On a damp rainy evening of Octombre 16th 1984 Reginald Nib found himself smothered under an avalanche of condolatory letters, each briefly but passionately touching upon the subject of his untimely death.
Naturally, Reginald was most surprised: he wasn’t used to seeing any mail apart from monthly bills and furniture catalogues that at some point he’d started diligently labeling, shelving and rearranging to entertain himself during the few lonely hours that stretched indefinitely between his arrival home and bedtime.
He arranged the letters on his desk and picked one at random. It was from aunt Judy and it went as follows:
I was utterly crushed and shocked to hear the news of your tragic demise. Please accept my deepest condolences and do let me know if there’s anything I can do to help. On the bright side, your horrid death has brought me in touch with my own mortality, therefore I shall be off to Greece and hence unable to attend your funeral. I hope my absence won’t upset you. Have a great passing and see you on the other side!
Reginald stared dumbly at the letter for a while, his eyes tracing the bold outline of Aunt Judy’s “do” and “anything” vaguely searching for a clue to the mysterious outburst of postal grief on his behalf. He put the letter down and surveyed the rest of the envelopes; their numbers were plentiful. Reginald felt somewhat pleased with the unexpected surge of attention to his persona, though the bitter aftertaste of its mysterious origin left him feeling rather depressed.
He couldn’t think of anyone industrious enough to come up with a prank of such grand proportions, neither did he find it amusing. “Perhaps I am dead after all,” he thought and decided to check with the mirror. He wasn’t. More than that, Reginald could interact with any object of his toilet with the same ease of habit as in the past. To further prove the point, he squeezed a thick tricolor onto his toothbrush and felt the minty sensations tickle his sensitive gums celebrating life itself with every gentle, yet confident stroke.
Satisfied with his evident vivacity, he read a few more letters from his colleagues that touched generously upon the warmth of Reginald’s personality and the sharpness of his senses, all in past tense, a detail which somehow added a darker overtone to the innocent art of written adulation. He threw the remaining letters into the bin and dozed off to sleep.
This slumber didn’t last too long, for as soon as his mind descended into the fluffy fields of deep sleep, the sharp insistent ring of the telephone brought Reginald’s feet back into his slippers. “Oh Reggie dear, I just can’t believe you’re not with us anymore. What am I supposed to do?” Reginald tried to assure his mother that he’s far from dead, perhaps just a bit annoyed and slightly weary, but nevertheless positively alive and to a reasonable extent, healthy. “Oh, poor, poor Reginald. You’re so very kind, but there’s no deceiving your mother’s heart. Ah, do you remember when you were little you loved so much the rabbit...” He put the phone on the floor and covered its trembling membrane with a towel, thus isolating himself from the thunderous griefstorm and providing his mother with a more considerate and patient (though slightly moist) confabulator.
Next morning Reginald woke up before an awful headache that he briefly attributed to a rapidly growing brain cancer, an acceptable thought in the light of recent virulent communications. His concerns gained weight after he’d passed a commemorative wreath planted neatly in front of his house. Enraged, he hurled it into the gutter and instantly felt ashamed of such barbaric behavior. Presently, he picked it up and put it back in place under reprobative gaze from one of his neighbors. “Really now, I understand you must be upset with your violent death, but that’s no way to honor the deceased! You never did have any respect for yourself, I must say. Not to mention that I personally chipped in and even had a certain say in the wreath-design, of course Rita from apt 12 wanted something more vulgar or as she put it...” Reginald didn’t catch the details of Rita’s taste in wreath decorations as he headed swiftly for the bus stop.
There he was met with a handful of sympathetic eyes, multiplied by 3.5 after entering the bus. As he made it through the vehicle, commuters took off their earphones, set aside newspapers or books and those unoccupied by any means of distraction stretched their faces into several directions to express their mute solemn bereavement. The howling silence of the usually animated bus, the watery eyes fixed on his deadbeat face, above all, the pity, the pity, the pity! It was all much too unbearable for Reginald and his misery was pushed to its limit when the nice old lady next seat overcame her diffidence and asked “So what’s it like... Being dead?”
At this point Reginald jumped, his veins swollen with primal rage and screamed “I’m not dead, you fucking cretins! Do you understand? I’m not dead! I can walk and talk and digest and... here, what does this smell like?!” He leaned over the terrified old lady and breathed heavily into her face. Having exhausted his lungs, he grabbed her by the scarf and shouted “What does it smell like, huh?! Worms and decay and whatsit? No! It smells like mint! Fucking mint!”
The driver and a couple of enthusiastic teenagers helped Reginald off the bus and asked him politely to go home or see a post-mortal therapist. The bus was already out of sight when Reginald stopped waving his bony fists and shouting in a hysterical desperate voice “Fucking mint!”
His late arrival at work irritated Reginald beyond all measure; he took pride in his punctuality, in fact he had a reputation of such an outstandingly generic and talentless employee that his exemplary attendance was also his only merit. But what a merit! For 24 years Reginald had entered his cubicle at exactly 8:59am and left at 6:01pm, not a second too early, never a day absent, never a lunchtime too wasteful, never a coffee break too long. Naturally, Reginald accounted the sterile state of his cubicle to this late arrival. His stack of pins, his stapler, even his calendar, so delightfully abundant with cute kitties doing cute things, all his precious possessions must’ve been instantly removed at the news of his absence at 9:01am. He sat in the corner and reflected on the callousness of his employers and the terrifying emptiness of his dear old cubicle, now so alien, empty and catless.
Attracted by Reginald’s quiet sobbing, the CEO came into the cubicle, armed with his favorite cup and followed by a herd of colleagues. “Reg, my man, what are you doing here? You’re supposed to be dead.”
“But I’m not. I’m not dead!” Reginald protested wiping tears off his face and grabbing the CEO by his silky white sleeve. “Can’t you feel my touch, I’m alive as a... a thing that’s... alive!”
“I can see that, old man, but we have the papers here and let me tell you, the news of your death set a rather saaad atmosphere around the office this morning, so don’t go complaining to HR that you’d been ignored, huh.” The latter remark, followed by a well-timed wink set the entire office shivering with fits of joy and left Reginald feeling so very lonely that he stormed out into the street looking for a place where he could weep in solitude.
Outside, a funeral procession blocked his path and he was hardly surprised to discover that it was his own. Staring pensively at the empty casket and his relatives, all very sharp and handsome in black suits and black dresses, he joined the softly mumbling crowd and felt terribly sorry for himself, a feeling he’d often humored around lunchtime.
He spotted a priest in front of the procession and came up to him hesitantly.
The man had a hauntingly friendly air about him, as if he’d won a lottery before attending the service. The holy man spotted two beseeching eyes and said: “Good funeral isn’t it?”
“I guess. It’s just that...” Strangely enough, Reginald found it hard to finish his sentence, the words “not dead” stayed close to his lips, yet now, in the midst of his own procession he started doubting his senses. He mused on the vast indisputable signs of death and the miserably incompetent counter-argument manifested by his regular bodily functions when a shrill cry broke these speculations.
“Oh, how nice of you to come, Reggie! I knew, I just knew it wasn’t like you to miss your own funeral!” He freed his arm from his mother’s clutches and headed away from the approaching crowd of sobbing relatives and acquaintances. They followed him with mindless urgency, wailing incomprehensive stocksounds of grief & sorrow.