Death And Taxes
He told me I was going to die, but everybody dies. What he didn’t tell me was that he was going to kill me. I wish I knew what he meant, you know, before it happened. I would have avoided him. I would have gone away. I certainly wouldn’t have leant him my gun. Not that it matters, everyone dies sooner or later. Some people would rather it happened sooner rather than later, especially when they’re thinking of someone else, someone annoying, but most people try not to think about death. And because we don’t like to dwell on death we don’t seem to know much about it. Maybe that was my problem. I didn’t want to think about my own death. I didn’t want to consider the possibility of dying. I certainly didn’t want to think he meant straight away, right after he told me that I was going to die. I didn’t want to believe that he wanted me dead; or that his words were more of a threat than a comment on the nature of mortality. So I ignored it, he shot me and I died.
It’s funny, you know, I remember the moment I first realised that I was going to die. I was about four, maybe five. It was before my grandfather died. He had cancer; maybe the family was talking about it. Maybe they were talking about someone else. I can’t remember exactly, not that I would have known what they were talking about. Adults always talked about stuff I didn’t understand. Anyway, my father said something about death and taxes and it dawned on me.
So I said, ‘What do you mean? I’m not going to die.’
And my father replied, ‘Yes you are, everybody dies. We get born and then we live for a while and then one day we die. Everybody dies.’
I got a little upset. ‘Are you going to die? Is Mummy going to die?’ I asked him.
‘One day, a long time from now,’ he said. I started to cry. He picked me up and sat me on his knee. ‘It’s all right, you’ll be all grown up by then,’ he said.
Dad got in trouble off my mother, he just couldn’t lie to make me feel better and as my realisation grew, I realised that my brothers and sister were going to die, my dog, Bambi, and everyone else, Nanna and Par, everyone, even me. Everyone was going to die. I couldn’t stop crying.
Then one day, my grandmother came to our house. She was upset and then my father went away with her. After lunch I asked my mother where Daddy was. She said he went to sit with Granddad. I thought that was strange. He never went to sit with Granddad before.
‘When is he coming home?’ I asked.
‘Daddy’s upset, because Granddad died today,’ she said softly.
‘Did Granddad die like the pups?’ I asked.
‘Kind of, he was very sick and he died.’
‘Has Daddy gone to look at Granddad?’ I asked.
‘Daddy has gone to say goodbye.’
‘Oh.’ I thought a moment. ‘Can you say goodbye to dead people?’ I asked. What I really wanted to know was whether dead people could say goodbye back.
I remember that our Corgi, Bambi, had pups and some of them died. We went out to play with them, but some of them were cold and still. My brother ran to the house, and my mother came back running with him. She took the dead puppy off me. He was my favourite. He had a white patch on the back of his neck. I was upset when she told me that the puppy had died. His tongue was sticking out, I remember that. My pup was the first person I ever loved that died, at least the first one I can remember dying.
My mother used fly spray in the house. She had a green pump spray thing with a cylinder at the front that you filled from a bottle of poison and then pumped the handle, like a bike pump, and a fine mist of fly spray came out the front. I remember my sister, she was maybe a year old, picking up dead flies and eating them. I went to stop her, it didn’t look right, eating dead flies off the floor, but she was insistent. Then she offered me one. I thought about it. She seemed to like them. Mother was not happy when she found her sitting on the linoleum, about to put another dead fly in her mouth.
I said, ‘She likes eating them.’
Mother was mortified. I didn’t say anything but my older brother used to get them for her. He liked watching her eat dead flies. Mother told me that he used to feed me garden worms before I realised that dirt didn’t taste that good. Apparently he used to dig for them with a spoon and then scoop them up and feed them to me, dirt and all. I was a baby so I have no memory of the worms. There’s no point asking me what they tasted like.
Anyway, I never thought of the dead flies as dead animals, or that my mother would have committed genocide on their entire race if she could have. They were just black buzzing things and then they fell to the floor, skated around in circles buzzing furiously, and then they stopped. I suspect babies don’t have a good understanding of what is food and what is a dead insect. But who knows, it may be cultural. Some people eat insects. The Israelites ate locusts, apparently ‘God’ told them to. Locusts are insects. I remember seeing the Prime Minister on the telly and a fly crawled into his mouth. We were laughing so much that we didn’t see if it came back out, but he never waved it away. I never understood why people on the telly let flies crawl all over their faces.
Over the years I saw some death, people who died in accidents, people who died from too much drink, cancer, heart attacks and that sort of thing. People look very different after they die. When I was 16 my other grandfather died. I had only seen him an hour before. I could hardly recognise him: his eyes looked different and his teeth looked too big for his mouth. It was awful. He was the first human person I ever saw after he had died.
I never knew anyone who was murdered, other than me of course, but you can’t really know yourself, because you are yourself. You can only know other people, which is ironic really, because you never really know other people, only yourself. Anyway, all the people I knew who died, died of natural causes, smoking, or in road accidents or when things went wrong at work. None of them got shot. Then I got shot and died. So everyone I knew can say, they knew someone who was murdered. I don’t think I’d like that, knowing someone who was murdered. What they didn’t realise was that most of them also knew someone who had committed murder. They still don’t know and no matter how hard I try I can’t tell them.
