Your own death, and how to cope with it
Chapter 1: Laura
There was vomit in the bathroom, the sofa stunk like piss, and there was a dead girl on the carpet.
If that's not a wild night, I don't know what is,thought Laura, as she stepped over the police line. The flat was crawling with police and forensic examiners, scowering the place from top to bottom with a fine tooth comb. Adrian Edwards' daughter, they said to one another, and that was explanation enough. The forensic examiner snapped on rubber gloves and gently, lifted the girl's head from the ground.
"A snapped neck. From a fall, most likely. She would have caught this on the way down." His hands moved to the cedar wood drinks cabinet. She'd always thought it an ugly thing.
"Well deduced, Sherlock," she said, "but the question is; did Humpty fall, or was he pushed?"
The forensic officer blanked her completely and turned to the DCI. "I think we should take some swabs from this. Who was she, anyway?"
"An Oxford undergraduate," said DCI Quick. "Nineteen years old."
"What a waste."
"What a mess, more like. She's Edwards' daughter. Leave as much as a finger print on her and we'll be the ones under the microscope."
"Edwards? You mean..."
The girl was spread eagle on the ground. Her red lipstick was a smudged bloody blossom stark against her death-skin. Her hair was a red tangle, and her hugging nightie had danced up her body like a lover. Not a graceful death, to be certain.
Only the week before, Laura's therapist had suggested that she try looking at herself from another angle. Get a new perspective, he said.
As she looked down at her dead body, Laura still thought this was bullshit.
The police might be struggling to see it, but the events of last night were laid out across the flat like a narrative. As the night wore on, the party moved upstairs. Through the kitchenette, the dining room. It became a living, breathing thing, all darkness and hot crushed bodies. A kind of madness that feeds off itself.
And Laura had chased it.
Like the fading tail of a comet, she'd followed the feeling into the sterile dead of night. Cradled it against the darkness. Stoked life back into the embers, made them glow again, white with brilliance and ecstasy. When the cold grey dawn rose, pressing in like mist against the window, those embers flickered into ash. Laura reached out, one final desperate grab, and closed her fist round thin air.
Like so many others, she hadn't even known his name. Simon, maybe. Or James. John, perhaps. She wouldn't be able to single him out in an identity parade. He was warm, she was cold. Evidence laid out like footprints to the bed; her blouse; his shirt; skirt; pants, and—
They'd found him snoring face down in her bed, rumbling like a bear.
Someone's been sleeping in my bed. And look, he's still there!
She heard his voice carry from outside, like the whine of an aeroplane on a still day; "I don't know what happened, I swear. Look, my friend invited me. He said there'd be free drinks. I don't even know her!"
The truth is, though he'll be examined, cross-examined and double-cross-examined, James, John or Simon had nothing to do with her death.
She'd got up for a drink of water.
It was 5:15. And cold. Up all night without the cushion of sleep, the kind of sneaking chill that creeps into your bones. She had no substance to her; the slightest draft would howl through all her cracks and flaws and expose her. For all her bluster, during the mornings after, Laura always felt vulnerable.
She'd always imagined that if her life was a movie, it'd be a grungy piece of black and white existentialism. Only Laura was a good deal less deep than she imagined herself to be. Turned out it was a piece of classic British irony. Who else, after drinking her own weight in alcohol and popping rainbow pills- not even asking what they were- would stumble into the living room, trip on a piece of orange peel, and break her neck?
And really, orange peel? thought Laura, prodding it with her foot. Who brings fresh fruit to a party?
"Heads up, Dave. Edwards' here."
Laura's head snapped up.
"Do you think he knows?" said the forensic examiner.
"If he doesn't, he will soon," said the DCI.
Laura looked out the window. Behind the police line, the crowd had assembled. Her parties had always been the bane of existence to her neighbours. Now they crowded round, curious and excited. "Oh, isn't it just terrible?" they said, while they worried if this would affect the housing market prices.
A gleaming Mercedes Maybach pulled up onto the pavement. Out stepped a caricature of a man. He was crisp linen, pressed silk, polished leather. Age had tempered his fierce red hair a distinguished grey. It was her father.
An officer held out his hands when he reached the tape. She saw her father smile and his lips move. The officer lifted the tape for him to pass underneath.
"He can't just walk in here. There's an investigation going on," the forensic examiner said. He blustered towards the door, as prickly as a hedgehog. "I'm going to tell him-" he stopped dead. Her father stood there. Although he wasn't tall, he loomed over people. He didn't have to glare to scare. His hands were in his pockets, and his eyes pierced.
He said, "Get out of my way."
The forensic examiner's mouth opened, and shut. Then he moved out of the way.
"Where's my daughter?" he said.
I'm right here, Dad.
"This way sir," said the DCI, his mouth compressed into a thin line. He led her father into the living room, where two paramedics were lifting the girl— no, her, onto a stretcher. A sheet had been laid lightly over her, like snow.
It was strange. Like she was watching a crime drama. It didn't fit into her life at all, like someone had recorded over part of it with the wrong show.
There had to be a mistake.
As she watched her father approach her body, she felt distanced, detached. All her relationships, her loves, her losses were a bunch of helium balloons, and then snip, snip, snip, they were sent soaring into the sky.
She'd spent all her life to please him, hurt him, control him. Now, she didn't care.
"There's been a mix-up," Adrian Edwards said. But what did he matter to her? She watched him like a mildly interesting television program, as he lifted the sheet, paled, replaced it. His hand flew to his mouth. He looked like he was going to be sick.
Laura turned away. What did any of this matter?
And then her father choked out a sob as dry as a cough. Laura's head snapped back like an elastic band. His hand was clamped to his mouth, and he was racked by shudders, tears rolling from his eyes.
It was wrenched from her, "But— but why?"
