I am dead although I have been slow to notice. This I find embarrassing. Normally, I am alert. I have to be in my kind of business. I suppose I was too busy being indignant to realise. I am lying on a trolley and not wearing a stitch.
I actually spent the first few moments of my death complaining about the state of the NHS.
‘Not exactly the opening ceremony of the Olympics is it?’ I shouted. ‘No pretty nurses jumping up and down on the beds in this place.’
Of course, no one heard me. I am dead. I am in a room which I initially thought might be a ward or an operating theatre but it is something different. There are no other beds, and the equipment has been placed on the waist high shelf that lines all the walls. A tall man in a long white coat is busy working by the shelf against the wall opposite me. He sings something about a broken heart.
I have no idea why I am here. Nothing connects me to this death. Before this I was in the living room of Croft the Case and happily knocking hell out of him. I remember banging his head against the wall and his blood spilling on to the carpet. The screams were terrible and there was a lot of blood but, fortunately, Croft the Case is not especially house-proud. I was at his home because I had a tip that Croft the Case had done a £30,000 dope deal and had stashed away the cash. I make my living by robbing these guys. I keep away from the mega dealers because I am sensible but everyone knows me. I have acquired the name Mr Iron. My weaponry is varied but I always have an iron. Few dealers can be persuaded easily to part with their cash. I do not mind smacking people around but it takes time and you need to mix it otherwise you and the work become boring. And nothing succeeds as well as the iron. Most cough up the cash after one patch of blister. Some have taken as many as three but those are not right in the head. Few confess in response to the mere threat. I usually have to show that I am sincere. Well, Liverpool is a tough town.
I must have been ambushed. I remember putting the iron on the back of Croft the Case and him screaming and me thinking it would all be sorted in a couple of minutes. And then I am lying on a trolley without even a goose pimple for company.
It is different being dead. Obviously, you are obliged to be quiet. That makes sense, I suppose. Otherwise, what is the point, eh? But dead, you feel different. I have this strong sense of smell, which means that I now feel that maybe my choice in aftershave was not quite as cute as I thought. Well, as ol’ blue eyes said, we all have a few regrets.
Everything feels cold. The plastic sheet under my naked skin feels like it has just come out of the freezer. Also, while I can make no sound, the noise around me is deafening. At the end of the room the guy in the white coat is quietly arranging instruments but he makes as much din as someone demolishing a house.
The guy in the white coat turns around and walks over to me. He looks into my face. He has a red beard and blue eyes. He looks a serious sort. He holds a marker pen, and I watch him draw a line around my forehead. I also feel his hands touch my head a couple of times which is when I realise he has already shaven my head.
I do not think I am especially vain or easily embarrassed but I think I would have preferred to keep my hair before the bonfire that waits.
If you have to go early, at least go handsome, I think.
And what was he doing with the damn marker on my head?
A woman who is also wearing a white coat walks into the room. She is about the same age as the man. Both are in their thirties, I think. The woman is attractive with a fine figure, and I remember the aftershave and I think about regrets again. She puts her arms around the man with the red beard.
‘Missed me?’ she says.
‘Am I hot for you?’ says the man with the red beard.
The two of them kiss passionately.
Oh, come on, I think.
Whether the woman is insatiable or not I do not know but, after they finish kissing, she looks at what I have between the tops of my thighs.
‘It’s a strange colour,’ she says.
This is news to me. I sneak a look. Yes, she is right.
‘Disfiguration, they used a lot of poison,’ says the man with the red beard.
Now I remember. I was taking out my iron and definitely feeling queasy. I can brush things aside easily and had put it down to anticipation and excitement. The cold rubber on the trolley helps me think it through. I must have been set up by Torpedo Torino and Croft the Case. This is why Torpedo wanted me to drink so much while he was explaining the dope deal.
I remember and I can see clearly. That helps because there is something else I realise. I have been dead before. Something slipped into gear as I was searching for the truth about Torpedo and the Case. Every time it is the same after dying, every time you eventually realise that this has happened before. I understand that I have a few days before I move on, by when I will have again forgotten all this. I try to remember how many times I have died before. My memories are vague, as if I am not privy to details, but I do know that I have previously died many times. And I know that I always have a few days of this strange state before life begins again.
It must be the same for everyone. I think what I have probably thought many times before. Why the need to exist in this odd period when it feels strange and you smell and hear things differently? Presumably, the reincarnated life takes time to prepare. It is not as if it is the latest technology that they use. All this will have been designed and introduced before digitalisation.
The man in the white coat walks towards me. He carries a small blade in his right hand. He uses the index finger on his left hand to find the mark he has left on my head.
I am trying to think everything through but the damned woman has now joined him, and they are looking at one another like lovesick dopes.
The man with the red beard kisses the attractive woman on the tip of her nose.
Reincarnation must be as old as sex, I think. It has existed from the very beginning, long before Steve Jobs, football and even vinyl.
The man puts the cold blade on my chest and turns his back on me so he can kiss his girlfriend. How many human beings and in how many different lives, I think. We even had reincarnation and sex before the wheel although some of those lives would have hardly been worth repeating.
The man and the woman stop kissing. I think about how soon will I become bored in this strange state and before life begins again.
The man picks up the blade and inserts it in my stomach. The pain is unbearable. I watch blood leave my stomach. The woman returns to the shelf on the opposite wall and takes the largest tool on the shelf. She stands close to the trolley and near my head. She stares at me, and I realise that she is looking at the line that the man in the red beard drew around my head.
I think about reincarnation and all my other forgotten lives and how God must have created it as a blessing. But that was before we became clever, before machines and, my thoughts hesitating, before autopsies.
‘No,’ I scream.
No one hears.
The woman switches on the chain saw, and the noise is terrible.
‘No,’ I scream, ‘we can still feel pain.’
The man with the red beard puts his hand inside my stomach and pulls at my intestines.
‘I cannot bear this,’ I scream although my words are silent like before.
‘God, please answer,’ I plead.
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