Dead Men Need Love Too

By Cristiano Caffieri

Introduction
Danny Parsons had always taken an interest in physics and cosmology and so, although he didn’t really believe in an afterlife, he had not eliminated the possibility entirely. In fact, the more he delved in quantum theory, the more he became convinced that anything was possible. He latched onto every word that people like Steven Hawking, Brian Green and Leonard Susskind, uttered or wrote down, but even they could not have prepared him for what happened following his death.

Instead of the deep endless sleep, he’d envisioned he found himself reliving the happiest part of his life, with a few modifications and a good many surprises – not all of them pleasant. He suspected that he might be part of a simulation but others living in the small community preferred not to think or talk about it. They were enjoying most of the things they’d had in life, including sex – so who cared if it was real or not!

Out of the Darkness
I didn’t see that shaft of golden light that people with near-death experiences frequently talk about, I had a sharp pain in the chest and then everything went black. When I heard someone calling my name, asking me if I was alright, I thought I was in the hospital, it was very much like what happened with my first heart attack, but I wasn’t in a hospital.

Opening my eyes slowly I suddenly realized that I was sitting up in a chair in front of a desk, behind which was an old colleague of mine by the name of John White. We’d work together in a law office when I was just a teenager and not only did he look the same, with his well-worn pinstripe suit and slightly frayed tie but the office itself had a familiar look.

“Where am I?” I asked, a bit bewildered by it all.

“You’re dead,” he grinned, “you’ve popped your clogs, kicked the bucket, shuffled off that mortal coil,” he leaned way back in his chair and took a deep breath, “welcome to the afterlife.”

I’m sure that if I hadn’t been dead already I would have died of shock anyway. I mean, I was not religious in the slightest, I’d never believed in heaven but now it looked as though there was something in it – I hadn’t a clue what – but there was something.

“You’re not God are you John?”

“Good grief no,” he laughed, “I’m just the man they chose to process you, it’s less stressful when you’re confronted by someone you know.”

I hadn’t seen John’s face for a good sixty years but it was exactly the same face. He was still around fifty with an unshaven appearance and tussled iron-grey hair. I wasn’t sure how I looked, facially that is, but I did notice my old gnarled hands had given way to young smooth ones that seemed to indicate I was in my twenties again, or thereabouts.

“You had a happy childhood didn’t you?” he said, looking officiously through one of the many files scattered around his desk.

“I did,” I stammered, wondering where this whole thing was going.

“Well we’ve placed you in a similar village to the one you were brought up, a bit like Nutwood as a matter of fact .” he smiled, referring to the village where Rupert Bear lived.

The Rupert Bear Annuals were my favorite books when I was a kid. Many’s the time I wanted to change places with the little white bear who lived like a human with his mother and father in an idyllic thatched cottage in Nutwood. It wasn’t unlike the village I lived in, we led a simple life with no running water or electricity but we were happy. I couldn’t remember a day when I wasn’t happy.

The little two-room school I attended was run by the most wonderful teacher, who would vacate the building on sunny days and take us into the fields for our classes. There were only about 80 of us, ranging from 5 to 14. It was like one big family because that’s how headmistress Mary Nettleton wanted it to be.

John interrupted my train of thought, “I’m sorry we can’t partner you up with your late wife but there’s a reason for that,” he said, “first she predeceased you by a few years and has been placed according to her happiest moments and that doesn’t quite tie in with yours.”

“There were other pleasant periods in my life,” I protested, “I can adjust.”

“Unfortunately that’s not how we do things.”

“How do you do things?”

“Well in your case to ensure you live a contented afterlife,” which he stressed would go on forever and ever and ever, “we feel you’ll blend rather nicely into an environment that is somewhat like the one you lived in when you were in your early teens.”

“But I don’t want to blend,” I said, getting a little agitated. “I want to be with my wife.”

“Unfortunately she is already living in a relationship with someone she knew when she was a teenager, long before she met you.”

At that moment I thought, “Why the fuck doesn’t he just pull out all my fingernails,” because it seemed they, whoever “they” were, intended to torture me.

“Everyone is a bit anxious at first,” he assured me, obviously reading the expression of concern on my face, “but you’ll soon settle in, very few people want to go back to pushing up Daisies once they’ve savored the delights of the afterlife.”

My problem with all this was I’d always resigned myself to death, feeling that I would have no further responsibilities, now I had all kinds of shit to contend with and it wasn’t over yet. He pulled a photo from the file and handed it to me,

“Do you remember this?”

It turned out to be my school photo from 1939. I was 5 years old and it was my first year at school. Of course, I recognized most of the kids, the oldest of them being around 14. Once you’d reach that age back in those days you were expected to go out and earn a living. None of that group ever went to university; the best you could hope for was to attend night classes at the technical college in town.

“Most of the kids you see there,” he smiled, picking up his Cherry Wood pipe and proceeding to light it, “most of the kid there, will be your neighbors, so you’ll enjoy a lot of fond reunions.”

“Isn’t smoking bad for you?” I asked, wafting the smoke out of the way even though it didn’t bother me that much.

“Not when you’re dead,” he replied, and then, after a short coughing bout he went on to tell me that 20 years had been added to the age of all those appearing in the photo which would make me 25. That was perhaps the only good news that had come out of our conversation so far. However, I was not overjoyed at the prospect of mixing with people I’d not laid eyes on for almost 70 years or more. And there was another bomb to be dropped.

“You remember Ann Worthy don’t you?”

“Yes – she lived in the same village.”

“And you were friends?”

“Sort of.”

“That’s why I’ve partnered you up with her.”

“What do you mean partnered up?” I said, getting a bit pissed off with being told what I was going to do.

“You’ll be living in the same cottage – for companionship.”

