Chapter One – The perks of being dead

The bang of the front door wrenched me from afternoon shower day dreaming with a shock. “Shit, he’s home.”

The water was abruptly silenced and I stood paralysed, straining to hear movement downstairs through the shimmer of the shower curtain. He shouldn’t have been back for hours. I heard footsteps bounding up the stairs and I hastily began arranging the shower gel and shampoo bottles so as to look untouched.

The slippery containers fought against my grasp as I chanted, “Aarrr this is bad. This is very bad.”

The bathroom door swung open and in walked Nicholas Cox. He was dressed in his tennis kit; skin glistening and mousy hair damp with perspiration. I remained behind the opaque safety of the shower curtain looking for any opportunity to slip away unnoticed. Peering through the milky plastic, I could see the crisp white of his shirt pulled over his head and cast to the floor, revealing a blushing silhouette of his bare torso. He was going to have a shower. Fuck. What the hell was I supposed to do now? I span around, eyes darting wildly; searching for an alternative escape route, but the solid lustre of tiled walls penned me in and fed the panic rising in my chest.

He walked round the tub and whilst pulling a towel from the rack with one hand, thrust the other past the curtain to turn on the water. I held my breath. He missed me by an inch. A fantasy swayed across my mind where his fingertips found my humid flesh and were appreciative of the discovery, not terrified.

Nicholas stepped into the bathtub and the curtain was sharply drawn back. I froze. He was intently studying the ingredients on a new shampoo bottle, oblivious to his surroundings and stepped into the water, turning his back to me. I always forgot how tall he was until he was this close. Plastering myself to the wall so there was enough room for the two of us, I tried not to create an avalanche of shampoo bottles skittling to his feet. The familiar scent of his body wash filled my skull and he was humming that song again, the one that’s been stuck in his head for days. I ached to touch him, see how warm he was, stand against him and feel the hot water running down my spine.

Eyes sealed shut to protect them from any residual soap lather, he had no idea I was standing behind him. My eyes were trying to focus on anything other than him, I knew I wasn’t supposed to be there, that I was an intruder but I had no clue how to get out of this situation. I was too far down the rabbit hole. Nick’s eyes were still closed in the bliss of the hot water, he turned and reached to turn the shower off. I held my breath. Although secretly wishing for him to touch me, he simply turned off the water and reached for his towel without incident. Just as I was silently peeling myself off of the bathroom tiles and playing human Jenga with assorted toiletry bottles, Nick abruptly stopped and turned around, wide-eyed and sensing that someone was stood uninvited behind him. He stared straight at me. Suddenly conscious of being naked, my eyes reverted to the floor, arms fumbling to conceal my nudity.

He couldn’t see me, Could he?

A droplet of water was hanging from his lips, a few soap suds still clinging to his collar-bone, hair slicked back. Nicholas took a step closer until we were nose to nose, closed his eyes, tilted his head and smelt the dense, tropic air.

“Perfume,” He mumbled with a smile on his face. “Where the hell’s that come from?”

Nick stood for a minute or two trying to figure out the origin of this feminine scent. Eventually after shaking his head with a confused sigh, he got out of the shower. I exhaled with relief; my pulse was racing, my breath was shaking, and my skin was flushed. That was close. I hadn’t had a call that close in a while. I had to step up my guard and be more careful or he was going to get suspicious.

This is when love hurts the most. When it throbs in your chest, weighs on your shoulders and you burn with morose yearning.When you love someone and they don’t see you. Loving someone who has no idea you exist. Not only do they not know you exist, but you don’t exist.

Because you’re dead.

Yep. Dead.

Look at all the famous love stories throughout history; Romeo and Juliet, Heathcliff and Cathy, Anthony and Cleopatra. They were all filled with disaster, tragedy left, right and centre, you would think death and timeless romance go hand in hand! But all of those romances started before one of them kicked the bucket, seeing as I carelessly snapped my neck before meeting the man I love, I’m fucked.

The dead falling for the living is unheard of and doesn’t exactly present a level playing field. I’m an apparition; a ghost, ghoul, spirit or spook. Whichever you prefer, but all day, every day I am stuck lurking in the house which is now owned by the Adonis that is Nicholas Cox. It’s solitary confinement with a guy I’m crazy about but powerless to tip the scales in my favour because I’m not real. I can’t kiss him before he leaves for work, or laugh with him over silly things, like the cupboard door that never closes or feel love-smug when he’s lost his keys and I know exactly where they are because I know him so well.

