There is a man where I work who is going to die.
Obviously we are all going to die, from old age or disease, defenestration or double decker bus, but this man has taken mortality to the level of art. People watch him with a mild, clammy horror, waiting for him to die.
I don’t think he knows that he is going to die. Death is a distant problem, something that happens in a foreign land, but he thinks that you can visit death, go and have a look and then come back again.
The thing is, he is killing himself. Many of us are, with some vice or other, but he attacks himself on many fronts at once.
The Man Who Is Going To Die has smoked all his life and he loves his ciggies.
He’s not one of these smokers who turn themselves inside out as they pull desperately on the filter, drawing every last gasp of nicotine from every single cigarette.
No, he savours it.
I’ve seen him in working men’s clubs where the smoke hangs in the air like the clouds of Mount Fuji, where you can stand at the bar with your subsidised pint and not quite see the drinkers and gamblers at the beaten copper tables, where the drinkers and gamblers have to breech the surface of the smoke to see the telly, see the scores, spouting smoke like leathery whales before gracefully submerging to the deeps of cards and glasses.
I’ve seen him shivering in sub-Arctic temperatures outside the pubs and clubs of Leeds, grey leather slip on shoes deep in ash-tainted slush. He looks like a philosophical penguin, shivering slightly, drawing carefully on his Silk Cut, staring out across car parks or rusting industrial units with his sad, watery eyes, slowly and gently dying.
The Man Who Is Going To Die is proud of his eyes. He thinks they’re his finest feature. True, they are blue, and perhaps they might have caught a girl’s eye at some time in the past. Perhaps that girl paid him a complement about his blue eyes and he has remembered it. He can often be found in the shit-stained horror-holes that pass as toilets in the pubs and clubs and factories of Leeds, carefully applying eyedrops to those eyes before admiring his reflection in the cracked mirrors with their felt penned promises of violence and blow jobs, batting his eyes at himself, remembering how his eyes once looked, even though they now resembled over-fried eggs with dry, blue yolks.
It’s not just his eyes. He has a surprising amount of vanity for a short, dumpy man.
The Man Who Is Going To Die likes to tan. He’s had comments about his tan, not all of them favourable, but he only heeds the complimentary ones and passes the rest off as jealousy.
He puts time into that tan – time and pain.
He once came into the studio where I work and asked if I’d print off a couple of pictures of his grand daughter for him. He handed me a USB stick and directed me where to look.
There were the usual files that men clumsily keep on a sneaky USB – the porn, the addresses, the tally of wins and losses at cards and horses – and then I found the right file and clicked on it.
It was horrible.
I’d stumbled across his stash of torture pictures. A woman grimaced out of the screen at me, the skin cracking and peeling from her face which was one, whole, angry red sore. She looked like she’s been in a chip pan fire. I asked him why the fuck he had such horrible photographs.
He told me they were his holiday photos from Albafueira last year. The woman was his wife, fresh off the sun loungers. They were the first week photos, he said. The first week was always painful, he said. In the first week they had to burn of the white skin to get to the dark skin, he said. The second week was filled with a carefully regimed sun lounger positions and oiling, a ballet of burning, to ensure he got an all over tan. He showed me a picture of himself toward the end of the second week, laid out in Speedos with a beer in one hand, fag in the other, his great belly almost obscuring his little black trunks.
He looked like a hog roast.
A cancerous hog roast.
One of The Man Who Is Going To Die’s favourite holiday routines is reserved for when he arrives home. He and his wife have outfits chosen, laid out on the bed, ready.
They are their Asda outfits.
They put on their Asda outfits and go down to Asda and they do their Big Shop, slowly parading around that cavernous cathedral to consumerism, allowing all the other customers to get a really good look at their tans, their deep, dark, mahogany tans, verging on black, which is ironic seeing as he is one of the most shocking racists I know.
That is one of his favourite holiday routines.