You know how people say stuff about giving them a sign to prove the afterlife? Well, all of that’s a bit of a waste of time. I gave a friend several signs, but he was an atheist so he didn’t think anything of it. Another woman, a spiritualist, was always going about saying that I was speaking to her, or that she could see me, but she was always looking in the wrong direction. When I did speak to her she couldn’t hear me.
The funny thing is, I know that I’m dead, I know that there is nothing I can do about being dead, but I still want to do something about it. I want justice. I wish I could come back, finish a few things off. Clean out the shed, shag the lady across the road, organise my finances, cut some people out of my will. I wish I could have had a funeral where only people I liked turned up. I wish I didn’t have to hear their fake condolences. But what can you do? There’s not much point in being dead. It’s kind of like before you were born, kind of like nonexistence, you can’t do anything.
Descartes said, ‘I think therefore I am’ or ‘Cogito ergo sum’, if you prefer the Latin. I used to think he was right, but now I’m not so sure. I can think, but I’m not, or should it be I’m dead, ‘So I think but I aren’t’. No, that doesn’t sound like proper grammar, but I can’t think of the opposite to ‘I am’. Maybe there is life after death. Anyway, ‘therefore I am’, just doesn’t sound very definite, if you know what I mean. Maybe another word would have helped. ‘I think therefore I exist’, almost works, except for the fact that thought is not a requirement of existence.
In The Philosopher’s Song, the Monty Python boys interpreted Descartes’ dictum as, ‘I drink therefore I am’, which makes just as much sense. A French bloke by the name of Destutt de Tracy said, ‘I sense, therefore I exist as a sentient being’, which makes much more sense. At least it has parameters. I always thought the problem was that Descartes didn’t really understand the nature of existence, or life for that matter. You know … you’re alive, you’re alive, you’re alive, then you’re not alive. You’re dead. If you’re a tree, you’re a living tree, you’re alive, then you’re a dead tree. A tree doesn’t think, but it’s alive, it exists.
If Descartes was a tree, he wouldn’t have said anything, because trees don’t talk or think, but if he was a tree and we applied his dictum it might have been ‘I transpirate, therefore I am a tree’. It’s not very catchy, but it would have been true. The trouble is that this stuff doesn’t really help us understand life or death or existence for that matter. But it’s a shame Descartes is dead, because you can’t argue with dead people. They don’t say goodbye back and they don’t defend their philosophy either. But, it’s more of a shame that I’m dead, because no-one will remember me. At least Descartes has his crappy dictum, even if the ordinary person doesn’t really know what it means, or why it’s wrong.
Being dead is not fun. Immediately after I was shot, I stumbled and fell, I clutched my chest, blood gushed out. I managed to say, ‘You bastard’, then everything faded away. I could feel the pain for a while. I heard distant voices calling me; my eyes flickered open, there were people gathering around, shock was setting in, all the sounds were high pitched and everyone was bathed in bright light. I felt cold. But I was still alive. I realised I was in shock.
Then my heart stopped, the light faded and I died. Nothingness. My brain would soon die and I would be dead for all eternity. There was no tunnel of light, no angels to accompany me to heaven or snarling shadows to drag me down a storm water grate like in Ghost. There was nothingness, peaceful nothingness. Then there were flashes of memory, the shooting, my contemplations of death, the pups and the dead flies and all sorts of theological crap that I easily dismissed. And there was an incessant beeping I couldn’t get to the bottom of.
I opened my eyes two days ago. I had a tube stuck down my throat so I couldn’t talk. Apparently paramedics were close by when I was shot. They arrived just in time, managed to stem the flow of blood, fill me up with fluid and got my heart started. The mind plays funny tricks on you. Not when you’re dead, that was the nothingness part, but when you’re in a coma your mind works overtime. All that stuff about talking to people and giving signs was my overactive imagination trying to deal with the shooting. For the record my childhood memories are an accurate telling of my first encounters with death.
So what now? Identify the killer – tick. Get better and shag the lady from across the road. If I’m lucky she’ll succumb to my sophisticated seduction. (Just kidding, I’ll be lucky if she will have me.) Then maybe I should clean out the shed and fix my finances. I think I should start on the bucket list as soon as possible, nothing too strenuous to start with. Getting shot, dying, and being brought back changed my perspective on life.
No matter how long life is, it’s too short. Don’t sacrifice living today for some imaginary prize in the afterlife, live today, live a full life, love, don’t hate, that’s what I am going to do. Too many times I hear people say they regret the things they did not do, not the mistakes they made. So live a life and don’t be too afraid of taking chances or making mistakes. Remember, life is fleeting, death is permanent. So make the most of life. I will.
Bio: Every now and then things happen that make us evaluate our lives. Recently Shane has been thinking about death. Not in a bad way, but rather remembering funny and sad things about death, and so this story encapsulates some of those things. In his 'spare time', Shane is a senior lecturer at UWS and is also the curator for the newly-established narratorPRIDE.com