Oh man! That was the Mother of all nights out. What a headache! I can’t remember much about it. Must have been a great night!
But, where am I? In a place with dark carpets, velvety wall paper, fussy gold mirrors. Some woman’s house, I suppose. A sexy babe who whisked me back to her place for a night cap and a game of Hide-the-Sausage. Was it the surfer chick from Bondi in the barely-there bikini? Talk about hot. And the way she rode those waves. I’d better find a mirror to see how bad I look and whether I need a shower. Don’t you hate it when the girl gets her first peek at you in daylight and throws up?
That’s weird – a trick mirror which shows everything in the room, but not your reflection. Cool. Girl has a sense of humour.
I’m wearing blue board shorts but can’t see my shirt anywhere. We must have gone partying straight from the beach. Or cracked open the icebox on the sand and got stuck in early. Sweet. And it would explain why I don’t remember much. I can’t wait for Tom to tell me what happened.
I’m scratching my head, trying to guess which of the three closed doors might be the bathroom when an older woman in a black suit barrels past followed by – of all people – Mum and Dad. To say I’m shocked doesn’t come close. Who wants to be caught by their parents in situ, in flagrante, as Tom would say. He’s a wanker with words but not a bad bloke for a lawyer.
“Mum, Dad!” I say. They ignore me and follow the woman through the left door. Must be bad when your parents won’t speak to you. I can’t help grinning. At twenty-nine, I thought I was slowing down, getting old and boring. Good to know I’m still the party animal who can gross his parents out.
I wonder who the lucky lady was? Not that old girl, was it? Is that why my parents look grim? She’d be fifty if she’s a day. Still, I wouldn’t say no to all that experience.
Another woman walks by – mid-twenties, pale blonde hair and wispy white dress, carrying a clipboard. And when she smiles, she has a real twinkle going on. That must be my girl. I grin and wink. Though, I have absolutely no memory of her. But how on Earth could anyone forget a smokin’ babe like that?
Blondie heads into the room with the others and signals me to join them. Bit weird, but where she goes I can’t help but follow. Woof. We’re in an office with serious furniture and a framed embroidery reading: Love Never Dies. The older women – Vera, according to her name tag – talks in low tones. My parents nod and listen. Mum sniffles. She seems upset about something.
“Mum, what’s wrong?”
Hot Stuff touches a finger to her lips. “Shhh.”
“How can I make a decision like this?” says Mum. “It’s … too much.”
“There are three plots available,” says Vera, passing some papers to Dad. “One has an ocean view. That’s the premium option.”
“We want that one,” says Mum. “Griffin loved the beach.”
Is she buying me some land with a view of Bondi? What a generous mum! The woman in white scribbles something on her clipboard and smiles at me. She’s impressed, I can tell. All that love and generosity, who wouldn’t be?
“Why does he need a view?” says Dad. “What’s the budget option?”
“It’s a very nice plot,” says Vera, squinting through pince nez, “under an oak tree, next to a gentleman who was a father of three, divorced and ..” she clears her throat, “..a serial killer.”
“What? My boy can’t rest next to a serial killer,” says Mum.
“He was a crime reporter,” says Dad. “He’d probably find it exciting.”
“We’ve got an opening for a funeral tomorrow at 4pm,” says Vera. “Does that suit?”
“Funeral? Mum? Dad? Who died?”
They don’t look at me. But the blonde does and shakes her head in that Get With the Program way so many girls have done during my lifetime. A lifetime which, it seems, is at an end.
After breathing into a paper bag for five full minutes, I gasp: “So I’m dead? A ghost? But… how? Last time I looked I was in great shape. Well, not bad. I wasn’t at death’s door anyway.”
Blondie refers to her notes. “It seems you drowned on Bondi Beach.”
“It was unusually big surf,” she says. “A girl with a very small bikini expressed fear about entering the water. You said you loved danger and this was nothing compared to the waves you’d body-surfed in Hawaii.” She flicks through the pages. “Which is strange as there’s no record of you ever having been to Hawaii.”
“Careless with the truth are we, Griffin?” she asks, pen poised.
“Well, I’m a journalist. But I don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.”
She makes more notes. I’m starting to hate the sound her pen scraping against the board.
“Can I ask, who are you?”
“You can call me Angel,” she says.
“Short for Angelique?”
“Just … Angel. I’m an assessment officer for In-betweeners. Like you.”
“A ‘Tweener? What’s that?”
“Most people clearly belong upstairs, or down. But a small group hover somewhere around the middle. We have to decide where to put you.”
“Oh My Fucking God! Sorry I mean… Gracious, what a conundrum!”
She makes more notes.
At 4pm the next day, a group of about thirty people I know gather round a grave – mine, I suppose. Everyone looks sad. Mum sobs into Dad’s chest. Tom is glassy-eyed and quiet which is weird as I’ve never seen him not joking around. Ruby, my best friend since school, has a new black dress on which looks great with her golden hair. Though her face is a mess, black eye makeup streaking down her cheeks like a horror film extra. I’m touched by their emotion. Angel takes more notes.