Very confused and a bit frustrated I asked if I could just be dead again.

“But you are dead,” he said, throwing his head back and laughing. I always admired John’s perverted sense of humor when I worked with him. He played jokes on me continuously, like the time he put a number of dirty magazines in my briefcase and they all fell out when I opened it on the bus back home. Of course one of my neighbors happened to be sitting next to me and that bit of gossip was circulating around the village for the next few weeks.

“Just relax and go along with me on this,” he said, regaining his composure, “you can have a very pleasant and fulfilling after-life. It’s a chance to relive some of the happiest days of your life.”

“I think I’d be happier in what is traditionally thought of as heaven.”

“Oh you want feathered wings and harp lessons,” he said sarcastically.

“No, I’d like to see my late wife, my mom and dad, my grandma and a whole lot of other friends and relatives.”

“Look if we had have left you in that dark pit they call death you wouldn’t have this wonderful opportunity. You always told people that your childhood was the happiest days of your life and you’re going to have the good fortune to live it again with knobs on.”

I never won an argument with John when he was a human and it looked as if I wasn’t going to win this one now he was some sort of a demigod.

“OK,” I said, feeling like a beaten man, “what next?”

He handed me a train ticket, “Go over to the green door over there and catch the train to The Village.”

I looked over at the door, “Does the village have a name?”

“No – just The Village, he said, “now get a move on – Ann will meet you at the station.”

Reluctantly I dragged my feet over to the door as John bid me farewell and good luck. As soon as I opened it I was met by that smell you get with wood-fired engines, and there, standing in the platform was a good old-fashioned locomotive billowing clouds of smoke and steam. I must admit that brought back happy memories of trips to Skegness and my Dad paddling in the water with his pants rolled up to his knees.

The porter, who looked a lot like another man I used to work with opened the carriage door for me.

“Have a pleasant trip sir,” he said, as I climbed up the step, then closing the door behind me he waved a green flag and the train lurched forward.

Rock Cakes
It was an unusual journey; it was like passing through endless John Constable canvas. Farmers were busy in the fields plowing with large Shire horses, a Border Collie ran alongside the train for a while barking like crazy and some women stooking wheat waved as the train passed.

The beautiful tranquil scenery and the steady rhythm of the train did a great deal to calm my nerves and counteract my confusion, but it was still a bit strange, the idea of being 25 with 80 years of reminiscences stored in your head. I wasn’t sure what the point of it was if there was a point at all. Perhaps the authority on high was just playing games with a bunch of dead people who should be grateful for a second chance, even if they were resigned, as I was, to having a good long sleep.

I was getting quite nervous as we started to slow down and then the brakes screeched and it came to a jerky halt. Someone called out “The Village,” and the door to my compartment was opened by a young man I recognized.

“It’s Ken Hobson isn’t it?” I asked, holding out my hand to the uniformed man with Station Master emblazoned on his cap.

“And you’re Danny Parsons, “ he said, shaking my hand warmly, “good to see you again.” He then gave me a sly wink, “I think someone’s waiting for you.”

I turned around and there she was, waving a little shyly with a big smile on her face. We walked toward each other and after a short hesitation and a little nervous laughter we hugged.

“Gosh, you look exactly like I saw you last – when you were about 20,” I said, as we walked toward the gate.

“You look the same to me,” she smiled, “I always thought you were so good looking.”

I was a little embarrassed by the comment but at the same time, I was happy we’d not been in contact for over sixty years or she may have remembered my wrinkled skin and thinning grey hair. Ann took me by the hand and led me over to where Gordon Harris, who I remembered from school as a bit of a rough and tumble type, had parked his pony and trap.

“This is our taxi,” she said, and attempted to pull herself up into the contraption, I grabbed onto her arm and helped her in.

“Thank you,” she smiled, “you always were a gentleman.”

I was feeling a bit uneasy about all the compliments, but then I remembered that Ann was always like that. If you did her a good turn she’d thank you half a dozen times and she was always positive about everything.

After passing through part of the picturesque village, waving to passersby, we arrived at her delightful thatched cottage, with a limestone wall skirting the garden and roses around the door. It was appropriately named Rose Cottage. I just stood there for a few minutes and stared at it. It was so beautiful I thought Rupert Bear would envy me.

She paid off Gordon and taking my hand she led me down the crazy paved pathway informing me that she had baked some rock cakes for me.

“I remember how you loved them when you and your mother came round to our house for a visit.” I must confess I didn’t remember the occasion but there was no disputing my love for rock cakes.

After inviting me to sit in one of the big comfortable chintz-covered chairs she disappeared into the kitchen while I familiarized myself with the surroundings. I guess it was what one would expect the interior of an English cottage to look like. The robust furniture, the Axminster rug, the large open fireplace and the collection of knick-knacks gave an air of coziness. There wasn’t a flat pack item in sight and that was nice not to see.

Certain things did catch my eye, for example, there was an oil lamp, like the one we used as a child on the mantle and looking up I saw no electrical fittings above my head. There was also a big old fashioned looking radio that didn’t seem to have an outlet to plug into. “My God,” I murmured to myself, “maybe there’s a privy at the end of the garden.”

“Excuse me,” cried Ann, carrying a heavy tray laden with fine china and a pile of rock cakes. I quickly moved my feet and she put the tray on a table between the two chairs and plonked her rather nice ass down on the other one.

“I’m so glad that they chose you to be my companion,” she said, “we have so much in common. “

I wasn’t sure how she’d reached that conclusion as back in the old days we were just casual friends at best.

“I always admired your mother,” she continued, and began to pour the tea, “she was always so smartly dressed – even when she was riding that bike of hers.”