When Laura felt the firm hand on her shoulder, she was crying too.
"That's enough of this, I think." The hand was scooping her around the shoulders, leading her gently into the next room.
When Laura chased the blur from her eyes, she looked up to see an angel standing in her dining room.
A beat, and-
"You're late. Shouldn't you have been here an hour ago?" Laura said, bluntly.
"My apologies, Miss Laura. The traffic on the H25 is dreadful this time of day."
"The H25?" she asked. Her voice was weak.
"You know, the ring road round Eden? Oh, I guess you wouldn't know, would you?"
The angel had great, white outstretched wings. His halo flickered over his head like the aurora. But, Laura suddenly noticed, he also made a striking resemblance to the local bird man. He wore thick wire-rimmed glasses, and under his wispy white hair, he was balding.
He ran his hand along the empty mantelpiece. "I've found in my experience, most people prefer to keep photographs and mementos of loved ones and good times here," he said, in a tone of deep interest. He opened a cupboard and leaned down to stick his head inside. His voice echoed; "They don't usually have such an impressive collection of alcoholic beverages either."
Laura slid onto the dining table and crossed her legs. "You're pretty nosy for an angel, did you know that?" Her voice was as dry as a stiff vodka.
His voice echoed back; "As you'll soon discover Miss Laura, angels are like a box of chocolates; you never know which one you're going to get."
But, apparently, at least some of them went to the movies. She wondered what the etiquette was for this kind of situation. Should she offer him tea? Did angels drink tea?
Until it struck her. How had he known her name? "How did you—"
The angel straightened up. "It's all in here Miss Laura." Until now, she had been too distracted by the wings to notice the clipboard tucked snugly in his hands. "This is your file. It's got your name, who you are, where you were born, where you died. Everything."
Her eyes fixed on the file. Then she said, "Why don't you take a seat, and I'll get us something to drink." She could still hear her father's crying from the other room. She kicked the door shut.
"Don't mind if I do, Miss Laura. I have to say, it's been a rough morning." The angel took a seat. He stretched.
"Who are you, anyway?" Sliding from the table, Laura wound her way round to the drinks cabinet, and uncorked a bottle of wine.
"An angel, Miss Laura."
"I did gather," said Laura. She slammed his glass down in front of him. He looked up.
"It's a bit early, don't you think?"
Laura threw herself down in the chair opposite. And as she tossed the drink down; "As you said, it's been a rough morning." She added, "And I meant your name. You have one, don't you?"
He prodded the glass with his finger, as though he'd never seen anything like it before. "Angels aren't really given names," he hesitated, "though, it's become more popular the last few centuries. Most people call me Sandalphon. I work for the Office of Sin and Salvation. And I'm afraid I can't drink this. Angels don't drink alcohol." Politely, he poked away the glass with one finger.
"Why not?" asked Laura. "It's not forbidden, is it?"
"Well, no," said Sandalphon. "But it just isn't..."
She pushed the glass back towards him. "I don't like to drink alone. And I'm not sure I'm going to get through this morning without it. Dying has turned out to be a very stressful business."
He picked it up, squinted at it like a rattlesnake. "Well, our department's job is to make the life to death transition as smooth and carefree as possible..." he paused, and then downed the whole lot like water. He gagged.
"Everyone's like that at first," Laura assured him, sticking her legs up on the table. "Now, do tell me more about that department of yours. What is it you said you do?"
Laura learned that Sandalphon was reluctant to divulge too much information about the goings on of his workplace ("Company secrets, Miss.") However, she also learned that angels were susceptible to alcohol. A few glasses later and he was singing like a skylark.
"Goodness gracious, Miss Laura, I feel strange," he said, bowed into the embrace of his hands, wings gushing up like feathery fountains. "Really light, like I'm going to float away."
"It's good, isn't it?" said Laura. And then, "This trial you mentioned. How does it work? Is the feather heavier than the heart, set of gold scales, that sort of thing?"
Sandalphon laughed. "You're thinking of next door. At the Ancient Egyptian courts, Miss. But, just between you and me, I'm not keen on their system. Because feathers aren't all the same size and weight, are they? You, however don't need to worry about a thing. You'll be tried by Judge Gabriel. Fairest judge on Heaven or Earth." He peered into his empty glass. "Could I have some more of this?" Laura happily filled up Sandalphon's glass. As for her own, after the first she had settled simply with sipping.
"And," Laura said, "there really is... a hell?"
"Afraid so. Sinners have to go somewhere. But I'm sure you'll be..." his eyes drifted- a little wobbily- to his clipboard. "Oh," he finished.
Oh. Yes, that was what Laura thought, as well.
"And how do we get there? Do we fly?"
"Fly? Maybe in the dark ages. We can leave whenever you're ready."
The lift doors rolled open. The lift that had suddenly squeezed itself in between the bookcase and the hat stand. The lift that Laura was sure she'd never seen in her dining room before... right?
Sandalphon climbed unsteadily to his feet.
"This way, Miiiishhhh Laura."
The lift was wide, spacious, and a tinkling tune emanated from the speaker in the ceiling. There were several buttons.
2nd Floor- 'Heaven'
1st Floor- 'Limbo'
Ground Floor- 'Earth'
"And this is the one we want," Sandalphon explained, stabbing the button that read, 'Limbo.' "And if you do manage to get into Heaven- which I do hope you do- you must come and visit me at the Eden flats. I've really enjoyed meeting you and I think we've got along marvelousssssly."
The lift doors rolled closed with a rumble. It was only then that Sandalphon realised he was the only one inside.
"H-hey! Stop!" he said, repeatedly hitting the button that read, 'Earth.'
Meanwhile Laura, the clipboard stuffed under her arm, ran.
'Your own death and how to cope with it' by Christina Ridgley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.