“And for goodness sake, Dermot – don’t forget the sausages.”
She said it as if he were a child – a silly, forgetful child. He knew very well it was the AGP Society barbecue on Saturday, to be held on his patio with the newly-laid decking. African Greys. Why would anyone start an African Grey Parrot Society? Lydia spent more time with that ridiculous bird than she did with him. Anyway, what kind of name was Clive? It should have been called Smoky or Rambo or something.
He dropped a family sized bag of crisps into the trolley, closely followed by a six-pack of Turkish Delight. Something for Lydia to get her teeth into. Something other than him. What had happened to those bright, heady days, early in their marriage? Days – not to mention nights – spent together. She had laid claim to the master bedroom and he had to make do with the piddling one at the back, which smelled mysteriously of wine gums.
Close to midnight; only one acned lad on the till and two guys talking tête à tête by the Australian wines. He sidled past them, nipping quickly into the next aisle to pick up a bottle of brandy that Lydia need not know about, before resuming his course towards the freezers. Potato waffles, fish in breadcrumbs, peas…ah, beefburgers. He was getting warmer. The sausages had to be around here somewhere. He scanned the inner expanse of the freezer.
“Hankering for a Marmite sandwich,” he heard one of the men say.
“If we’re talking sandwiches,” the other said, “I’ve got a real craving for…” He lowered his voice and Dermot made an educated guess at the giggled whisper.
Ah, there it was; the last pack of sausages, right there, in the bottom of the freezer. Dermot stretched to reach. He was not a tall man, not long of limb or finger either, as Lydia constantly reminded him. He huffed as he leaned forward, his scalp chilling as it dipped into the mist-cold air. A little further, just another inch or so. He raised himself onto his toes…
And with a misbegotten slip, he tumbled in head first. Immediately, he opened his mouth to scream, but his tongue froze to the ice. No shelf-stackers, no other shoppers, only the two men, a couple of aisles away, too intent on flirting to hear his muffled cries and certainly didn’t notice the stick thin little legs flailing in the air.
“Lll, lll,” he called, but no one heard him and shortly the two guys tripped off together and the store was silent. Dermot heaved himself up… and a mule kicked him in the chest. Or so it felt. He slumped, hardly able to breathe. He opened his mouth to call for help, but all that emerged was a frail squeak. So this is it, he told himself, strangely calm. A heart attack. This is how I die. Minutes ticked by and slowly, as Dermot’s eyes glazed over, he felt a blessed warmth surge through him…
He floated upwards, and from his new vantage point, he could see himself; a sad, chilled body sprawled next to the solitary pack of sausages.
In life, he had been hazy of mind, but in death, all was sharp and clear and he knew exactly what to do. His body, a semi-transparent copy of the one he’d had in life, obeyed his every thought. He was aware of things, now; so many things. For instance, he knew now where Zambia was, even though he’d failed his Geography O-level; he knew that accountancy was astonishingly dull, in spite of its financial rewards – and he realised what a dismal excuse of a life he’d had with Lydia.
Floating was so much easier than walking – even easier than driving. No need to worry about the one-way system running through the middle of Burnley, he could just drift above it like a waft of air, sweeping over the top of Marks and Spencer, across town, up Manchester Road and through Scott Park, the trees reaching up, their branches like fingers trying to tickle him. It had stopped raining, though the roads still glistened under the streetlights. He reached his house in less than a minute and – here was another convenient factor – flew straight in through the locked door. He realised, with a ghostly grin, that Lydia couldn’t tell him off for forgetting his key any more.
Up the stairs he drifted and into his wife’s bedroom. She was fatly asleep, the covers thrown from her. Her tent-like pink winceyette nightie had ridden up, exposing her enormous naked bottom.
“Give us a kiss. Mummy’s baby,” shrieked the parrot as Dermot floated in and settled hoveringly by the window.
Lydia jerked awake, flesh jiggling. “What’s the matter, Clive?” she asked the parrot, which was frantically side-stepping on its perch. “Did you hear a burglar?”
“No, Lydia, it’s me.” Dermot hovered an inch from her face, but she stared straight through him.
“Mummy’s baby. Give us a kiss. Who’s a pretty boy, then?” squawked the bird.
Lydia struggled to her feet and padded across to the perch. Her flesh wobbled beneath the winceyette horror, which did nothing to flatter. Nevertheless, in his living state, this sight would have revved up his hormones. In death, he felt only relief that he would never have to partake in such an act with her again. How could I? He thought. How could I have made love to that woman? The last time he’d come close was two years ago, after the Baxter’s Christmas party, when she’d had too much punch – but even then it hadn’t been successful.
He floated after her, determined to be noticed and thrust his face up against hers.
But the bird was going berserk, screeching and squawking, flapping its wings until Lydia unhitched it from the perch and it went fluttering up to the ceiling.
“Lydia,” Dermot said, in his most horrible moan. He now found he had the ability to morph his body into any shape he chose. He chose a slightly melting Vincent Price. Not much use. She didn’t react. Too interested in trying to coax that stupid bird down.
“Lydia,” he boomed, but it was no good. She obviously couldn’t hear or see him.
He slumped his shoulders. He yearned to frighten her – terrify her – in retaliation for the humiliation she’d heaped upon him, but even in death, he was impotent.
He looked up at the bird, circling the light bulb.
Hm. Perhaps there was another way?
Without knowing how he was doing it, he floated upwards and slipped into the bird’s consciousness – all feathers and smelling of guano. How easy it was to snuff out that small soul and send it on its way. This body was a tight squeeze, but he’d get used to it.
“Lydia,” he said, in a Punch and Judy squawk, “you’re a fat, unpleasant woman with the charisma of recycled toilet paper.”
“C-Clive?” she whimpered, clutching at the brass knob on the end of the bed to steady herself.
He flapped down, settled his clawed feet into the flesh of her shoulder, cocked his head, then stabbed forward and pecked her hard on the eyebrow. She let out a scream. This was going to be fun. He would peck her, poop all over her pillow, pick at her precious embroidered bedcovers and generally mess with her head.
“Clive,” she wailed, “what on earth’s got into you?”
Hah. Did she really think he was going to tell her? “Ahk,” he squawked. “Who’s a pretty boy, then?”
G.L. Sheridan asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work