As strange as it seems my mother was the only female villager that I saw riding a bike. The men all had one, it was the only mode of transportation apart from the one bus a day that went into town in the morning and returned in the evening. Not that many people caught the bus, there was no need really. Delivery men dropped off everything from bread to meat, from groceries to cleaning items, and we had our own little store that sold a few necessities and junk like pop and candy bars. Apart from going to buy new clothes, most people didn’t seem to have the need to undertake the 40-minutes or so it took to reach the bustling, fume-filled streets of our nearest town.

We had a post office based in Dolly Coat’s kitchen and the ruddy-faced Mr. Gardiner delivered the mail, not only to our village but the outlying areas. He was as cheerful as Postman Pat and regardless of the weather he delivered on time and with a smile.

My great-grandmother who lived a few doors away from us was almost ninety and although as fit as a fiddle she never went past the end of the street. She had no desire to go anywhere – she was contented just to talk to her neighbor and potter in the garden. For most of the folk there, it was a little paradise and I suppose it was why people like me, Ann and Gordon Harris had unconsciously chosen this partially replicated village for our afterlife.

“Tell me about your time in America,” she said, at length, holding the plate of cakes under my nose.

I couldn’t resist taking another and I then I began to recount my life in the United States and Canada, although it seemed ludicrous for someone who looked in their early twenties to be talking about a 35-year career in TV and a further twenty plus years in semi-retirement. She seemed to latch on to my every word, looking at me almost adoringly at times. It made me feel a bit uncomfortable.

It wasn’t that Ann was unattractive, she was blond with big blue eyes, peaches and cream complexion and she had a really great figure. However, I think that the fact that we’d just known each other as school friends and nothing more, made me think of her as a sister figure. I even felt guilty when my gaze strayed to her rather low cut top, particularly when she bent over to pick up the tray again and her tits swung freely for a few seconds.

As it looked as though I was probably going to spend eternity there I did ask her about what people did for entertainment. With great enthusiasm, she went on to tell me there was lots and lots to do.

“There’s a great library that Kathleen Hayley runs out of her house and I read a lot, there are wonderful plays and other shows on the radio and there are all kinds of activities at the Village Hall.”

She went on to ask me if I recalled the Whiz-Bangs. That was the dance band put together by four semi-talented locals.

“They still play for all the dances,” she said, “not the original members of course – their children carry on the tradition.

I loved those dances when I was a kid, everybody attended and it was not uncommon to see an 80-year-old man limping around the dance floor with one of his great-grandchildren. Nobody seemed to notice the age differences or the somewhat discordant music, they simply threw themselves into the spirit of things.

When I was around twelve, and noticing that girls were quite different to boys, I looked forward to the last waltz. Just before midnight, the lamps were dimmed, they’d announce “the last waltz” and as the band played “Who’s Taking You Home Tonight,” I’d try and find the girl I was most attracted to and close-dance her through to the National Anthem. But – would I really enjoy those simple uncomplicated times again – that was the question?

“It’s a pity that I won’t be able to see any of the shows you’ve written,” she said, “I’m afraid all we have is a radio, much like when we were kids,” she paused thoughtfully, “Do you remember Dick Barton, Special Agent and the Paul Temple mysteries, I used to follow them religiously week after week.

“So did I and I used to panic when those darn wet batteries started to run out of energy at the most exciting part.”

“Would you believe the man from town who used call on us to charge them still does? He was here yesterday”

“Peter Gallagher? My god he must be over a hundred.”

“Still looks the same age,” she laughed, “and he still mumbles and grumbles all the time.”

I realized at this point that my worst fears had been confirmed – there was no electricity, it was back to the old oil lamps that my father used to fill up with paraffin and carefully trim the wicks so they wouldn’t smoke. It would be ironic I thought, if he was spending his afterlife in modern or even futuristic setting, with LED lighting and access to Wi-Fi, while I endeavored to cope with bronze-age amenities. I was pretty sure he’d see the funny side of it.

My next question was about the bathroom, I prayed that I was not expected to go down the garden to shit in a bucket. There was good news,

“We have running water, flush toilets and a bath,” she laughed,” You don’t have to go to the outhouse and fight off the flies.”

I shuddered just thinking about it but then we quickly switched topics and discussed who else was living in the village. It seemed logical to presume that not all of my former classmates would have felt the same affection for the place as I did and would therefore not be current residents. However, except for two or three people, who may not have been dead yet, I couldn’t name anyone that wasn’t living in one of the cottages or farmsteads. It was almost as if we had not really made up our own minds but had been manipulated in some way.

Being a science buff I’d read up on quantum theory and how observation can affect reality, about the holographic principle, and the quilted multiverse, where every possible event will occur an infinite number of times. This was not science fiction that I was reading, these were theories supported by some of the world’s most eminent physicists. Although I’d treated some of them with a certain amount of skepticism, I now felt compelled to consider every possibility, even the suggestion by Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of Hayden Planetarium, who says there’s a 50-50 chance our entire existence is a program in someone else’s hard drive. SCARY!

The village wasn’t exactly the same as when I was a kid, it was more like the ones you see on chocolate boxes, white idyllic cottages, many of them thatched, flower gardens and lots of Weeping Willows and sturdy Oak trees. I could see it being perfect for a short vacation but I didn’t find the prospect of walking out into the same atmosphere day after day, year after year – very appealing.

Ann seemed to sense my concern and assured me I was going to be happy as a pig in Shropshire.

“Maybe you should look at your room,” she beamed. “I’ve tried to make it nice for you.”

Although I was beginning to feel that my new improved body was capable of making some young woman happy, particularly when I glanced down her cleavage, I was a bit relieved that we were not expected to share a bed. It still didn’t feel quite right and after all, we were back in the world of the thirties, one didn’t just hop into bed as a means of saying hello back then.

