You would think a weary soul would be easy to spot. They’d be the ones at the back, sunken shoulders, sighing constantly, with a sort of “I’d be fine if I died right now” expression on their face. But looks can be deceiving, even when you’ve been in the mortality business for as long as I have. I’m sure dying is scary, but when a 90 year-old woman, with nothing to live for, is resisting the reaper like she needs to get back and watch the season finale of Golden Girls, you question whether it’s really worth the struggle.
A weary-looking soul died last week. His name was Jim Coslidge. Mr Coslidge was 58 years old, not the longest life , but let’s face it, a 58 year old’s death isn’t making any headlines. Well, the way he died would make headlines, but I’ll get to that. But he didn’t need any more years, Jim Coslidge had spent almost six decades doing approximately nothing in life, and a few more years on top was hardly going to change that.
Jim was a salesman, sit-on-top lawnmowers or something boring like that. He may well have sold to me at one point, I’m sure the cemetery was in his patch, but if he did I don’t remember him… Jim Coslidge also had a hobby: Collecting apple juice cartons. He was very methodical about it, he would never buy empties from other collectors, only adding to his collection ones that he found and drank from store shelves. But he was also adamant that he only enjoyed the supermarket basic brand of apple juice and point blank refused to drink any others, making it very hard for him to grow his collection. Nevertheless, he would talk about his juice cartons like it was an all-consuming passion.
Jim was very stubborn, like most boring people are. When he was a young boy, he insisted for years that the well-publicised internal conflicts of The Beatles were “just a phase” and the boys would soon patch things up. He remained resolute in this belief for the next ten years, until the day John Lennon got shot on the steps of The Dakota hotel… at which point Jim ramped up this rhetoric, convinced that the event would put things into perspective for the remaining three and that it was only a matter of time before they started making music again.
But it wasn’t juice, nor a crazed Beatles fan, that killed Jim. What killed Jim Coslidge was a suspension bridge falling on top of his head. Goodness knows what he was doing, standing in the mud beneath the Severn Bridge, but when 2000 tonnes of iron and concrete flattens you like an accordion, The Reaper will always come calling. I waited patiently, leaning on my shovel, peering into the afterlife at the two of them, waiting for him to cross over and give me another grave to dig.
INT. A DARK RIVERSIDE. NIGHT (PRESUMABLY).
A character emerges from the fog and warily approaches the river bank. By the river, he sees a small boat with a hooded figure alongside it. The figure beckons with a boney finger.
JIM: Who are you?
The hooded figure beckons with a boney finger again.
JIM: Don’t beckon a boney finger at me!
Jim looks around.
JIM: Goodness! It’s dark already? I must have dozed off by the river. Marge’ll expect me home soon, it’s time for supper.
FIGURE: It… Is… Time…
JIM: Yes, I know. That’s what I just said.
Jim shakes his head in irritation and looks around once more.
JIM: Say friend, do you know which side of the river we’re on? It all looks quite the same in the dark. I’m wanting to be on the Welsh side.
FIGURE: This river does not separate the lands of England and Wales.
JIM: I know. Technically, the first mile of the Welsh side is in England. You know what I mean. Stop being difficult.
FIGURE: Crossing this river takes you to the land of the dead.
JIM: Come on, pal. England isn’t that bad.
They stand in silence, then suddenly he realises.
JIM: Are– Are you Death?
FIGURE: Death takes many forms.
JIM: Are you one of them?
JIM: Well… I’m not coming!
DEATH: They all must come.
JIM: Who’s they? It’s just you and me on this river bank, buddy, and you look awfully skinny for someone telling me what I “must” do.
DEATH: We go where we must.
JIM: Well, in that case, I “must” go home and have some of my wife’s cottage pie.
Jim turns away from Death and walks into the darkness. He’s submerged in black. After a few steps he sees a light ahead of him. Emerging out of the fog, he sees a boat by the river and a hooded figure alongside it.
JIM: Excuse me, sir! I wonder if you could give me directions?
The hooded figure beckons with a boney finger.
JIM: You again! How did that happen?
DEATH: Come with me.
JIM: No. I refuse. I haven’t even completed my apple juice carton collection yet!
DEATH: How many more cartons do you need to complete it?
JIM: Oh, this kind of thing you can never complete, there are so many, going back over a hundred years. It’s a hell of a task.
DEATH: How many?
JIM: I don’t rightly know. Could be thousands.
DEATH: And how many do you have?
JIM: Errr… Maybe about a dozen?
DEATH: A dozen?! That’s not a collection! I could go and get a dozen right now!
JIM: Aha! So you can go back to the land of the living!
DEATH: The land of the living is not the only land with juice. As you will soon find out.
JIM: They have juice in the afterlife? Really? Which brands?
DEATH: I cannot say. But passage on the ferry is free.
JIM: If I go across and I decide I don’t like it, can I come back?
DEATH: Yesss- Er, I mean no. Sorry.
JIM: Which is it?
DEATH: No. Definitely no.
JIM: You’re a terrible ferryman. Isn’t there some kind of Welsh reaper I can talk to? Why did they stick me with this English chump?
DEATH: There is no Welsh reaper, no English reaper, there is only Death.
JIM: You said that Death takes many forms.
DEATH: Death takes infinite forms… But none of them are Welsh.
JIM: But I’m Welsh… and I died in Wales, I should be entitled to a Welsh reaper.
DEATH: You died in England…
JIM: Oh, don’t give me that–
Jim looks around, pleadingly.
JIM: I was in the Severn! Right on the border!
DEATH: You died where you died.
JIM: I didn’t die! Look at me! I’m right here!
DEATH: You are neither dead nor alive.
JIM: Exactly. Not dead. Thank you, finally.
Jim puts his hands on his hips, exhales.
JIM: I’m going back.
Jim turns away from Death, into the black fog. He marches straight through the darkness until he happens upon the illuminated scene of a boat and a hooded figure.
The hooded figure beckons with a boney finger.
JIM: For fuck’s sake!