When Alfie opened his bedroom curtains, he had seen nothing in the greenery of his back garden that could possibly suggest he was about to get off on the wrong foot. Or even twist his bad ankle, slide ass over tit down his own stairs and slam unceremoniously into the front door to have the morning’s post deposited onto his aching head.
In the moments following his spectacular fall, Alfie could do nothing but blink in astonishment. And then he did a slow check of potential damage. He wiggled his toes, he flexed his knees (a satisfying pop but neither seemed to have suffered immediate damage). He thought his greatest risk was to his hips but he was able to shift to a sitting position without the usual moan from his posterior which he had grown so used to since he reached the grand age of three score and four. His wrists and elbows seemed fine and he had used his shoulders to sit up without a hint of pain. His neck seemed fine and when he wriggled his jaw back and forth, the only thing that happened was that a silver filling dislodged and was spat without manners on to the dingy carpet. Who would ever know?
Alfie shook his head slowly back and forth as if in disbelief. Looking up the stairs from which he had slid, he could only think that he could not have survived such an adventure as a young man full of youth and promise let alone as an old man on, as it were, his very last legs.
The problem with Alfie was that he didn’t know he hadn’t survived the fall. He really was dead but life was about to get far more interesting.
Alfie stood and walked away from his corporeal self without as much as a good bye. He went up the stairs down which he had fallen only a few minutes before and went into the kitchen to make himself a pot of tea. On such a miraculous morning, he deserved to be tucked up warm and safe, drinking a nice, sweet brew.
He reached for the switch to click the kettle on but discovered there was something wrong with the switch. For the life of him, he just couldn’t get the damn kettle to start. He tried several times, each time getting more and more frustrated and never once thinking that he was no longer a part of this physical world. Until he got so angry that he grabbed the kettle’s handle to hurl it into the rubbish bin. His hand passed straight through.
“Oh my,” said Alfie. With a very steady poke, he jabbed at the kettle and was amazed to see his entire finger enter through the side. He stuck his whole arm through and out the other. He wiggled his fingers on the other side and craned his neck to get a better view of his forearm completely contained within the kettle. Alfie removed his arm from the kettle and did what he normally did when he was perplexed: he drummed his fingers on the nearest available surface. For a few seconds, he couldn’t quite fathom what was missing. And then it hit: the rhythmic drumming sound was completely absent.
“Oh my,” he said for the second time. He really wanted to sit but if his hand went through a kettle, surely his bum would go through a chair and he would be sprawled out on the floor. Looking at his feet, he started to understand the first rule of being a ghost: ghosts float. He looked at the kettle longingly and then floatingly sat down at the same chair he had been eating his breakfast in for the past thirty years. He didn’t fall through. He merely floated on top of it.
When he was a young lad, Alfie had wondered what it would be like to be a ghost. He thought of all the pranks he would have liked to play on his friends and family. He would have liked to sneak up on his mother and swap a few of her knickknacks around just to freak her out a little. He would have liked to hide in his brother’s wardrobe and emerge screaming like a demented demon just as he was down to his skivvies. Alfie laughed out loud and then stopped abruptly—he didn’t like to think he could be dead and laugh at the same time.
“Well maybe I’ll have some peace and quiet,” he said in his empty kitchen. The thought was comforting yet disturbing at the same time. When he was younger he had friends but lately. . .
As a lad, Alfie as a ghost would have liked to smack the backsides of all his sister’s friends as they bent over to retrieve dropped items. Not just a little smack but a loud, stinging crack across their flanks. Alfie threw his head back and laughed uproariously. Oh he was going to have some fun! But then the saddest thought came to him: none of his sister’s friends were left, his parents had died long ago as had his brother and sister. And his wife. Who on earth would he prank now?
There was a strange, morbid urge from deep within him to check on his body. Would it really be there? Perhaps he was just having a silly nightmare or, maybe even entered a parallel universe. Thinking of his hand passing through the kettle made him shudder. It had seemed so real. When he looked down at what was now passing for his body, it all seemed solid enough but yet he knew the real body he had enjoyed so much in his youth, less so in his old age, was lying at the bottom of the stairs.