However, temptation did raise its ugly head again when I followed her up the narrow staircase and could see right up her skirt. I’d never really noticed how long and shapely her legs were before. By the time I reached the landing I was breathing heavy and the steep staircase was not responsible for my condition.

Ann first showed me the bathroom, explaining that I had to light the little wood burner to get hot water for the bath and then ushered me into a very pleasant room with a dormer window that looked out over an open meadow, where Shorthorn cows were grazing peacefully and birds were flitting about in a nearby tree. It was a bit like an opening scene from a Disney movie.

“What do you think,” she asked flinging herself down on the bed, “I’m sure you’ll find this very comfortable.”

My temperature was rising as her skirt rode up her thighs and she looked awfully attractive but then seeing the time on the clock on the bedside table she jumped up in a panic, “O my gosh – I’m going to be late for my job.”

“Job?” I asked, rather taken aback.

“Yes – we all have a job – I just do a couple of hours cleaning at the Hall so I’ll be back in plenty of time to get your supper – just make yourself at home until I get back.” Then she grinned, “Of course it is your home too – isn’t it?”

“I suppose it is,” I said weakly, still having a job to cope with my post-mortem situation.

The Big Grey House
Left to my own devices I poked around the room and on opening the door to the armoire I was surprised to see it full of men’s clothing. Upon examining a couple of items I realized that the fashions were very much late 1930s. Of course, fashions remained the same during the war and a few years after. In the UK such things were rationed and you couldn’t just walk into a clothing store and buy exactly what you wanted. As I took out the vintage pieces one by one I realized I was in a time warp, I was facing an infinite number of years without the benefit of the Rolling Stones, Estele, George Lucas movies or Kentucky Fried Chicken. Well at least I wasn’t a little kid anymore and I hopefully wouldn’t be awakened by German bombers flying overhead on their way to bomb the shit out of Manchester or Liverpool.

Trying on one of the tweed sports jackets I stood in front of the full-length mirror and I was pleasantly surprised. I looked a bit like Captain Hastings out of the Poirot TV show.

When I descended the stairs I was completely transformed with a pair of baggy flannels that came high up my waist, an open neck shirt and a cricket sweater. I felt rather proud of myself and I was beginning to think of it all as a grand adventure and perhaps it was time to wander out into the street and meet up with some old friends.

The first two people I ran into were my childhood friend Allan and his wife Betty walking their dog. Believe it or not, it was the same damn dog I saw them with when I bumped into them on a visit to England back in the 70s. I remember it because it was such an ugly mutt, Heinz 57 and then some.

Allan and Betty were both sweethearts when they were at school with me and when they grew up they got married. Most people, including myself, married someone from a neighboring village or someone you met at a dance in town. Perhaps it was nature’s way of getting new blood into the community.

I was shocked to see them together as John had denied me the privilege of being with my late wife. However, in conversation, I found out they both died on the same day, and of course, they were both children of the village. I guess that gave them some sort of special status.

The pair not only welcomed me back to the past but also assured me that I was going to love it there.

“Even Stan Kenny’s happy and he was the most miserable kid in school, I wouldn’t have thought he would have chosen to come back here after all the trouble he got into,” Alan laughed.

“But did he choose?” I asked, “It just seems a little strange to me that so many of us should end up here, did we all have such a rosy retrospection of this place? ”

Betty pulled a bit of a face as if I was being an ungrateful sod. And perhaps I was.

It didn’t make sense for me to keep on questioning things, I had to face up to the fact that I was, as far as Earth was concerned, as dead as a doornail and it seemed infinitely better to be enjoying these pleasant surroundings that to just be enveloped in eternal darkness. The conversation with my old friends was a case in point, I hadn’t seen them for almost fifty years and it was great to shoot the shit with them again.

After they’d invited Ann and me over for dinner one night I moved on but not before I’d asked them to direct me to the library. This I discovered was an extension attached to the house of Kathleen Haley and her partner George Ogden. Kathleen and I used to walk to school together and she insisted that I sit and have coffee before getting down to browsing her well-stocked shelves.

She seemed to be delighted that Ann now had someone to keep her company, apparently, she’d been waiting for someone suitable to expire.

“She turned Stan Kenny down,” she said, “didn’t want him dead or alive, he’s living on his own at the moment in Fir Tree Cottage.”

I was surprised that she had any choice in the matter, John White certainly didn’t give me that impression but that was irrelevant now, I liked Ann and she made excellent rock cakes. Of course in a thousand years I might get some sort of middle age crisis but for the time being, I intended to make the best of my situation.

The library had some good books but I wanted one particular one, it was Watchmen by Alan Moore. Someone had bought it for me one Christmas but due to other interests, I’d only managed to read the first three chapters. Now with eternity on my side, I thought it would be a good time to finish it. However, there was a snag.

“We don’t have anything published after 1939,” she told me, “I’m not quite sure why but that’s the way it is.”

Disappointed but not devastated I started to glance over the fiction section. There was a whole collection of Agatha Christie, apart from those masterpieces like the Evil Under the Sun and Dead Man’s Folly published after 1940 and so I decided to read her very first novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles published in 1920.

I took a different route back to Rose Cottage and notice that all the little-thatched abodes all had names of flowers, shrubs or trees. In the front garden of Hawthorne Cottage was David Paine, he was quite a bit older than me but he recognized me right away. We got into conversation and he asked me if I was buried in St. Matthew’s Churchyard.

“No I was fried back in the United States,” I said.

“That sounds painful,” he laughed.

“Never felt a thing.”

“Well you’ll love it here,” he assured me, “it’s just like being a kid all over again, I never imagined heaven would be like this.”

