabric of my failed past.
Nowadays life is a far cry from the big house and the expensive cars in the driveway, the seriously serious disposable income that we enjoyed, thanks largely to the high interest rates I charged those poor suckers I was lending money to and the lax laws covering transfers to off-shore tax havens. The kids loved me then as did ex-wifey number one even though I was already with wifey number-three-to-be; the neighbours still thought I was a “good egg” albeit “a rough diamond”, and were secretly turned on by the suspicion that I had links to some pretty bad eggs in the city and the gambling industry. Even my boss, for most of the time anyhow, thought I was a sweetheart – it took a while for him to suss that I was elbow deep into his business’ till. Glory days.
I’ve lost my art, my ability to throw out a penciled portrait much the same as you’ll find the official court artists doing; I can’t do that anymore and this is, I reckon, a greater loss than that of the wives, and the kids, and the others. I miss the smell of the incense cedar shavings and of the graphite as I carefully sharpened half a dozen or so pencils before opening up and breathing in a fresh pad of 140gsm fine grained paper. I miss that nano fraction of a second that can stretch to eternity as the lead hovers a millimetre above the paper before making that first contact and then the die is cast, the image is prescribed, and the heart starts beating once again. I do occasionally stare in at the window displays of art supply shops, wondering at what might have been, before the owner comes out, worried that I may piss on his doorstep, chases me off, threatens to call the police.
Tomorrow I’m dressing up in a Santa suit for the local garden centre grotto. As an attraction I have to compete with a huge display of poinsettias as well as three silver and gold sprayed bamboo reindeers with flashing LED eyes. I did the job last year and just hope they have had the suit dry-cleaned – by the time I handed it back in on Christmas Eve it reeked overwhelmingly of cigarettes and body odour reminiscent of the waiting room of a cheap Amsterdam brothel.
I need to stay off the juice for the duration if I’m to hold down the job. Not sure if it’s worth it. Maybe I’ll donate my body to aliens for research purposes – and self-validation. And screw Death for the time being.