Originally titled, ‘Deadpan’, this is another story written for the Bartleby Snopes dialogue only competition. I changed the title because I thought it was too macabre, even for my dark sense of humour. I apologize for the enthusiastic use of ellipsis. I may have gone overboard with it to show pauses. Sorry about that …
I’ve dithered for several weeks about posting this, because it is very personal. But if I’m not going to carve open my chest and show my soul to strangers on ‘Tinterwebs, who am I going to show this to?
– Uh, how’ve you been? Oh gods … What am I doing? Talking to thin air and marble. I must be …
– You know, same old, same old. You?
– What? Um. Huh, I’m … okay, I guess. Sorry, I didn’t expect an answer.
– Well, ask a stupid question.
– Sorry, sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking. It feels … weird, being here. It’s not right.
– Can’t do much else, unless you start digging. But then, that would look odd. And unhinged. Think of your mother.
– Yeah. You’re right. I— it, uh, it looks nice round here.
– Don’t lie, you hate it.
– What do you mean?
– You know what I mean. Tell yourself whatever you like, but you know this isn’t the place for me.
– I didn’t have a choice. It was decided before I got here. Before I could get here.
– Yeah, I know.
– Besides, do you think anyone would have listened to me?
– They might have.
– Don’t lie to me either, Dad. They wouldn’t have listened. They barely did for forty years, so why would they now?
– Is this the time to complain about your brothers?
– Suppose not. I guess I’m just jealous of them. Because they got to know you longer.
– Well, I tried.
– Did you? Then again, did I?
– We were close when you were little.
– Yeah, could hardly separate us during the summers. I always wanted to go along with you. And then …
– When you grew up, no … I guess neither of us tried after that.
– And now …
– Don’t make a fuss now. Don’t cry for me. There’s no point.
– Sorry, I can’t help it. Seeing you like this.
– Nothing can be done now. Don’t make a fuss, like I said. I never liked it when people made a fuss.
– It’s weird, the things you think of.
– Like what?
– I knew – we all knew – that you never liked a fuss. But I’ve just realised I don’t think you’ve ever said that.
– Said what?
– ‘Don’t make a fuss.’
– What do you mean?
– It’s like those movie or book quotations that seeped into general knowledge, but were never actually said. Like ‘Beam me up, Scotty.’ Kirk never actually said that. Or ‘Play it again, Sam’ was never actually uttered in “Casablanca”. There are others, Shakespeare mostly, which people misquote all the time, believing they’re true. But you never said, ‘Don’t make a fuss’, and we all believe that you did.
– You’re over-thinking things. As usual.
– Thanks, Dad. Criticism never goes out of style.
– Were you always this acerbic?
– Have you ever used that word in your life?
– Don’t mouth off.
– C’mon, Dad. Don’t feed me a bullshit line.
– Watch your mouth. I’m still your father.
– Yeah, and I learned most of my expletives from you and hockey. Couldn’t sit there and watch it with you some days. You got so angry at the television, and I hated that feeling of aggression. I’d go out, just to get away from it.
– What are you babbling about?
– Hockey and swearing, Dad. Oh, never mind, that was a long time ago.
– Not like there’s anything new we can talk about now.
– Stop. You shouldn’t be bitter.
– Why not? You standing there, and you get to leave. I’m stuck here, strangers on either side of me, and nothing else to do.
– Are you getting this from me?
– What do you mean?
– Is this just me projecting these thoughts onto you right now? Because I know I’d be bitter.
– Well, you’re the one standing over a grave talking to yourself, probably answering your own questions as well. So, I’m not entirely certain who is the most balanced of individuals right now.
– You are more acerbic.
– Yeah, well, you’ve got the vocabulary all right here for me to pick through.
– Makes it easier to be understood. I can use your own language, your usual patterns, to make sure that you get what I’m saying.
– Well, that’s both odd and creepy.
– Isn’t just? A bit of irony that we finally connect after my death.
– That’s not irony, Dad. Just an unfortunate coincidence.
– Yeah, I guess. When you first … left … (died)
– Speak the truth. It gets easier if you say it out loud. The first time is the roughest.
– When you died … I could hear you at the weirdest times. Saying the most random things. Mainly about stuff that didn’t get done. Mostly about making sure that Mum looked after herself, did nice things, took her mind off you. Off the absence of you. But, I gotta say, you were loud, insistent, and painful. And you had a really terrible sense of timing. Once, it was so bad that I nearly dropped in a heap when we were out. But I couldn’t, because Mum was there, and I didn’t want to hurt her. I didn’t want to tell her …
– It’s something to do with breaking ties. Right after death, we’re still mostly here, shouting to be heard. I guess I couldn’t control it. I was gone too fast and didn’t get to say goodbye …
– What was that? I can’t hear you. Your voice keeps fading in and out now, like bad radio reception. I can’t be sure it’s you or just me filling in the blank silence. Is it weird that I’m putting words into your mouth? (A mouth with lips sewn shut.)
– Don’t. Don’t think like that.
– You can hear that? Then why am I talking?
– I told you. I can pick through your head. Makes it easier for both of us.
– It didn’t even look like you that day. Lying there. You didn’t look asleep, just … waxy.
– Don’t dwell. Don’t make a fuss. Don’t think on it. The spirit is gone and what is left is just…
– Eloquently put. Think of the Klingons.
– Klingons? Really? Okay, Dad, stop poking around in the trivia of my mind. It’s freaking me out.
– I’m just trying to get you to understand.
– I know. It still hurts though …. Am I going mad?
– Nah. You’re as sane as me.
– Funny guy. I’m dying up here.
– Hey, don’t joke about that. You know what they say.
– Yeah. The dead don’t like the living.
– Bingo. I am glad you came to see me.
– Couldn’t come all this way just to visit Mum and not you. Besides, I’m not a coward.
– Never said you were. Never said that at all.
– You’ve still been helping me, haven’t you?
– I can hear the grin, Dad, even if I can’t see it. Thanks for that.
– No worries. Go, before you make more of a fuss.
– Miss you. I’ll be back next year.
– And I’ll be here. Where else am I going be?