I wanted to ask why he was so sure it was heaven but I thought better of it and moved on. As I walked along the river bank I saw a very large austere looking building on the opposite side. It was about two or three hundred yards back and stood on its own without a shrub or a tree or any other kind of landscaping. It reminded me of one of those houses they feature on the covers of Gothic novels with some terrified scantily clad young woman, who had been previously confined there, making her escape in the darkness.

When I got back to the cottage Ann was still at her job but I asked when she got back. She didn’t seem to want to talk about it.

“We don’t go near there,” she murmured, “that’s the Manor House- it’s where the Controller lives.”

“Who’s the Controller?”

“It’s none of our business – if we behave ourselves we have nothing to fear.”

She took off into the kitchen as if to avoid further questioning but I followed her.

“What do you mean by behave?”

“What do you think I mean – if you steal, hurt someone or vandalize property – that’s bad behavior isn’t it?”

“I suppose it is – but what’s the big grey house got to do with it?

“You have to report there if you commit a crime.”

“And?”

“You don’t come back.”

She began to busy herself with pots and pans in an effort to bring an end to the conversation and I decided not to pursue it further for the moment. However, it did make me feel that perhaps the “hereafter” was not as idyllic or perfect as it looked.

Ann cooked up a great meal and I attempted to help her in the kitchen but she seemed to prefer that I go back into the living room and read my book or something. Eventually, I did her bidding and became engrossed in my Agatha Christie until she called me into the kitchen for dinner. And what a dinner it was.

She laid the table as though she was entertaining aristocracy – beautiful china and crystal and even linen serviettes in silver rings. I suddenly remembered that the Worthy’s were one of the more affluent families in our village and she’d been brought up to appreciate finer things. Looking back it seemed funny to think that her parents, who ran a small business in town and were the only people who could afford a car, still had to haul water and trim oil lamps like the rest of us. I guess the stately old house they lived in, with its stunning views of the open country, meant more to them than modern conveniences.

She lit a candle, and it began to feel quite romantic. So romantic in fact I began to wonder if having sex with your companion was considered acceptable by the “so-called controller.”

After supper, I insisted that I help to clean up the dishes and then she asked me to get some wood in for the fire. This meant I had to go through the door that led into a laundry, not one with a washer and dryer but one with a big copper for boiling the water, an equally big galvanized wash tub and a wringer. It reminded me of washday as a child, that was every Monday, and I hated it, it caused such chaos in the tiny house we lived in. We didn’t have a laundry – it all took place in the kitchen that was barely 120 square feet.

There was a woodshed out the back, apparently, the logs were delivered but the householder was responsible for splitting it. I guess this was to make sure you didn’t get too sedentary.

Once I’d fed the fire I lit the oil lamp and sat down with a satisfied feeling. I was getting into the swing of things. When Ann came in with the coffee there was one rock cake on the plate.

“That’s yours,” she said, “It’s the last one. I’ll make some more tomorrow.”

As good as they were I wasn’t sure that I wanted rock cakes every day but I certainly wasn’t going to complain. While I demolished that last little devil she toyed with the radio.

“There’s a J B Priestly play on tonight,” she told me, “would you like to listen? It’s called “When we are Married.”

I hadn’t listened to radio drama since I was around 15 but I thought it would be nice to experience it again. Anyway, I didn’t have anything else I wanted to do. Once she’d got it tuned in she sat down in the chair next to me giving me a certain look before she did so. I was sorry there wasn’t a sofa so that we could sit together but there wasn’t, however, I did note for future reference that the big stuffed armchairs could accommodate two with a bit of a squeeze.

The play lasted a couple of hours and I had to admit it was quite enjoyable. As she got up and moved over to switch it off my eyes followed her, once again admiring her long slender legs as she bent over.

“I guess it’s time for bed,” she smiled, “are you going to take your book with you?”

I didn’t know if I was ready to read by the flame of an oil lamp just yet and so I said I’d just get some sleep.

“You can take the lamp from the mantel so you can find your way up the stairs,” she said, I’ll take the one from the kitchen.”

Some Things are Off-limits
As I was beginning to feel the effects of my new 25-year-old libido I thought I might have some difficulty sleeping but I actually went out like a light and didn’t know a thing until the chirping of birds woke me up around seven thirty. I went into the bathroom and managed to get a pee but realized I couldn’t bathe until I’d lit the wood burner. In the end, I just threw some cold water over my face and settled for that. Having a beard there was no urgency for a shave.

Back on the landing, I bumped into Ann who began to apologize for not getting up earlier so that I could have a bath. I told her not to worry about it but I was dying for a cup of coffee if there was one available. She put her hand over her mouth as if to say oops! Then apologized once more, as the stove in the kitchen had to be lit before that was possible.

It was about eight thirty by the time I had all the stoves and heaters lit and was sitting in front of a blazing log fire drinking my morning java and nibbling on some rye toast. She offered to make me, what she described as, a full English breakfast but that was not my style, I can’t take all that grease in the morning.

Having rained during the night the air drifting through the open window was heavy with the scent of flowers and meadow grass, it was quite intoxicating. Taking my coffee with me I stood in the doorway for a few minutes looking down the yet empty street that was bathed in the early morning sunshine. I was about to step back inside when I saw John Moore striding towards me with a big smile and hand extended.

“So good to see you again Danny, I’m sorry to disturb your breakfast but I’m the chairman of the village council and I’d like to have a few words.”

Ann immediately went into mother hen mode offering him coffee and toast, which he gladly accepted and we ended up having a chat about old times before he got down to official business. He explained that everyone was supposed to work and thought I might like working in the village store.

“It will give you a chance to meet all your old friends and to be quite honest we do need help there. Roger Garrett runs it with his sister Sheila but he sometimes gets a little overwhelmed. “

He further explained that all the men put in a twenty-four hour a week and the women just 12 hours,

“But we do ask for volunteers to help with harvesting, canning, brewing, cheese making and a few other activities,” he said, “those kinds of things need a team effort”.