A casket sits in the grave. It’s made of cardboard with a beach scene printed on it. It’s actually pretty cool but I know, because I wrote a story about it once, that it’s a cheaper option than a wooden casket. Three guesses who chose that.
“Does the amount spent on the funeral have any bearing on my final destination?” I ask Angel.
“Some.” Thanks again Dad!
Some family friends are here and a girl I was dating casually, Cherie. Plus, a group from the office. There’s my boss Julianne who’s like a second mother to me and keeps deodorant, razors and a new shirt in her bottom drawer in case of ‘emergencies’. There are a couple of women I dated who gave me the ‘Let’s be friends’ treatment. My arch rival is here too – Lucien, the city reporter. The guy’s a total sleaze who lies and cheats to get what he wants. Well, I do that too, I suppose. But he’s worse. Once, he was interviewing a grieving mother and when she went off to make him coffee, he nicked a photo of her dead daughter. It was a low act.
“Quite a good turnout,” says Angel. “I’ll add fifteen per cent because it’s a weekday.”
“So when it comes to funerals, size is important?”
“Well, of course,” she says. “Though we all pretend it’s not.”
“And how close am I to going…upstairs?”
“Let’s see how it goes here and at the wake, shall we?”
Tom makes a good speech about me, mentioning the Bingo calling I do at my Nan’s nursing home and my ‘literacy work with underprivileged kids’ (really just hanging with some cool kids and correcting their spelling occasionally). Angel twinkles at that. Thankfully, he doesn’t do his usual Top ten vomit stories or mention our naked swim at Sea World at the end of high school.
As the first handful of dirt is sprinkled onto the casket, Ruby steps forward and throws a red rose into the grave. She looks more broken up than I’ve ever seen her. I really wish I could console her.
Angel has something like a lipstick tube which she points at people.
“An emotion gauge. It measures units of genuine sadness.”
Everyone is still and serious but most are dry-eyed. CRY YOU BUGGERS, I want to yell.
The Wake is held in my local pub, The Stoned Crow. Mum booked the entire back section, which is like a French garden. Many of my favourite snacks are laid out – mushroom arancini, calamari, pizza, zucchini fries. And there’s an open bar.
“Can you limit people to three drinks?” Dad whispers to the barman. “They can pay for their own after that.”
Angel overhears and makes notes.
“What you have to understand,” I say, “is that Dad can’t help being frugal. It’s no indication of the degree of his love or anything. It’s just he comes from a poor family. They were so poor all his school shoes had holes in them.”
“Interesting,” says Angel. “Though I’m not seeing any holey shoes in my records.”
So Dad made up that story to justify being cheap, for his whole life? Seriously!
The family friends have a drink or two, a few nibbles and go on their way but my office and school buddies settle in for the night.
Tom sits at the bar with a large vodka. “Cheers mate,” he says, raising his glass. “I’ll miss your ugly mug. You made me look good.”
“You too mate,” I say. Tom chokes on his sip and looks around, freaked.
“Can he hear me?” I ask Angel.
“When people have a special bond, some low-level intra-zone transmission is possible. A bit like an echo or a breeze.”
Lucien hits the food table, pops two arancini in his mouth and, after a sneaky look around with his lizard eyes, slips a few more in his pocket. Bloody Glutton. Not that I blame him. The arancini here are to die for.
I cruise around, shamelessly eavesdropping on conversations.
“Griff. He was the best,” says one of the women I dated.
“And the worst,” says the other.
“Like a puppy who wees on your carpet, he’s annoying, but you can’t help liking him.”
“If only he could be neutered too.”
O-kay. Heard enough there.
Cherie revels in her role as the grieving ‘girlfriend’. “Griffin could have been the love of my life,” she tells a group, with a dramatic sigh. “Now I’ll never know.” Not a word of it is true. The pair of us didn’t really gel – we both knew it. Then again, though I love women – and not just like that; I have more female ‘friends’ than males – I’ve never really gelled with anyone romantically. Not quite sure why that is. Or was.
While Angel’s attention is elsewhere, I do what any red-blooded male ghost would do: check out cleavage. There’s Olivia, the office secretary and her heavenly mangos. She’s talking to Ginette. Hers are more like beach balls, perfectly spherical. They can’t be real?
When they head into the Ladies loos, I follow. I’ve always wondered what goes on in there. Olivia gets out a makeup purse the size of a brick and sets to work with brushes, pencils and tweezers. If this is a reincarnation deal, please Angel, don’t send me back as a woman.
The cubicle door is a tad open so I peek at Ginette sitting on the toilet.
“I bet Lucien makes a move on Ruby tonight,” says Olivia.
“Really?” Ginette says, pulling off a long piece of toilet paper and leaning forward. I step back. Some things even I don’t want to see.
“Lucien has always had the hots for Ruby,” she continues. “But he knew he didn’t have a chance before.”
“Because she was in love with Griffin, I suppose?” says Olivia.
What the-? Ruby, my best friend since year five, was in love with me?
“She should have said something to him,” says Olivia. “Just goes to show. Life’s too short to hang about.”
Back in the bar, I watch in horror as Lucien sits down next to Ruby. Angel hovers at my shoulder. “So now you know?” she says. “How does it feel?”