Nothing hurts more than unrequited love. Not even falling off a ladder, down a flight of stairs, through the banisters and to your untimely death . . . and I can personally vouch for that one. I have been incarcerated in the cottage I used to own for the past seven years after an exceptionally large spider decided to help me change a lightbulb. “A spider won’t kill you!” I’d been told for years, shame it actually took a spider killing me to prove my phobias authenticity.

The First perk about being dead: spiders run from me now.

But I digress; I was in my prime at twenty-five! I had a good job in the city, a mortgage on an amazing house and a cat. Also no boyfriend, I worked a lot, I wasn’t in terrific shape, I didn’t see my friends as much as I should have; it was less ‘prime’ and more that I was just too young to die if I’m honest. No wonder I had unfinished business. Just don’t ask me what it is, as after seven years I still have no bloody idea.

I realise this technically makes me over thirty, but I reject this logic and have decided to remain twenty-five. It’s not like I’m ageing.

How on earth was I supposed to know what my life’s incomplete tasks were when I didn’t even know what I wanted to do with my life? I wasn’t even that far into it, I was chugging along waiting for my epiphany whether it was a soul mate or a new career. Turns out it was snapping my neck. Go figure. And then I waited around like I had in life, hoping my unfinished business would come to me. Even hoped, once the dirty bowls in the sink were taken care of that would be me out of here, but no such luck. And to add to my spinster guise a little more, I managed to die in my comfortable, lazy clothes the day before pay day; leaving just cat food and the dried lentils from when I tried to be healthy for a week in my cupboards. Even Ms Havisham made an effort; got her glad rags on and set the table. Thank god I was found quickly or I would have laid there, chestnut curls matted with blood, hazel eyes glazed over like glass marbles and ornamental cuts and scrapes adorning my face, creating a new layer of freckles. Deflating like an unhappy, forgotten party balloon until my parents came round to dinner the following weekend.

Back to Mr Cox, he moved in a couple of years after I died. Apparently it’s quite difficult to sell a house where the last tenant fell to their demise down the stairs, but he does not believe in ghosts and had no problems living there. The irony of this is not wasted on me. However, I am a subtle haunting if I do say so myself, not a clanking chain or warbled wail to speak of. So he doesn’t actually notice our cohabitation, except my cat still lives in the house too, Nick adopted him and tends to get spooked out by mysterious purrs of affection for no apparent reason. Animals see the dead as we are normal people; think nothing of it, Children also see us up to a certain age. When kids start talking sense, they stop seeing us; so when adults start teaching them the importance of telling the truth and not lying (or telling the truth the adults don’t want to hear) they stop noticing.

It did feel a bit wrong at first, living with Nick. Especially when, like all people who live alone, one of the main bonuses is being able to walk around naked (I said I’m a ghost, not an angel.) but after a while, just like in a real relationship, you just don’t notice any more. It’s just Nick, My Nick I suppose. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate the magnificent spectacle, he is a stunning man. His eyes are so ridiculously blue it’s like looking into circular extracts of sky, seeing him bite his plump bottom lip when he thinks expels the breath from my body and even his nose is perfect. It’s masculine enough to confidently sit on his face but turns up at the end with a mischievous flick. I had always thought a good nose could make or break a face.

Every morning I would watch him dry the messy hair that got in his eyes as it needed a trim, stare at his razor for a second, then pull some faces in the mirror before commenting on how ‘stubble is in at the moment’. He would then eat his corn flakes whilst singing along to the radio, feed the fat cat, Hamish, and leave the house. I love routine, I loved settling into his routine and pretending it was my own; that I could influence and share it.

When Nick first moved in, it was insufferable; my castle had been invaded. It had been transformed from my feminine, bohemian escape from the world into a sharp bachelor bat cave, and I couldn’t use anything! Contrary to what films tell you, ghosts can touch and move things, we just have to have a relationship with the object before anything happens; it needs to be familiar or generic, which is why my things going and his things arriving disrupted my well-oiled routine. It’s taken years for me to develop enough familiarity to use the objects in the house. But I’m not enough of an idiot to do it all while Nick watching- that’s how you get exorcised and then its game over, no dice, K.O. Everything I use gets carefully put back in place, so he suspects nothing, luckily it also happens that people are pretty forgetful; so if the TV remote is not where he remembers, he won’t think anything of it and even rationalise it as his mistake. ‘That’s funny, I could have sworn I left it there. . . . Oh well.’

