Intermission - The silent heart

In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you I'm dead. In fact, I've been dead for over a day now.

“You're not dead. Will you stop with that already.”

That's Matt. He can speak to dead people.

“I'm not... I can't speak to dead people! Enough already!”

Poor guy. You can see the strain the gift places on him. Temper tantrums and such.

“Ok then ass clown, tell me how you died?”

I can't remember how I died. Of course, Matt still can't wrap his pudgy head around that – when it comes to ghost whispering, he isn't exactly Jennifer Love-Hewitt. Can you remember how you were born? It's the same with death. Matt's getting restless now, fidgeting in his seat.

“Why'd you stop taking your meds?”

Ah, well, I didn't think drugs could do me much good now, seeing as how I'm, oh, DEAD!

He stares up at the ceiling and lets out a silent scream.

“Ok, last question: how come, in this here cafe, the waitress saw you and took your order? You're eating food. That's not typical ghost behaviour, is it, Scott? How do you explain that? Does the waitress have the gift of seeing the dead, too?”

Of course she doesn't. Matt simply sees what he wants to see. He's in the denial stage of grief.

“Ah, for fucks sake, I'm sick of this bullshit! Keep it up, you'll lose all your friends, too,” he yells at me, before making a dash for the door.

That's good. That's for the best. He's moved onto the anger stage.

I finish my coffee then head towards the exit, just in time for the door to be shut in my face. Obviously they didn't see me. Well, of course they didn't. Guess no one ever said death was meant to be easy. The chill of winter grips me as I step outside. Times like these I wish I'd died in something other than my tennis gear – it doesn't offer much in way of warmth. I pull my socks up as high as they'll go and jog on the spot in an attempt to stay warm. Snow descends from the sky, bombs in a cold war, as I navigate the city streets. Ducking and weaving, I make my way through the crowd, avoiding people left and right as they push and shove their way past each other. More than a few times I nearly have people walk right through me. At least some things are the same in death as in life.

On the subway now, clatter from the tracks providing a background for my thoughts. If I weren't a local, I might worry I'd been cast down to hell. However, the smell that invades my nostrils is less brimstone, more urine and body odour. Yes, only the subway can make hell seem appealing. A map of the underground is posted next to the doors. From a distance the train lines look like arteries running through the heart of New York city; a heart that is surely rotting, going by what I can smell.

Back inside my apartment; finally back to a feeling of comfort and security. A feeling that's rare to find when you're dead. Yes, it's good to be home. My happy return is disturbed when I hear moaning. Diane. Poor Diane. I suspected she would take my death hard, but even I'm surprised by the great, heavy sobs coming from her. I make my way down the dark corridor into the kitchen. What cruel torture to watch her in pain – wanting desperately to comfort her, but being unable. I enter the room to witness my psychiatrist doing her doggy style.

His sweaty butt jiggles around like a novelty jelly dessert gone wrong. The moaning gets louder. She's faking it, I can tell. Lord knows she faked it enough with me. I stand there, painfully numb, a horrible contradiction of feelings as he continues his robotic thrusts. I move slightly to my right in an attempt to glimpse his dick. I really hope he has really small one. (He always did say I was emotionally immature.) I watch as he begins to slide it out of my girlfriend. And continues to. Still going. And now... no still withdrawing. Hmph. Well, I hear women care more about girth anyway.

It's then that I notice one other thing: no condom. She always made me wear one. She trusts him. Something about the whole scene makes me realise this isn't some heat of the moment Scott's-dead-so-I-need-company shag. No. Everything suggests it's just a run-of-the-mill shag from an ongoing affair. An affair that must have started when I was alive. The anger builds in me as their moaning increases and just as he seems past the point of no return, ready to shoot life into her, I explode. In a burst of poltergeist energy I send a chair flying across the room. She screams. My naked shrink turns in shock.


“How long have you been feeling disconnected from life, Scott?”

How long you been doing my girlfriend, shrink? He sits in front of me, wearing a dressing gown and a smug I just screwed your girlfriend expression.

“Now, Scott, Diane explained the situation to you on Tuesday. You're not supposed to be here. You're meant to be staying with Matt. You have no right to enter unannounced. Technically you're trespassing.”

He's talking to a ghost and he wants to get anal. Well, too bad for him. I know that's the one thing Diane won't do.

“I can understand you wanting to lash out at Diane and me, Scott. That's natural. But this delusion – we need to address it.”

He keeps saying my name. It's so pompous, don't you think?

“Remember when you lost confidence in your painting ability? You came in worked up, convinced that your hand had fallen off, but that wasn't the case now was it?”

I clinch my new robotic hand into a fist. I don't see his point.

“My point is, breaking up is hard. It can feel like you've had your heart ripped out, but it'll heal. Your heart is still there, it hasn't stopped beating. This delusion of yours is your mind finding a way to avoid dealing with the real, underlying issues. The hard issues.”

I get up from the couch. I'm tired of all this talk. I want to leave before he decides to start charging me for his time.