Like I died again.
“Here’s to Griff,” says Lucien, raising his glass. “Departed this world too soon.”
Ruby has managed to stay staunch all day but now she breaks down completely. Lucien wraps his arms round her, a python embracing a deer.
“Can’t we stop him?” I say.
“She has to make her own decisions,” says Angel.
“GET AWAY FROM HER!” I shout in Lucien’s ear. He doesn’t react, but Ruby’s brow creases. She definitely heard something.
I go over to Tom, slumped on the bar. “RUBY NEEDS YOUR HELP! GET UP!” He looks around, rubs his ear then flops back.
“Okay, I’ve seen enough. Time to take this to the committee,” says Angel.
“We can’t go yet. Ruby’s about to be devoured.”
“We have a deadline here. A dead line.”
“A bit longer.”
“You know, not following protocol will go against you. And with the lying, laziness, lack of responsibility -.”
“I’ll take my chances.”
After a tussle over the credit card with Dad, Mum orders cappuccino for everyone still here. My favourite drink.
“Is there cappuccino upstairs?” I ask Angel.
She snorts. “Would it be Heaven without?”
By now Lucien has his hand on Ruby’s arm.
“GET OFF HER!” I shout.
He doesn’t blink.
“What can I do?”
“Accept it. It’s no longer your worry.”
“Apart from that.”
“Well, with training, you could make a small breeze.”
It’s not much but …”Okay, show me how.”
She tells me I have to picture a golden tunnel between myself and the person I want to contact and fill it full of love. Sounds a bit like bovine excrement to me, but what-the-Hell? I try transmitting to Tom – the love thing’s a tad embarrassing. He feels something, waves his hands around as if shooing a fly, but doesn’t budge.
“You know, Griffin is probably interviewing the serial killer in the plot next to him right now for the Heavenly Times,” Lucien says, edging closer to Ruby. “That guy had great journalistic instincts.”
“He had no respect for my writing,” I say. “He’ll say anything to get what he wants?”
“And you wouldn’t?” says Angel.
“Not like this, no. Not taking advantage while they were down.”
Angel raises an eyebrow, unconvinced.
“How are you getting home?” says Lucien. “We could share a cab. I’ll stay with you tonight, if it will help.”
The whole room rumbles. Everyone looks around.
“O-kay,” says Angel. “Time’s up.”
“Just a bit longer.”
“None of this is your concern any more Griffin. Let it go.”
She throws her hands up. “It’s Your Funeral!”
If she thinks I can walk away, turn my back on a friend in trouble, she doesn’t know me that well. I may be a bit mucky – more than a bit. And take things too far sometimes – most of the time. But I’m not like Lucien. Some things I would never do. I really hope Ruby and Tom know that about me. As I know the best and worst about them.
And then I have it. Of course! I know Ruby. Her strengths and weaknesses. One of which is that she’s ticklish. Especially on the back of the neck.
I stand behind her, picture a tunnel and fill it with love. It’s easy because I have so much for her. She’s the first person I call when things go well or spectacularly badly in my life. She’s a worse cook than me – and that’s saying something. And the bravest person I know, though she hates the sight of blood and once fainted when I showed her some crime scene photos. She beats me in every category of Trivial Pursuit – except Game of Thrones. No-one I dated has ever come close. Why didn’t I see it before?
I have so much breeze to give, but I hold it until just the right moment – as she picks up her coffee, then release it in a slow, steady stream. The golden hair on the back of her neck waivers, then ripples. She giggles wildly and jerks and spills her hot coffee in Lucien’s lap.
“Fuuuck!” he says, jumping up.
“Sorry,” says Ruby, flapping a serviette at his groin.
“Leave it! Fuck!”
“Keep the language down mate,” says Tom, coming over. “This is not the time or place.”
As Lucien heads to the bathroom to blow-dry his scorched crotch, Tom takes his seat. “Hey Ruby.”
They smile at each other. They’ve known one another a long time, but this is a new look. A spark, perhaps?
“Farewell Griffin,” says Tom. “We’ll miss you mate.” He and Ruby clink mugs.
“And I’ll miss you. All of you,” I say. “But especially you, Ruby.”
Ruby puts her mug down and looks right at me.”Griffin, is that you?”
She can see me. I reach out for her, but Angel slaps my arms back and shakes her head.
“Let me say one thing,” I ask.
“Please.” Just ‘I love you.’
Ruby stares at the spot where I was, blinks and rubs her eyes. “I could have sworn he was standing right there. In his blue board shorts.”
Tom looks around. “He probably is here,” he says. “I’ve never known him to miss a drinking session. Griff, if you’re listening…. you still owe me fifty bucks, mate. I’ll ask your Dad for it, shall I?”
As Angel and I exit the bar, we’re no longer in my local suburb, but on a road so white it’s dazzling.
“Whoah, give a bloke some warning!” I say, holding my hand up against the glare. “Do they have sunglasses in Heaven? And cleavage?”
“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that.”
Angel leads me uphill towards a mass of fluffy, white clouds.
“Where are we going then?” I ask her.
She turns to me with a smile that is anything but angelic.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?”
Banner Image – Pixabay.com