We even had almost conversations mostly shouting at the TV, voices raised in tense excitement.

Nick waved his arms in frustration at the television, “How could you not get that question!?”

I would reply, “Were you dropped on your head as a child?! The answer was ‘A’!”

“Obviously, it was Bermuda you stupid prick!”

“Change the channel,” I’d end with. “This show is annoying me!”

And he would change the channel muttering, “AH! This show is irritating!”

Most of the time when people are talking to themselves they are actually talking to the dead, they just don’t realise it. People say it’s a sign of madness, but everyone does it, and the lonely dead are genuinely appreciative of the conversation. I mean I can see other ghosts as well, I have neighbours and we talk; I’m not a complete shut in. We all piece together what we learn about being dead and pass on our knowledge to the next round of ghosts, hardly riveting. It’s not like a friendship, more like colleagues; acquainted but ambivalent to each other’s presence. Idle chat reminds me what being alive was like; getting wrapped up in conversations of the mundane and everyday with no one mentioning how Mrs Butler, on the corner, finally moved on. Turns out she was waiting for her husband, who’d have thought? They hated each other.

It’s a constant cycle, to be honest, new people arrive, old people move o;  It all takes different amounts of time, some have been here for hundreds of years. They don’t notice us as they are stuck in their own routines, and we call them ‘Keepers’ as they never found their unfinished business so never left. The hot gossip on the block is that the Keepers sometimes snap out of their deathly schedules to maintain the balance on behalf of a higher power; I just avoid them altogether. Having been dead for only 7 years, I’m considered the new kid on the block and I do not intend on getting in any sort of trouble.

I always intended to move on as quickly as possible but once Nick moved in things just stood still. It was like a long term relationship; comfortable and easy. I even sleep on the empty half of his bed, he doesn’t notice as we aren’t cold like, again, the movies have led you to think. If you walk straight through me you’d get a shiver, but that’s about it, we can’t interact with the living. It’s just comforting hearing his breathing and imagining how warm it must be under the covers beside him, I can close my eyes and imagine it’s real, and he knows that I’m there.

God, I sound like a stalker.

On the whole, being dead isn’t so terrible, though. I see what I want to see; I can have a bowl of his cereal for breakfast, I just have to make sure the bowl is back in the cupboard before he notices. The fullness of the box won’t change as I’m not actually eating anything, it’s my mind aiding my transition and keeping up normality.

The second perk of being dead: no need to watch what I eat.

I mean, I don’t need to eat, but it makes things feel less. . . dead. I also don’t need to shower, sleep, breathe, whatever, but I like to, and it’s the closest to living I can get. I also get to wear the outfit I was in when I died twenty-four seven, which isn’t too shoddy- comfy clothes, nothing flash.

The third perk of being dead: no laundry.

Thank god I wasn’t going to the opera or in the shower when I died, my heart goes out to Elvis, poor chap, hope he didn’t have to stick around or that could be embarrassing. I can pretty much continue life as normal. Except it’s not life, and I’m hopelessly in love with a guy who has a pulse. A real, functional pulse; not like mine which is just a memory.

Nick has had girlfriends on the scene before. Many, many girlfriends and needless to say, I didn’t like them. They were all after his money, he’s pretty well off. It seems in the years since my death, thanks to the economy (and my staggering DIY skills) my house was worth quite a bit more than I bought It for, and it became his fixer-upper, his project to find himself. But his money means sod all to me, and I can do sod all with it. The girls he brings home go to bed with Nicholas Cox, the successful businessman but after he calls them a cab I wake up next to Nick, my Nick.

None of them stuck around, he worked long hours and didn’t have time. I’d like to think that they are all too shallow for him . . . I’m not a mug, though. They are all beautiful, laugh at his jokes and are beautiful. I mentioned that twice to get across just how beautiful they are. It makes the gap between us a reality, stunted, distant conversations over bran flakes mean nothing when this girl can touch his leg and kiss him and . . . other stuff.