He gave a sly grin when I told him to put me down for brewing and pretended to write it on his notepad, then he dug into his pocket and handed me a fistful of coupons.

“These are credits,” he said, “You’ll need a few to be going on with, we don’t use money, and you’ll notice that they have an expiry date to discourage hoarding.”

It all looked very civilized to me and I arranged to start work the following day at ten until four in the afternoon. He seemed quite excited that I’d “croaked,” and he could now fill a long-standing vacancy at the store.

“With a full staff we can open six days a week,” he said, we used to do that when Edmund Dee was there but he didn’t like serving the public and we had to switch him to gardening, he appears to be very good at that.”

John, his brother Harry, Alan Hayes and I always played together as kids. John was the eldest and even in those days, he was a born leader. Of course, there was no television or computers and we spent all of our time climbing trees, bird watching and making toys out of junk.

Attempting to trade on our past campfire boys relationship, I asked him about the Manor House and if he’d met the Controller. He looked thoughtful for a moment and then made towards the door, pausing before opening it,

“Do you remember the motto of our little gang Danny?”

I didn’t because I’m pretty sure we never had one.

“Curiositas autem occidit cattus,” he said, “curiosity killed the cat,” and then he smiled and slowly closed the door behind him.

When he’d gone I joined Ann in the kitchen where she was about to bake bread. She asked me to bring some wood in so she could get the oven really hot. When that task was finished I asked her if I could help her with the baking but she shook her head as if she felt I might be more of a liability.

In spite of having blobs of flour on her face, she looked very pretty in her frilly apron.

“You’ve got flour all over your nose,” I laughed, and I reached out to remove it with my finger. She just stood there frozen and I couldn’t resist putting my hands on her waist and pulling her very slowly toward me. With her warm body pressed tight against mine I kissed her and she kissed me back – I mean really kissed me back. It was what you might describe as 0 to 60 in 3 seconds, we were all over each other. As our tongues entwined I ran my hand gently over her breasts, she raised no objection.

It was Ann that led me to the stairs and then, with a cheeky smile on her face she said something I would never have expected from her.

“Catch me and you can fuck me,” she cried and ran up the stairs like a Gazelle.

In hot pursuit, I reached her room as she was beginning to peel off her clothes in the most provocative manner. I was amazed at what she had concealed under that frilly apron. She was gorgeous.

“I’m going to give you the best time any man ever had,” she said, stretching her naked body full across the bed as I continued to struggle with my last items of clothing. When I did throw myself down beside her I looked into those big blue eyes of hers I began to think this really was heaven.

In spite of my new 25-year-old body literally aching to go full steam ahead I wanted to take it really slow, to savor the moment and to give Ann a feeling that she was loved and needed. I began by kissing the end of her nose, that still had traces of flour on it, and I proceeded to slowly work my way down her soft warm body. She moaned softly and reached out to gently touch my skin with her fingertips.

When our lovemaking did reach the point, described in cheap novels as “a burst of unbridled passion,” the old-fashioned bed was bouncing off the wall, and this banging, coupled with the noise of the creaking spring, must have been clearly audible in the street outside. Our moans and groans, which neither of us made an effort to restrain, may have also attracted the attention of passersby, but nothing really seemed to matter, nothing except the way we felt about each other at that very special moment in time.

If this had been a sequence in a French movie we would have no doubt sat up and smoked a cigarette together but there were no cigarettes in the village, just pipes and two people sitting up in bed sucking on their briars, (no euphemism intended), would not have had the same romantic significance. Instead, we simply continued to make love late into the early afternoon and the baking was postponed until the following day.

Sheila Garret was there to help me on my first day at the store. There was a good selection of groceries but I noticed that everything was in glass jars and bottle, there was no plastic. That did make me happy. Quite a bit of the produce was from local farms and to keep things fresh we had two or three large blocks of ice delivered every other day by train, and brought up to the store by Gordon Harris in his pony and trap, often escorted by Ken Hobson in his station master’s hat. My first job was to smash this up and use it in the racks of meat, milk and other products needing to remain cold.

I loved the fact that most of the food was produced locally – god knows where the rest came from. There was certainly no multi-national labels on display, just names like Woodly’s Piccalilli, David Jardine’s Finest Honey, and Rose Braden’s Raspberry Jam. Products like flour, sugar, oats and dried peas were just in brown paper bags. It didn’t seem to matter that they were not packaged in artistically designed wrappers or backed up by high powered advertising, one had a sense that the makers were staking their whole reputation on the quality of their product.

Even though we didn’t have electricity, telephones, computers or TV, I had to admit that the living world I’d left behind would have been a much nicer place if it had been run along similar lines. At this point, of course, it was sort of new to me. Decades had passed since I lived such a simple life. I realized I could easily change my mind in the future, either as a result of boredom or perhaps witnessing some unpleasant side effect that I hadn’t anticipated.

I cheerfully put in my 4-hour shifts each day and enjoyed meeting all my old school friends, some, who I recognized immediately, and some who demanded a second look. One case in point was Gillian Waters, who I remember as a being rather overweight but at 25 she could have found a job with any model agency. She’d been partnered with my old friend Harry Moore, who was still skinny and looked like a nerd, but Oh what a happy nerd he looked.

A couple of times I took Ann for a night out at the Mason Gate, a little pub where Eileen Brewster and Percy Thompson served their customers with home-brewed ale and local wines, assisted by the beautiful Digby sisters Joan and Sybil. It was a cozy little place where you could sup a pint and enjoy a hot pie or some bread and cheese, and watch an enthusiastic game of darts taking place. The smell of pipe smoke would sometimes drift in from the smoking room and I must say, in spite of never taking up the habit myself I did enjoy the aroma.