His least favourite holiday routine is his visit to the doctor, where he has yet another suspicious mole cut out of his leathery hide while more stern warnings are poured into his deaf ears.
I once saw an Egyptian mummy in a museum. It had a very similar tan to The Man Who Is Going To Die.
I wonder if the archaeologists pulled open the sarcophagus and said, ‘ooh, he’s got a lovely tan! I wonder where he went on his holidays?’
The Man Who Is Going To Die doesn’t listen to the doctors. The doctors know nothing.
He had his varicose veins done a couple of years back because his lumpy legs were ruining his poolside look.
The doctor told him he had to take four weeks off work, take regular daily exercise to keep the blood circulating to the limbs or he would DEFINITELY get deep vein thrombosis and die an agonising death.
He took six weeks off work, didn’t walk an extra step and put on three stone from eating an entire Sarah Lee gateaux every day in front of Jeremy Kyle in between having his wife drive him to the pub and pick him up again.
And he didn’t die.
But he is going to.
I’ve seen The Man Who Is Going To Die tinker in the master fuse box for the factory, rummaging with a screwdriver, then seen a blinding flash before the whole factory goes silent. I’ve seen the screwdriver being dug out of a wall, the metal turned to magma. I’ve seen him sip sweet tea with his thin white hair stood on end, his blue yolk eyes bewildered in the leathery, scarred mask of a face.
He didn’t die.
But he is going to.
The reason I know he is going to die is because he peruses the paper like a crow, picking here, picking there, looking for something, someone, to catch his eye.
A familiar name.
He makes a note.
Didn’t his mate have a sister who married a bloke who was called Utterthwaite?
He makes a note.
His phone rings.
He makes a note.
The notes he is making is a Book of the Dead.
They are funerals.
He knows he can take time off work for funerals so he attends dozens of them. His black suit sees more action than an undertaker’s. His arse has sat on more pews than the pope’s.
But he only attends funerals on Fridays.
The Man Who Is Going To Die has a peculiar arrangement. He always goes to funerals with a woman on his arm, but never his wife. This woman has a similar obsession with funerals and will call him to let him know so-and-so has died, that the funeral is on Friday. He’ll book the day off work and put on his suit and he will wait.
The woman arrives, picks him up, and off they will go to the funeral.
They sit through the service together, arm in arm, his yellowing blue eyes mournful, her face obscured by a much-used veil.
Outside they will shake hands with all and sundry, offer muttered condolences, inspect the flowers and read the cards.
Such a shame. So young.
And then they will get in the car together and drive to The Wake.
The true reason for his obsession with funerals.
He will stand at the bar with the men and he will drink himself silly. The woman will mingle with people who do not know her, but her attire is right so she is welcome. The afternoon will wear on and tears and beers will be spilt, toasts raised and cheap sausage rolls will be crushed into the carpet. Eventually, inevitably he will feel at tug on the sleeve and he will know it is time to go, and the woman will lead him to the car, half propping him up, and she will drive him home and they will say their goodbyes until another friend dies and they will do it all again.
Now I wonder, why isn’t his wife worried by the presence of this woman? Why does she let him take Fridays off work, time and time again, to spend the day with this woman in black?
I think I know why.
You see, Death is a woman. Death is a woman in a little car. Charon has part exchanged the wooden boat for a low mileage Nissan Micra which she uses to ferry people to the afterlife, going halves on petrol money.
Death is giving The Man Who Is Going To Die warnings. Death is saying, ‘Change your ways! Give up the fags, the cancerous sun, the Sarah Lee gateaux and the sloth! Give up your careless, sloppy ways at work before it is too late!’
And does he take these warnings on board? Does The Man Who Is Going To Die repent, throw himself on the floor and beg Death for a second chance, promising to change his ways?
He takes advantage of the lift and gets shit faced at the bar.
So yes, The Man Who Is Going To Die is definitely going to die.
He just doesn’t know it yet.
I’ll let you know when it happens.
His funeral will be splendid.
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