“I’m here,” says Albert. “Here I am.”
Albert looks old. His grey skin sags off his bones like old dishcloths off a drying rack. You can see a lot of his skin, because he is naked. The fact he is naked is probably the third thing you noticed about him, after you registered that he is glowing and acknowleged that he is floating in the corner of this darkened living room.
“Here I am,” he says, impatiently, but nobody seems to hear.
In the middle of the room an old lady and a younger woman sit on either side of a small table which has three candles, two bone china cups and a lot of Rich Tea crumbs on it.
“Are you there?” asks the old lady in a booming voice.
“Yes,” says Albert.
“Can you hear me, O spirits from beyond the veil?” asks the old lady.
“Yes,” says Albert.
“Please answer me,” says the old lady, “One knock for yes, two for no.”
“What? What do you want?” says Albert. “Carrie, Carrie, is that you?” he says, looking at the younger of the two women.
“One knock for yes, two for no,” the old lady repeats, and she reaches out to squeeze Carrie’s hand in a gesture of reassurance.
“I’m here. Carrie, I’m here,” says Albert. “Who is this dopey bint and why does she want me to knock?”
“Are you there, Albert?” the old lady intones.
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” says Albert, and he balls his fist and tries rapping his knuckles against the wall. His hand passes noiselessly through flock wallpaper, damp plaster and brick.
There is a knocking sound in the room.
“It’s him. Is it him? Are you there, Dad?” says Carrie. The old lady nods, with a gently triumphant look on her face.
“Yes, yes, Carrie, it’s me,” he says, “But I didn’t-“
There are two knocks.
“Do you have a question for the dear departed my love?” asks the old lady.
“Is… is he happy?” asks Carrie.
“Happy?” Albert practically shrieks. “Happy? I’m not fucking happy! Do you know what I was saying just this morning, do you? Aaaaaagh! Aaaaagh, I was saying, aaaaagh get your hands out of there, it hurts, I was saying. Does that sound like something a happy man would say?”
“He’s happy,” confirms the old lady.
“Stop that!” cries Albert, “Stop it you cheating cow! Every morning a burly, red man-beast with antlers pushes a big stick up my jacksie.”
“That’s… a relief,” says Carrie. “He was a complicated man, our relationship was, um, you know, and I’m just glad he’s at peace.”
“I’ve got a bumhole the size of a dinner plate,” says Albert.
“He wants you to know he is happy, and with all his friends now,” says the old lady.
“Friends?” says Carrie, looking surprised.
“He’s made lots of new friends,” says the old lady hurriedly. “Dead friends” she adds, lamely.
“I had friends, you stuck-up bitch,” says Albert. “Look at you, still judging me even after I’m dead. I was right about you, wasn’t I, you starchy twat.”
“He says he still loves you, and is watching over you.”
“You dessicated, hairy-faced charlatan!” Albert shouts, “You fraudulent, brittle-boned walnut! Watching over her? I’m in hell! How can I watch over anyone? All I can watch over is my own fucking ankles as Satan himself rummages around elbow deep in my chutney locker. He’s got big hands! Biiiiig hands!”
“It’s a comfort to know he’s found some kind of peace in death,” says Carrie.
“His hands really are huge,” says Albert.
The old lady pats Carrie’s hand. “Did you bring your credit card? I don’t take cheques,” she says, soothingly.
The grey, glowing form of Albert begins to grow transparent. “No!” he cries, “I don’t want to go back! Sweet Jesus, I’m sorry for everything, whatever it was, whatever I did, I’m sorry!”
The old lady munches thoughtfully on a Rich Tea as Carrie reaches into her handbag.
“It was such a shock to us, we thought the belligerent old bastard was going to live forever,” says Carrie.
“Was it sudden?” asks the old lady.
“It was. He was run over just outside his house. Joyriders. He was living in Middlesbrough.”
“Ah,” says the old lady. “Middlesbrough. Well, he’s in a better place now.”
They share a smile.
And, as Albert is dragged through limbo and purgatory, back to the fiery charnel pit of degradation and violation that will be his home until the end of forever, he thinks: Can’t argue with that, like. You’ve got to count your blessings.
A Better Place by Harris
more tiny tales