I remember the first attack. It was very much like they describe in magazines and the leaflets you pick up from the doctor’s: a tight rope around the chest, pain up the left arm, unable to breathe and then the silence and waking up in the ICU with pretty girls running quietly around checking machines that kept going beep, beep, beep. Later Dr Gibson wandered in very casually and calm.
–Well, you gave us all a bit of a fright, you old bugger.
–What happened Gibbo?
–You had a bit of a heart attack but…
–Am I going to die?
–You nearly did, Jim, but with any luck you’ll probably keep annoying me, and your family, for a long time to come.
Comforting words that, I thought. The next night, still in ICU, the kids turned up to see how their old man was getting along. Young Jim brought his wife in. I hadn’t seen them since they left for Queensland about three years ago. The grandkids were left behind in Tully but that didn’t matter much because I hadn’t met either of them yet.
Alice and her fella – he’s a really good bloke – came in later, after Jim had gone.
I didn’t expect Carol to come and I’m glad because we would have probably said things we didn’t mean. Anyway I haven’t got anything I want to say. The divorce completed that.
Gibbo was wrong. Two nights later I had the fatal attack and they wheeled me down to the morgue. I thought it would be cold in there but I didn’t feel a thing. They tied a tag on my big toe and left me. Now most of you know I have a real problem with claustrophobia but when they slid me into the refrigerator and closed the door I didn’t feel at all worried. But I can tell you something; the light in the fridge goes out.
Then I got shoved in the back of a hearse and taken off to the funeral parlor. Alice – Alice is my daughter. I thought I’d made that plain. You have to concentrate. As I was saying, Alice had come in and given the mortician bloke my best suit and a clean shirt and tie and they dressed me in it to make me look dignified. It was a bit embarrassing while they stripped me and dressed me so I drifted over to the window and sat on the windowsill. It didn’t seem to worry either of them but then again, I suppose they’re used to it.
Nothing much happened that I can think of until next day when the service started in the chapel. Stewie, or to give him his full title, The Reverend Mr David Stewart, one of the only friends I have who is still alive, was going to officiate. I was laid out in the casket and they opened the lid and I took the opportunity to have a bit of a stretch. I had a look around and was a bit surprised by some of the people who had turned up. There weren’t all that many but that was to be expected because I had let a lot of my old acquaintances go over the years for reasons I will not bother you with, but you can work it out for yourselves.
I spotted Winnie sitting on her own down towards the front. Winnie was Harry’s wife. Harry was my best mate and he’d gone off a few months ago so she was alone and I thought I’d keep her company. I wandered over and I said hello and thanked her for coming but she either didn’t hear me, or something because she never said anything. At least not straight off. Then I heard her.
–Say hello to Harry for me will you. I’m glad you’re going to be there so he won’t be so all on his own. I’m sad it has to be this way but at least you will both have someone you know to talk to.
It was nice that she thought like that and I started to tell her so but then I twigged that she couldn’t hear me. I could hear her but it was as if I wasn’t there – not as far as she was concerned.
So Stewie stood up out the front and went on with a lot of his mumbo jumbo and asked Francine to give the eulogy. Francine was my sister and my only living relative, which is good because half my dead relatives would have said a lot of not quite nice things about me and dredged up fights we’d had when we were kids.
Francine was great. She seemed to only remember nice things and made me out to be a fairly decent person and then she sat down. I went and sat next to her and gave her a hug but she didn’t react.
Stewie then said a few things. Did I say a few things? Heck! He waffled on and on and told all these lies about stuff I’d done and the crowd started to laugh and chortle and then he sat down for a minute and everybody got up and sang a hymn. “Abide with me.” That was a bit dark for me. It’s more the sort of thing you’d sing on a ship when it’s sinking in the North Atlantic. And I’m not too sure about “The darkness deepens” bit because I wasn’t feeling that things were getting dark.
So the service finished and people started to file past the coffin. I sat myself on the coffin lid and listened to what they were saying to me. It was quite funny actually. There I was lying down all dead to the world but at the same time I’m sitting up and listening to them as they file past. I knew from sitting with Winnie that they wouldn’t hear me if I spoke but I heard them.
The first person to come by was Carol. I hadn’t seen her for maybe five years and she was looking better than she had.
–I’m sorry you’re dead, she was saying. But I’d like you to know that the last five years have been the best years of my life.
–Yes, well you have no idea how the last five years have been the best years of my life as well. Except for the ten years of my adulthood before I met you so why don’t you wander off and say hello to your children. At least they’ll miss me.
Then Young Jim came by.
–You know Dad, I never forgave you for making me go into medicine. I never wanted to be a doctor but you forced me to. That’s why I had to leave and take my family to Queensland. But now I’ve got kids of my own I sort of understand how it is to want what you think is right for them. So I forgive you, Dad.
–You forgive me! You ungrateful pup! So I suppose now it’s my turn to forgive you for running off and taking my grandchildren away so I never got to know them. You make sure you hang on to your family as they grow up and keep them if you have to move bloody mountains to do it. Anyway go off and have a chat to you mother.
Then it was Alice’s turn and the tears ran down her face and Antonio, the husband, held his arm around her. These two are going to be survivors.
–I love you Dad. We’re going to miss you. Heaps. And I want to tell you I’m pregnant and if it’s a boy we want to name it after you and if it’s a girl we’ll call it after Antonio’s mother.
–And I love you too, I said. And I think that she heard me because she shivered.
There were more but I won’t bore you with it. Except, wait! Here comes that bastard boss I had. This’ll be good.
–Goodbye James. I know we had our differences but far be it from me to speak ill of the dead so all I’ll say is you did a good job when you were here. I am sure some of your students will miss you, probably for the wrong reasons.
–Some of my students! Why don’t you just bugger off, you sanctimonious bastard hypocrite?
I felt so good saying that except for one thing. I wish I had said it when he could hear me. But maybe it was best left unsaid.