A Trick I Learned from Dead Men - By Kitty Aldridge


NEVER SAW IT coming. Not in a million. You don’t. The story fattened up in the retelling. They do. A shame, they said. A pity. It started with her, of course, that was the beginning. Then him that didn’t deserve it. Then it was the youngest. Or was it the eldest? Or both? None of us could explain it, not even me. I should know. I am the eldest. Or was. I have forgotten. That is to say I remember but I don’t look back. That is to say I look but I don’t dwell.

It was talked about. Still is. One of them was deaf or was he blind? Tragic, yes. This is how they talk. Of course, looking back you could see it coming, they say. The hand of fate, the finger of God, or was it the wheel of fortune?

Nice boys, they didn’t deserve it: this I have heard at the post office, the pub, Somerfield. And I have heard: They were strange. And also: They were perfectly normal. I’ve heard it all: They deserved it. It was foretold. And more.

Hard to recognise yourself in the tale they tell. This new folklore turns you and yours inside out till you can’t see what was once your own. Out of the mists stroll you, re-drawn. The new you is a fable, a warning. So our lives go. The trouble comes slowly at first. It always does. These things happen. C’est la vie.


Some clear spells in the east, clouding over later in the evening

YOU KNOCK FIRST before you go in. You don’t wait of course.

Good morning, Mr Gillespie. Lee here. Nice day.

Everyone is known by their formal name: Mr, Mrs, Miss. We have not yet had a Lord or Lady, but we had a Doctor and a Major. Babies and kiddies are their first name. Everyone is someone. They have status, the dead. Derek said that. It’s true, you’re somebody when you’re dead, you get respect.

Derek has started on Mr Gillespie, but I must take over, as Derek’s off to the crem for a two o’clocker. I pull on latex gloves. Three out today, Mr Gillespie, I say. We’ve got our skates on, I say. I find a bit of chat breaks the ice. I thread up and open Mr Gillespie’s mouth. Here at Shakespeare & Son it matters not what you did when you were alive, we don’t look back. What matters is the here and now. Your status as a deceased individual makes you important, a VIP. True to say for some it’s a first taste of VIP treatment. Death is an egalitarian state, red carpet all round. All are equal at Shakespeare & Son, no one is better than.

A great leveller, death, Derek says. He tends to talk through his nose. Derek Locklear has been an undertaker for nigh on eighteen years. He fell into it when his establishment, The White Stag, near Junction 4 by the flyover, went bust. You never know what’s around the corner, he says. On day one he tells me, Lee, you’ve got an old head on young shoulders. I took it as a compliment; I’m twenty-five next birthday. Granted he rabbits for England, but Derek is chock-full of wisdoms. A waste really, as most of it falls on deaf ears.

Derek’s still got his mutton-chops and waistcoat, but he took to funeral care like a duck to water. Derek is not the boss; Howard Day is our funeral director, he runs the shop. He speaks poshly, which is important when you’re dealing with the dead, people expect it, it gives them faith.

Lee Hart is a knob. Someone wrote it on the bus shelter. I know who. Sticks and stones. You have to rise above it. I no longer use the bus service, I walk everywhere, it’s better – get out and see the world.

Some people reckon there’s not much to funeral care, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. I am learning at Derek’s elbow, as he’s been there and back. I am Derek Locklear’s apprentice. Some people call him Del. I didn’t expect to wind up in the trade either, funny. I had my eye on Communication Technology, a pipe dream, as it turned out. We all enter these doors in the end, think on. At my age I am what you call the early bird here, but still. Basically it helps to have the right personality, death doesn’t suit everybody; lucky I was born for it.

Hang on while I