They have no telephone at home nor callbox nearby, so Abraham is on an errand for his mother to see how his uncle Fred is doing in Cardiff Royal Infirmary after a heart attack. It’s the school holidays and Abraham’s been as bored as only a thirteen year-old can be. Not now. He’s sitting on the number 6 trolleybus whistling Buddy Holly’s hit, ‘It doesn’t matter any more’.
Inside the hospital Abraham waits in a tiny office outside Gwendoline ward. A nursing sister enters carrying a brown paper carrier bag. Abraham explains that he’s Fred David’s nephew.
I’m very sorry, the sister says pointing at the bag, These are his things. You’ll need to take them away. Abraham looks perplexed. The nurse puts her hand on his shoulder. I’m sorry, your uncle died this morning. So very sorry.
Are you okay?
Abraham nods. What happens now?
How old are you?
Eighteen, he lies.
Oh, that’s a relief. As next of kin would you mind identifying your uncle so we can get on with making the arrangements?
Eventually, Abraham finds the morgue, knocks on the door and waits. He knocks again. Finally, the door opens and a man wearing a white coat asks, What?
I’ve come to identify my dead uncle.
Better come on in. Stuffed to the gunnels, we are. I don’t know what it is. Christmas and Easter, there’s always a glut; too much time with the family, all too bloody jolly trapped in a house together. It’s divorce or death, isn’t it? Death’s quicker. Follow me.
Dim fluorescent tubes illuminate the corridor, made narrower by the line of body-laden gurneys down one side.
You get used to the smell, the man laughs. I call it eau de stiff.
Abraham, ashen white, stands still.
The man asks, How old are you?
If you say so, son.
On each gurney a body is draped with a white sheet.
They stand by a gurney. Here he is, the man says. Just breathe, son, he says taking the sheet right off the body.
Fred wears a surgical gown. A tag with his name is tied to the toe of his left foot. Wide Sellotape seals his lips. Black stubble covers his upper lip and chin. More Sellotape covers his eyelids. Cotton wool fills his nostrils and ears. His Brylcreamed hair is combed.
You okay, son?
Yes, it’s him. Or is it, was him?
It’s still him. Shall I cover him or do want a few minutes?
Abraham shudders and shakes his head.
Don’t you worry, all these buggers are dead; there’s no ghosts coming after you, not ever, so off you go, see the nurse and sign the papers. You’ve done well for a kid. Tell the truth now, how old are you, really?
And I’m the Prince of bloody Wales. Remember, the first is always the worst.
Oh shit, Abraham thinks. This will happen again.
I hope you enjoyed this story. Remember, I publish a new story every Sunday.
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© Phil Cosker 2021
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.
Hi. Good story. I like the phrase “eau de stiff”. Neil S.
Thank you. Go well. Phil
have a nice day