Yes, I’m jealous, but I file it away to the back of my mind as it’s not going to make a difference. Sometimes I scare the girls a little; I know I’m an awful person, but seeing their eyes grow wide when a lamp topples over with no explanation is just too much fun. I truly am an awful person.

But anyway, like a poltergeist of the heart I stick around as I have no choice; After dying I came back to the house so my unfinished business must be here or somewhere close by, I had no desire to amend my life’s regrets and leave Nick. The thought of never seeing him again makes me feel like I’m drowning, I can practically feel acidic water filling my lungs and suffocating me.

When mulling over such deathly issues I often went next door to see Edith, she was a little old lady that I lived next door to when I was alive. Actually she was the one who found me when I died; heard me crack through the railings of my stairs and called the police when I didn’t answer the door. She died a few years later of a heart attack and wasn’t terrifically bothered about finishing her business, just stayed in crocheting doilies all day so I could pop over for a chat whenever I felt down about life . . . or death rather.

“Evening dear!” She chirped as I strolled through the back door with a knock.

“Evening Edith,” I called back, “I’ll get the kettle on.”

Her house had been abandoned for years due to her movements about the building giving it a solid reputation of being haunted, so there was no worry of people spotting us anymore. Floral wallpaper was peeling from the walls and the scent of dust clung to the ageing carpets, I found it quite comforting.

She bustled into the kitchen and told me to go and sit down, herding me into the lounge. Her voice was that of a typical little old lady; sweet and bowed at the edges, a little akin to a parrot’s as she smoked 40 cigarettes a day when she was alive.

She was a fiery old bat when she wanted to be. “How’s ya boyfriend?”

“Still not my boyfriend, still very alive and I’m still very not,” I sank into the plaid armchair opposite hers. “How are the doilies going?”

The sparrow lady returned from the kitchen with two chipped bone china tea cups surrounded by swirls of steam, delicately placed them on the side table and threw herself down into her chair. “Well, thank you. Same as always.”

I sipped the hot brew, it should have burnt my mouth, but I couldn’t feel anything as significant as pain. I actually missed it. A swift smile and a raised eyebrow from Edith was usually her cue to spill the beans and talk to her.

“This dead thing is getting old. . . .” I sighed whilst tracing the painted swallows on the teacup with my fingertip.

“Ya know the solution? Finish ya business. Move on and bugger off!”

I laughed if only it was that easy. “I can’t even figure out what it is to solve it!”

Edith picked up her crocheting and continued weaving the white threads between her crooked fingers.

“It’ll happen,” she mused, “Brainy girl like you, you’ll figure it out.”

A little nod of thank you followed by a deep sigh breezed through me as I took another sip of tea.

“And if not,” she continued, “You can just spy on ya boyfriend forever!”

I gave her chair a gentle kick. “He’s not my boyfriend!”


9 thoughts on “Chapter One – The perks of being dead

  1. You asked for a critique and so I will put on my editor’s hat and comment from that perspective. You are off to a good start…you hook the reader in right away. We want to know what develops between her and Nick.
    By the end of this first chapter, the reader still doesn’t know the name of the storyteller…this could easily be worked in when she visits Edith. Instead of Edith referring to her as “dear”, she could call her by name. Unless the name has been omitted purposely to build to a surprise? We also don’t know what Nick or the storyteller or Edith looks like. In order to connect readers with characters they need to know what the characters look like, how they think, how they feel. We know that the house is a fixer-upper, but what does it look like? Does it have leaky ceilings? Loose railings? Peeling wallpaper or paint? In other words, use the five senses: hear, see, touch, feel, taste to take the reader deeper into the story; to be able to see the surroundings, That’s it for Chapter One.

    • That is fantastic, thank you.
      Her name has been left out purposely- all is explained in chapter two.
      I don’t want to give the twist away but later on something happens which changes the way everything in the first part is viewed. It needs to be rediscovered as she starts feeling more so I wanted it to seem quite disconnected from everything apart from her feelings at the moment (if that makes any sense!) But the readers connection is far more important so I’m going to work in more descriptive explorations.
      So, So appreciated- thank you!

  2. Oh this is very, very , very good! I’m not just going to follow your blog, Im going to bookmark it so I have time to come back and read more when I have more leisure time and can do it easier than searching through the Reader. You have started out brilliantly, instantly getting the reader’s attention, and you have a fantastc eye for huour and detail! Bravo!! 🙂

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