I'm almost out the door when Diane approaches me meekly. Here we go. Here come the waterworks and the pleas for forgiveness. Maybe that's why she can still see me. I'm meant to haunt her. That's my unfinished business. She holds out her hand. Here we go.

“Please, can you give me your keys to the apartment?”

I really hate my after life.

“Don't make me change the locks, Scott.”

I hand them over. It's stupid. This is all just so stupid. Does she not realise I could just float through the damn door if I wanted?

Somehow I end up back at the cafe. I don't know where else to go. Nursing a coffee, I sit alone in one of the corner booths. Just me and my silent heart.

“Please tell me you're normal.”

Huh? I look up to discover a perky blonde girl in her early thirties, beaming up at me. The sort of girl that would've made my heart race, once upon a time.

“Sorry. It's just a thing my shrink has me doing – overcoming shyness. I have to approach a random stranger every day and start a conversation. This way, you end up defending that you're normal – ignoring the fact that what I'm doing is kinda bizarre. Brilliant, don't you think?”

She talks fairly fast, but that's the only noticeable sign of nervousness. Guess her shrink is better than mine.

“Thanks. So now you know my deal, what's yours? It's just, you seem kinda bummed out. Feel free to tell me to go away though, if you want – I know it's none of my business.”

I don't want her to go. I'll spill the beans if it means she stays.

“That's so harsh, boning your shrink. Well, I guess more, he was boning her. Did you have any idea?”

I should have, really. I mean things had been going downhill with Diane for ages. She always hated how much time I'd spend on my art. Or as she would call it, my 'art', the quotation marks implied from her tone of voice. I hoped things would get better when I caved and gave up painting to take on a soulless job at a bank, but really it just got worse. Maybe it was my fault – I started to resent what my life was becoming and she was an easy target to blame. Truth is, our relationship had been decaying for a long time. I feel like I've been sleepwalking through the last ten months of my life.

“Oh my god! That's awesome! Well, not awesome – like you're life's fucked. But this is your 'And then' moment. That's awesome.”

My what?

“In the movies, when things seem at their worst, it's always right before they change for the best. I think it's called the 'And then' moment. Like, um, in The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy is captured by the wicked witch and then she's like, hello bucket of water. Or in Ghostbusters, they're all about to get killed by the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, and then they realise they can save the day by merging their energy streams. This is just your 'And then' moment. Maybe you'll become a famous artist or meet the girl of your dreams. Or both. The point is, you've escaped a job and girl you don't love. That's got to be for best. Now just follow your bliss.”

I smile at the thought of it as she looks down at her watch. Could life ever be that simple?

“Oh shit! I've got to run. But hey, I'm usually here Friday lunchtimes chatting to randoms, so keep an eye out for me if you're in. Be nice to chat to someone who's not a stranger.”

It's funny. She doesn't seem shy.

“Must be something about you that brings me out of my shell.”

She quickly slides out of the booth.

“Nice meeting you.”

A kiss on the cheek and she's gone.

And then my heart starts to beat.

I step outside and the late afternoon sun warms my skin. I feel different; somehow set apart from the all the 9-5 office drones dressed in suits, all rushing along the streets so fast they never stop to see the breathtaking sunset on display. I pity them. I used to be them.

They rush down the street and keep the city pulsing, never slowing down to realise they're dying on the inside. Now I know the truth. Everywhere I look, I see dead people.

But I've never felt more alive.

2 Response to Intermission - The silent heart

  1. Luke says:

    Ok, so I wrote this story was because Into the Black (ch 1) was a finalist in a short story comp, so I wanted a new story to enter for the next one, in the hope of doing better. I decided one of the reasons why Into the Black probably lost was because it was too jokey/lightweight and not literary enough (think other writers would complain if it won). So I wanted to try writing something more mature and somehow ended up with a story filled with dick jokes. Hmm. I fail.

    Anywho, if you're interested (and I don't blame you if you're not!), it's a rewrite of an old idea I was going to write back in uni. Back then the idea was that you think it's about a guy who can't move on from a breakup and is stalking his girlfriend, but the twist was he was a ghost (and can't move onto the afterlife). Then the sixth sense came out and suddenly I had a hunch everyone would guess the ending! So I decided to try rewriting it now, but with the twist being that he was alive – and along the way it turned more into a comedy and goodbye any attempt at being mature and winning comps! :)

  2. Jimzip says:

    Hahah. Wow. Well I don't consider it a fail by any means, I thought it was touching. Sure, the crazy kitchen sex was unexpected, but on the whole this would be a great contender in any literary comp. The structure is great, and I like how you played with the conventional speaking format & mixed it up a little.

    Too bad Into the Black didn't make it! But hey, awesome that it got selected anyway. It's a pity people don't always look at humour as a challenging literary device, because it really is. To get people to actually laugh while they're reading is a tough feat, but I constantly find myself doing so while reading ItB. (That's your new acronym btw. Enjoy.)

    Anyway long post short, I liked it! :)

    Jimzip :D