On Sunday there was no church, in fact, there appeared to be no religion. Instead of singing hymns and listening to some sanctimonious old preacher spouting off we all gathered at the Hall for a potluck lunch, a few public announcements and occasionally a little light entertainment. This might consist of a few songs accompanied by Patsy Alcorn on the piano, or a comedy routine by her brother Derek, who’d actually been a professional performer until he was caught performing in bed with someone else’s wife. Apparently shot six times he was never able to do an encore.

Almost two months went by and I was not only getting used to the life – I loved it. The weather was best described as perpetual Spring, like Camelot it tended to rain mostly at night, and I was told that at Christmas time, that was referred to as the Winter Festival, it conveniently snowed for two weeks.

In the evenings, Ann and I would sit crammed in one armchair, with our arms around each other, listening to a play or some other program on the radio, or we’d play chess or scrabble in front of the flickering fire. After that we’d retire to her room, having pre-heated the bed with hot water bottles and most nights we’d go at it like two rabbits.

Shadows from the Past
Everything was going fine until one Sunday lunch when Ann nudged me and asked me if I knew the young woman on the other side of the room. I followed her gaze and my whole body began to shake.

“Shit – how did she get here?”

“They’ve brought her here for you,” she whispered, with a most serious look on her face.

“She doesn’t belong here,” I said, “she isn’t even English.”

“That doesn’t matter – you know her don’t you?”

“Yes – I know her but I haven’t seen her for the best part of 65 years.”

“Was she your girlfriend?”

“You might say that she was the first girl I ever fell in love with.”

“But you didn’t marry her.”

“Of course I didn’t marry her,” I replied, getting a little agitated, “she treated me like a piece of shit and almost destroyed my life.”

I daren’t admit to Ann that I’d never fallen out of love with her despite the way she manipulated and deceived me. In fact, I still dreamed about her occasionally, I could see her face and hear that magical laughter just as if it all happened yesterday.

“What’s her name?” she asked, interrupting my train of thought.

“Kristina – Kristina Kemper,”

“That’s a pretty name,”

“But what is she doing here – what the hell is she doing here?”

“It’s to see whether you can resist temptation,” she explained, her voice breaking a little as if she was upset. ”They want to see if she can take you away from me.”

“Why would they do that?” still not really knowing who “they” were.

“They do that with everyone in some form or other.”

“Did they do it with you?”

“Of course.”

“An old boyfriend?”

“I don’t want to talk about it – I passed the test – that’s all I will say.”

I glanced over towards Kristina, she’d obviously been waiting to catch my eye and she smiled. Oh my God, 65 years suddenly became yesterday, every moment we spent together started flowing through my mind and it was terrifying. I didn’t really want to speak to her but Ann insisted and said that she’d walk home by herself and leave me to my reunion. After that, she simply got up and left and slowly everyone began to leave the hall except the people who were designated to clean up. Kristina and I were alone at our respective tables just staring across at each other.

I tried not to smile or give her the impression I was happy to see her but she smiled at me and got up to walk towards me. She had the same slender figure she had when she was seventeen and seeing her move towards me in that simple cotton dress, that clung to her thighs as she walked made me desire her just as much as I did back then.

Kristina slid into the seat opposite me.

“Aren’t you glad to see me?”

“What the hell are you doing here?” I snapped, trying to give her the impression that I was a stronger person than the 19-year-old she once knew.

“I was invited.”

“Why?”

“Perhaps someone thought that you needed me.”

“You flatter yourself,” I said, trying to play the tough guy while longing to throw my arms around her and kiss those beautiful lips.

“Well you did once ask me to marry you,” she smiled, “or did you forget.”

“That was decades ago.”

“Are you saying that you’ve changed your mind about me? Are you saying you don’t love me anymore?” she asked, adopting a sad puppy dog look that was about as genuine as a three dollar bill. “I’ve been told that you have never stopped dreaming about me.”

“Look I’ve settled in very nicely with Ann, I don’t know what games the powers that be are playing but I’m quite happy the way things are.”

“I still have the poem you sent me,” she said, pulling a piece of crumpled paper from her purse, “do you want me to read it to you?”

“It’s up to you – I don’t care either way.”

She opened it up carefully never taking her eyes off me as she did so.

“It’s a very nice poem, even though it’s a bit sad,” she said, “I’ve treasured it all these years.”

When the creased and yellowing piece of paper was completely unfolded she gave me one last glance before she began to read it, in a low sultry voice.

“Yellow Butterflies,” she began,

“My world was once

A world of

Multi-colored glass,

And the sun-drenched days

Danced by

Like yellow butterflies.

It was our summer!

And she

Barely seventeen,

Made flowers

Dowdy by comparison.

My heart was captive

To her beauty,

My sense of reason

Lost

In the warmth of her caress.

My world was once

A world of

Multi-colored glass,

But someone dropped it

And it broke.”

She made a little sniffling sound as if she was fighting back a tear and then refolded the paper and slipped it back in her purse.

“I bet you’d like to know why I treated you the way I did.”

“Why don’t you tell me?”

OK let’s go back to my cottage, I’ll make some coffee and I’ll tell you the whole story.”

It was strange, as much as I wanted to say no – I couldn’t – I was powerless. On the way over to her place, she hung onto my arm as if we were lovers and that caught the attention of a few of my friends.

A Near Fatal Attraction
When we got to the cottage it was, like all the others, named after a flower and ironically it was called Monkshood Cottage, Monkshood being one of the most poisonous flowers in the world. Instead of coffee Kristina poured two glasses of wine the then joined me on the sofa.