The nice girl who had dropped off his Sunday roasts had always said he should consider getting a stair lift. Alfie had scoffed at the idea, insisted he was still fit and healthy enough to get up and down the stairs. She had carried his dinner, trailing the bland smell of over cooked vegetables, up his stairs and he had followed, sternly telling himself not to look at her glorious backside as it wiggled first to one side and then to the other as she ascended.
She had stood at this very table, smiling as she waited for him to catch up. When he did, she always made a fuss of the dinner setting. She’d place the dinner on the counter and then clear his table for him, empty ashtrays, place the dirty dishes from the previous week on the side of the sink to be washed later (Alfie rarely washed dishes as he used the same ones over and over again—what was the point if he was only one there?). She’d wipe the table, then wipe it dry before placing a colourful plastic tablecloth over it. Even he had to admit this simple act transformed his shabby little kitchen. She’d get a napkin out, lay out the cutlery and motion for him to take his seat. When he was seated, she would ceremoniously present his dinner to him as if it were some great fancy treat and not the same old menu he had eaten all his life. Of course, he had no choice but to pretend he was grateful. Had he been alone, he would have read a newspaper as he picked at his dinner for the rest of the day, not bothering with cutlery but using his fingers, wiping the excess gravy on his trousers or loosened shirt as he ate.
Alfie thought back to his body that lay at the foot of the stairs. Would this sweet young girl be the one who found him? Suddenly, for the first time, he felt a little frightened. Would she scream? Oh what an undignified bag of bones he had been. He was sure he had never thanked her for her well intended consideration and would have slapped his own forehead in despair if he thought it would make a satisfying thud.
If his memory had served, and as of late if often didn’t, it was Monday morning. As far as he could recall, he was not expecting visitors for the coming week. As far as he knew, the girl with the Sunday roast would be his next visitor. She would knock and get no answer. She’d take his dinner away and then what? What would she do then? Maybe eat it herself? Alfie found this difficult to believe. Surely such an attractive young girl had a home with a strapping lad to keep her company and probably a few children to go home to.
He silently drummed his fingers again.
She’d probably bin the contents of his dinner and go home to her hunky husband and adoring children. She’d take the glazed ham of her own Sunday dinner out of the oven and let it set while she gently steamed the side vegetables to crunchy perfection. She’d have Yorkshire puddings! Oh yes she would!! They would have risen uniformly, and be just lightly tanned on the tops but firm and crispy from the fat on the bottom. Bread pudding, she would have bread pudding. And homemade bread on the side that was just warm enough to melt the welcoming butter. The gravy would be thick and salty enough from the ham that no extra condiment would be necessary. The table would have been lovingly and enticingly set by her adoring children. The family would sit altogether at the table, pray over their beautiful meal and eat.
Alfie chuckled to himself again.
He knew modern families did not enjoy Sunday dinners together anymore. At least not in his family. When his son was around, he’d pick up his old man and they’d have dinner with his young family. The wife, well she wasn’t up to much. A bit of a porker and might he say, a bit too much of a drinker for his liking. Dinners seemed to come from packets or jars, judging by the amount of glass and tin in the recycling box. The kids ate in front of the telly and barely acknowledged his existence. The kids were porkers too, too much television and not enough fresh air.
What did he expect? His son was his son and the decisions he made were based on his own experiences. Alfie had often wanted a “do over,” a second chance. He would have liked a practice inning before everything got serious and undoable. But that’s not the way the world rumbled, he thought bitterly. His grandchildren would realise far too late that Sunday dinners with the grandfather mattered far more than whatever stupid buttons they were pressing.
Alfie felt a warm trickle on his face and was aggrieved that in his sorry state he could still cry and still feel the heat of bitter tears. And how did he appear to his own grandchildren? He was, as he had already admitted once this morning, that he was little more than an undignified, ungrateful bag of bones. No wonder his son moved his family so far away from him! Somehow his own family had felt his seething ingratitude and holier than thou criticism. Oh the hypocrisy! Now he definitely knew he didn’t want to see his decrepit old body broken at the bottom of the stairs. He had reached the end of his life and he was no longer of interest to anyone and the only person who might miss him had her own perfect family to go home to. What he would do to have a chance to sit at her table and sample her Yorkshire puddings and crunchy side vegetables!