BERNARD’S VISITOR

6 Sep

“It doesn’t take much thinking to imagine the outline of a whole life,” thought Bernard ten minutes before he died. As a youngster he’d wanted to join the church and become something high in a bishopric, but he’d never managed to pass the opening exams.
This morning, lying in bed, he’d been contemplating his many days with a kind if grim satisfaction, but then he didn’t know that the future was going to be so brief. It wasn’t that he felt particularly well but more that he’d felt worse from time to time and most certainly didn’t feel well enough to meet his Maker. Not today, not any day soon and certainly not in ten minutes.
After all, he’d lived a truly virtuous life and everyone knew it because he told them whenever he could. He’d missed out on some things, of course, like having a wife and kids, but in his mind they were soiled with sin and he wanted nothing to do with things like that!
“I’m glad I’ve had a better time than Terry Whatsisname,” he told himself, apropos the outline of his own life.. Terry was a neighbour famous for presenting a dour face to the world, and that’s very much all Bernard knew about him. So judging a man’s whole being by such a minuscule amount of information might not have been the wisest thing that he’d done, especially when you considered his own dour persona.
As Bernard lay there in his bed, all alone on account of never having shared his life or his boudoir with anyone, borderline alive and borderline dead, random thoughts masquerading as intelligence consuming his last few minutes, Terry was romping with Amelia Amplebutt in his own bed and Amelia Amplebutt was doing the naughtiest things she could think of to him, and when it came to thinking of naughty things she was the local expert. She was considerably younger than Terry, which helped, and in a way she was fond of him. Dour or not, when he said he loved a girl he obviously meant it, and that was something to really respect. It was the sort of thing that would bring out the best in any borderline nymphomaniac and it certainly encouraged Amelia.
But the minutes were ticking for Bernard, and he didn’t want to waste them thinking of the love life of his neighbour, not that he knew anything about it. To him Terry was a black-hearted, unfriendly nobody. After all, he couldn’t ever imagine Terry doing anything remotely interesting. Dour faced black hearts didn’t. and that possible incorrect assumption was going to present him with quite a surprise when he died.
Which was any moment now, because the doorbell rang.
Nobody afterwards could be quite sure whether it was the effort of making his way to his front door and opening it that was too much for Bernard, or whether it was greeting his unexpected visitor that did for him.
Because his unexpected visitor, carrying with him a glinting polished scythe and cowled so that nobody could even see the tip of his nose, was a bit of a heart-stopper. Maybe the vision wouldn’t have stopped every heart, but it did stop Bernard’s, ten minutes after he’d started pondering about his life in the desultory kind of way that he had.
“My name is Death,” growled the unwelcome vision, “and you are to come with me.”
Bernard was gasping, suddenly, but he managed to ask in the breathless way that almost-dead have: “Who says so…?”
Then he started collapsing to the stone floor just inside his front door as he gasped “who did you say you were?”
“Death,” replied his visitor in a voice that Bernard imagined was exactly like Terry’s.
“Oh,” he managed to mumble.
“Don’t you go worrying about your neighbour. Terry’s having fun. I’ll be calling for him in a year or two,” the apparition with a shining scythe informed him. “He’s getting enough exercise to keep me at bay for quite a while.”
Next time a sound escaped from Bernard’s lips it was directly addressing the floor, which didn’t matter because it may have made sense to Bernard but all it really sounded like was a long drawn-out sigh.
“That’s enough for now,” said Mr. Death conversationally, addressing the figure at his feet and stirring his hair affectionately with one foot. “We’re off to the other side. Or at least, you are. There’s a door somewhere near here…”
Bernard had passed beyond the world of words and sounds, but a shadow of him scrambled awkwardly to his feet and stood nervously next to his visitor.
“We’ll have to go through Terry’s place,” said Mr. Death sombrely. “There just aren’t enough doors in sensible places. Come on! I’m a busy fellow with a whole list to call for today. Probably too many for me to get through, but I’ll give it my all.”
Bernard couldn’t help it. It seemed as though some magnetic force was drawing him behind the strange Death person, and when they glided through Terry’s front door without even opening it he began to think that not everything was normal on what he’d thought was a pretty normal day when he’d woken up. It’s probably just as well that he didn’t glance back to his own door and see himself prone as death and getting ever colder lying on the cold stone slab.
“This way,” called his guide, confidently knowing that Bernard would be forced to follow him.
And Bernard found himself being led through Terry’s bedroom where, to his own dismay, chagrin and horror, Terry was engaged in untold gymnastics with the younger woman from down the street, what’s her name? Amelia something or other. And they were both mischievously naked. Bernard had never seen a naked woman before, not even in porn, and he found himself fluttering.
“What…?” he stammered, questioningly
“Oh, hi there Bernard,” whooped Terry, pausing mid-something-or-other, “ain’t life great?”
But Bernard didn’t know, because he was dead.
“If everyone was like you,” Death said to Bernard with a knowing wink, “my life would be a damned sight easier because, well, there’d be nobody human to die and peace would reign supreme, with the odd lion lying down with the odder lamb and vultures eyeing them both suspiciously…”
© Peter Rogerson 06.09.16

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