“Do you know why it didn’t work for us?” she asked.

I shook my head and sipped on the wine.

“Because I was a 17-year-old woman and you were a 19-year-old boy, I was at that stage in life when I needed sex and all you wanted to do was kiss and canoodle. It was very monotonous. Other men set me on fire you just dampened my spirit – I liked you – I liked you a lot but I couldn’t see spending my life with someone who was trying to be a gentleman all the time.”

“But I didn’t want to come onto you too strong because I wanted to treat you with respect – I thought you were perfect and I didn’t want to spoil that by groping you as if you were some cheap tart. I was afraid of losing you.”

“But you did lose me didn’t you and you’ve spent all of your life thinking what it would have been like to have had sex with me.”

I didn’t say anything because she was on the button, I had thought about it, I’d even thought that I should have tried to make her pregnant in the hope she’d marry me out of necessity. However, she lost total interest in me before things could go any further, then I’d see her about town with other guys. She didn’t ignore me on those occasions – she actually smirked as though she was showing contempt for me.

To escape the heartache I turned to drinking, got into some trouble and got posted back to England. I did manage to exchange a couple of letters with her at a later date, explaining exactly how I felt about her and asked her to marry me again but she stopped writing and I lost touch.

At various times, using the internet I tried to trace her, I even visited Germany a couple of times and phoned dozens of people with the same name but to no avail. Now, when I thought I’d got my (after)life in order she reappeared, seemingly determined to ruin my life all over again.

She put her glass down on the side table and then took mine and did the same.

“I’m going to give you what you’ve been longing for, for the last 65 years,” she smiled, and taking my hand she placed it on her breast and crushed her soft lips against mine. I had a feeling I was being made a fool of but I still couldn’t resist her. Soon we were rolling on the carpet together tearing each others’ clothes off.

Ann was quite amazing in bed but Kristina took it to a new level, for over an hour we rolled around the floor like two mad dogs, at times she wrapped her legs around me so tight that I could hardly breathe, she clawed my back with her long painted fingernails and if I yelled out in pain she simply increased the intensity. At one point she begged me to slap her ass and although I was reluctant to do so she eventually goaded me into hitting her so hard it brought up big red welts on her skin.

When we were practically exhausted she led me into the bedroom where she used her long delicate fingers to apply exotic oil to every inch of my body, and then as if she was performing in some avant-garde ballet, she slipped and slithered all over me until I couldn’t take it anymore. I grabbed her shoulders, flung her onto her back and drove it into her until she let out a piercing scream. She’d got what she wanted.

After that, with a smug satisfied expression on her face, she fell asleep. I quietly dressed and slipped out of the cottage. When I got back to Ann she had supper ready and we sat across from each other as though we were both mute. Not a word was spoken. That continued throughout the evening and that night, I decided to sleep in my own bed and I could hear her crying in hers. I felt like dying all over again, the afterlife that seemed so perfect was now more like a nightmare.

The next morning I looked at her across the breakfast table and thought how different she was to Kristina, whose appearance was more dramatic, more exotic, and oozed sensuality. Ann was fresh-faced and she was pretty, and she was kinder and more reliable but it was not easy to turn my back on Kristina, it was not easy at all.

Just before ten, I got ready to go to work and I gave her a quick peck on the cheek as I left. I managed to get through my shift and I was on my way home when I got bushwhacked by no other than my femme fatale. We sat on the wall at the bottom of her garden and she began to talk about the afterlife she was leading.

“Why would you want to stay here with these peasants?” she asked, “reading by oil lamp and listening to dull radio programs. Come back with me and enjoy the neon lights, the sidewalk cafes, the nightclubs, flat screen TVs and the shops. This is no way to live or die – believe me we’ll have a great life and lots and lots of sex.”

To my amazement, she produced a cell phone and started to flick through photos of her in her German themed afterlife in living color. She grabbed onto my hand,

“Come on let’s go to the Manor House right now and we’ll be instantaneously transported to a completely different world – a place where we can have fun together.”

“What about Ann?” I asked, “I just can’t walk away from her like that.”

“Don’t worry, John White will look after everything, he promised me he would.”

“But…”

“No buts – let go,” she cried and she pulled me towards the river bridge and in the direction of the Manor. My heart was pounding and so was my head as we walked across the field knee-deep in meadow grass and buttercups, getting closer and closer to the somber building with its shuttered windows and foreboding metal clad front door. The sun that had been shining brightly a few minutes before now gave way to clouds, a chill wind blew across the open country and made me shiver as if someone was walking over my grave.

When we reached the stone step she grasped the iron ring that unlatched the door and turned it.

“Come on,” she said, “let’s make it all happen.”

I peered into the dimly lit interior for a few seconds as she stepped inside, then without as much as a goodbye, I pulled the door closed and quickly retraced my steps across the field without looking back. The faint sound of her voice calling after me trailed into the distance as I quickened my pace and then broke into a run. As I got closer to the river the clouds began to clear and the sun broke through once more.

When the bridge came into view I saw Ann waiting for me. We rushed towards each other and we embraced like two love-struck teenagers.

“I love you Ann,” I whispered in her ear.

“I love you too,” she replied, and with my arm around her waist, we walked back toward Rose Cottage.

“I’ve made you some Rock Cakes,” she said, as we approached the front door.

Ithought she might have but Rock Cakes were the furthest things from my mind at that moment and she knew it! THE END

LEGAL NOTES
Copyright 2018 Cristiano Caffieri

You may not sell, license, sub-license, rent, transfer or distribute any part of my stories or images in any format, or claim ownership.

This material contains markers and is fully protected

The characters portrayed in my stories are, for all intents and purposes, fictional and any similarity with persons living or dead is purely a product of your imagination.

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