Death’s Apprentice – Part Five

My heart gave a start as the door to the back was flung open. Several things happened at once; a tall man with a large hook nose and wearing dark blue overalls covered in soot burst into the room just as Lola yelped and disappeared behind my chair.

‘Lola!’

‘No dogs! No dogs! We don’t do dogs!’ called the man, flinging his arms in the air like he was swatting flies.

The receptionist jumped up. ‘No, Mr Black, he’s here for the job. His name is Joe Bones. I told you about him -’

He stopped his arms still high in the air. ‘You did?’ he asked, turning to look at the receptionist.

‘Yes, just now.’

‘Oh, I don’t know,’ he snapped, ‘how am I supposed to remember everything?’ He turned on his heels to look at me. ‘Mmm,’ he said, looking over his thick round glasses at me, ‘you’d better come through then. But not the dog!’

‘Okay, I er…’ I looked a Lola. I didn’t think she’d want to go anyway.

‘Leave with me,’ said the receptionist, who was now standing beside me although I hadn’t seen her move at all.

‘Are you sure?’ I asked.

‘She’ll be fine with me here,’ she said, taking Lola’s lead, ‘now go on Mr Bones, go and do your interview before you miss out.’

I followed Mr Crow through the door and into the back of the funeral parlour. There was a funny smell, of acid and melted wax, lavender and something that reminded me of a fly spray my nanna used when she was still alive.

‘Down here,’ said Mr Crow, taking a dirty handkerchief from the top of his greasy overalls. He wiped his forehead with it then stuffed back into his pocket.

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My Grandad

I don’t know why but I’ve been thinking about my grandad a lot lately. I was 11 when he died and I was devastated. It was probably one of the most profound things that has ever happened to me. I’m 42 now and still, I feel it. Not as deep or as intense as when it first happened but, even after thirty-one years, the grief is still real.

Recently, I saw a quote by Jamie Anderson on Pinterest that hit me in the feels:

“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot…Grief is just love with no place to go.”

Anyway, here’s a little memory of my grandad. He couldn’t talk or walk properly because he’d had several strokes but still, he was my hero.

The Red Leather Chair

The smell of frying bacon drifted in from the kitchen and my stomach groaned in anticipation.  Grandad looked at me with his smiling blue eyes, his thick white eyebrows arched high above his black glasses.
‘Sorry,’ I giggled, shrugging my shoulders, ‘had no breakfast this morning.’
‘Uh,’ he replied, with a shake of his head, a gentle smile erupting on his face as my stomach complained again.  He pointed to the telly with a crooked finger and then to his ears.  ‘Uh-uh.’
I flashed him a cheeky smile and shrugged again.
Shep, my Grandad’s long-haired collie, stirred in the seat beside me.  He yawned loudly, stretching out and laying his head on my lap as I wrapped my hands in his glossy coat and turned my head towards the telly just as it was announced by the heavily bearded commentator that Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy were due in the ring.
Grandad shifted forward to the edge of his seat, his walking stick clattering to the floor as he unbuttoned his shirt sleeves and rolled them up past his wrinkly elbows in preparation for the fight.
‘Fred, do you want sauce in your bacon?’ shouted Nan from the kitchen, but Grandad was oblivious to it all; he’d only got eyes and ears for that small black and white telly.
Shep leapt from the sofa, dashing behind it as my Grandad’s red leather chair began to dance around the room, the wood and leather creaking and straining under his weight, his grunting harsh but still with lashings of warmth, becoming louder as he lost his mind to the wrestling, to his life as a boxer in the army.
I could never tell anyone who won any of those fights we watched on that battered telly on the Saturday dinner-times we spent together; I was far too engrossed in Grandad’s face to care.  The strokes had robbed him of many things; his speech, the ability to walk or eat independently, but as we sat there I became lost in the sparkle in his eyes and the stories that had become etched in his wrinkles.  It was during these times that I could see my Grandad was still a man and was still truly alive.
But the red leather chair sits empty now; still and lifeless like the room in which it sits.  His grey trilby is still perched at an angle at the back of it, his walking stick abandoned on the floor.  The smell of cigars lingers in the air along with the smell of his hard-earned sweat.  But now the warmth has disappeared and a numbing coldness is seeping into the room through the cracks, filling me with emptiness.

Death’s Apprentice. Part Two. A Writing Experiment.

The sky burst. Rain crashed down around me, soaking me to the bone in a matter of seconds, and throwing up the scent of damp earth, decaying rubbish and rotten eggs as it churned up the water.

Come on Lola, where are you? I peeled my saturated hood from my head and held my hand up to my face to shield my eyes from the downpour.

‘Lola! Come on girl. Come on good girl!’

I thought I heard something, a whimper coming from behind me. I spun on my heels and saw a flash of white skin from beneath scrub at the base of an oak tree. I jogged over, my heart racing.

I removed the branches and weeds and found Lola cowering and whimpering, her tail flicking across the dirt.

‘Hey, there you are, come on,’ I said, stroking her head, ‘that’s a good girl.’ I reached into my pocket and fetched out a small dog biscuit, and offered it to her. Slowly she crawled out from her shelter and took the biscuit from my hand. I ran my hands along her wet fur; she was shaking. ‘What’s a matter girl? What’s he done to you?’ She rubbed her face against my leg. She smelled of dirt and wet dog.

‘That’s a good girl,’ I said, checking her ribs and legs. Everything seemed ok, but I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t trust him.

I clipped her lead onto her collar. ‘Come on Lola, let’s get you checked out.’ I gripped on to her lead tightly, my knuckles turning white as I thought about what he might’ve done to her. Shit head. If I found out he’d…I’d fucking kill him. I gently pulled on her lead and she followed me obediently, if slowly. Her legs seemed fine, but her head was low. She wasn’t her usual bouncy self.

There was a vet in town, about ten minutes away. I’d have to take her there. Make sure. I needed to make sure. I clenched my free hand into a fist. He’d pay. Somehow I would make him pay.

I managed to get Lola in to see the vet. He didn’t want to see her; he knows about my old step-man. Knows he’s no good. Probably threatened him, or broke in and stole some gear. In the end, he took her into the consultation room and gave her the once over. I didn’t tell him what I thought had happened and he didn’t ask. Ten minutes later Lola was given a clean bill of health, and I came out with a thirty-pound bill and a warning that if I hurt my dog again he’d report me. I hadn’t hurt her, but I didn’t argue, as much as it killed me inside that anyone would think that. No one believed anyone who was related to my shithead stepdad. And no one believed anything a member of the Bones family said. Looked like I was doubly fucked.