It didn’t feel like that serious a bump on the head. Certainly not enough to kill her. But, here she was, standing over her own body, wondering what exactly was supposed to happen next. It occurred to Eliza, just a few minutes after she slipped on a stray magazine and a brief collision with the coffee table ended her life prematurely, that her living room was kind of a mess.
“Eliza Brink?” A nervous, almost adolescent voice queried from behind her.
“What the…” Eliza span around, intending to chastise this intruder. “You made me jump out of my skin!” She admonished. “Or, out of my ectoplasm.” That thought made her wrinkle her nose. “I don’t know. I’m not entirely sure what figures of speech are appropriate for this particular situation.”
She turned her attention to her new guest. Tall, skinny, with hair that could do with a good trim and a denim jacket that had definitely seen better days.
“Who the hell are you, anyway?” She asked.
“Ah! Right…” The stranger reached into his jean pocket, pulled out a tiny rectangle of paper and proceeded to unfold it until it was the size of a broadsheet.
“I am the Reaper,” he read aloud, forming the words like a child who has only just learned to read. “But fear not, Eliza, for I am here to take you to a better place.” With that, he refolded the creased document and returned it to his pocket.
“Is that it?” Eliza asked, incredulous. “That paper was huge.”
“The rest is directions,” he told her. “I’m new.”
Eliza rolled her eyes, then sadly realised that it didn’t quite have the same effect when her actual eyes were at floor level, staring at the ceiling.
“Fine,” she said, “but I have some things to do first.”
“Oh, sorry,” he shook his head, “that’s not how it works. There’s no time allotted in your schedule for unfinished business. Seems you must have kept your house in order, so to speak.”
“Except I clearly didn’t,” Eliza snapped, “or I might not have been killed by a rogue Marie-Claire. No. I’m staying to tidy up. Can’t have anyone finding my body in this bombsite.”
“Why do you bloody well think? Because by the time the story gets around, they’ll be saying I was half eaten by cats and nobody missed me.”
“Oh. Oh no. Enough of the lady. I may well not be eighteen anymore, but I don’t think I’ve quite reached lady yet! Not that I ever will now, I suppose.”
It was the Grim Reaper’s turn to roll his eyes. Eliza took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, glad to discover that it had a calming effect even when no air was going taken in or out.
“Listen,” she said. “What’s your name?”
“Pete,” he replied. Eliza perched herself on the arm of the sofa and patted the spot next to her. The grungy youth sat down next to her.
“Well, Pete…” She patted his knee, relieved that hand sanitiser would no longer be an issue, and said: “Is there any way, any way at all, that you could help me out? Please?”
Pete’s eyes flitted from the hand on his knee, to her chest, and then past her to the body on the carpet.
“Are you flirting with me?” He asked. “Because, I mean, I’m flattered and everything, and you are fit, but I just don’t think I’d be comfortable doing anything…” He lowered his voice to a whisper; “…with that in the room.”
Eliza removed her hand from his knee as quickly as humanly possible, and stood. Pete recoiled ever so slightly, as if she were about to slap him, but she simply began picking up detritus from the floor.
“What are you doing?” He asked.
“Masturbating,” she barked. “What does it look like, you cretin? I’m tidying up.” She vanished into the kitchen for a moment, then re-emerged with a bin bag.
Pete could only watch, and quietly despair. What was she going to do next, go upstairs and turn her mattress? Clean the toilet? This was exactly the kind of thing he’d been worried about. What had kept him up half of last night. He’d read her file beforehand, naturally. (Preparation is key in any job, his mum had told him that, before sending him off to Nando’s, CV in hand.) She seemed like quite a handful, for his very first job. His superiors had simply said, should a “situation” arise, to simply use his initiative.
Because initiative is something one is bound to find in a seventeen year old who died by falling off a motorbike while trying to impress a girl.
“Oh, Cindy,” he murmured wistfully, “we could have been so good together.”
He had a vague notion that Eliza had gone upstairs, but was too deep in his own reverie to notice – until she descended in high heels, a fur coat and ridiculously large sunglasses.
“What… is… that?” Pete asked, resisting the urge to tell her how much it reminded him of his nana’s nervous breakdown.
“What, this old thing? Nothing.” Eliza shrugged. “Right! Let’s blow this joint.”
“Um. Not so fast… You can’t wear that.”
“Why not?” She looked down at herself, then back at him. “What’s wrong with it?”
“Nothing at all! It’s very… nice. But you didn’t die in it.”
“You can’t take it with you because it’s not what you died in.”
“Oh. That’s a rather unkind rule, don’t you think? What happens to all the people who die in those arse-less hospital gowns?”
“Exactly what you’d expect to happen, I’m afraid.”
Eliza grimaced, then acquiesced. She removed the shades, then the coat, and finally stepped out of the kitten heels. Then her eyes lit up with inspiration, and she strode over to where her body lay on the rug.
“I might not have died in them,” she muttered to herself, “but I can make people think I did…” Then, to Pete, she said; “Come on, help me with this. Then I’ll be ready to go, I promise.”
Pete sighed, crouched by the body, and heaved the immobile torso up, enabling Eliza to wrap the fur around her own cold shoulders.
“You’re just lucky rigor mortis hasn’t set in,” Pete told her. “It would make this twice as difficult.”
“Yeah, I’m having a really lucky day,” Eliza responded, pulling both Ugg boots off the body and forcing its feet into the Manolos. Finally, she placed the sunglasses delicately onto her own face, which had turned a rather unflattering shade of blue. The moment those glassy, unseeing eyes were concealed, she began to feel better.
“You know, the Ancient Greeks used to put coins over the eyes of their dead,” Pete said quietly. “So they could pay the boatman on the River Styx.”
“Well, those cost a pretty penny,” Eliza said, rising to her feet. “I imagine my fare will be paid a few times over.”
“You look a right picture,” Pete said, gesturing to the body with his foot. “In a nice way, I mean.”
“Don’t I?” Eliza beamed. “People will think I was off out to the opera.”
“Is it important to you?” Pete asked. “What people think?”
“I never thought so,” she said, gazing down at herself, “but yes. It is.” She was silent for a moment, then leant in as if to tell him a secret. “I had a look through my cupboards when I was cleaning. Found lots of coffee, and even more wine. Not much food. I hid a few bottles of vino in the back yard – didn’t want anyone thinking I was a lush.”
“Fair’s fair,” Pete agreed. “Are you ready to go now?”
“I think so,” Eliza nodded. She glanced around the now spotless living room, then down at her body one last time. “Come on then. Home, James, and don’t spare the horses.”
Pete smiled, even though this reference flew right over his head. He took Eliza by the hand.
“Let’s get this show on the road,” he said, suddenly nervous. Eliza squeezed his hand, and together they walked through the living room wall.