Registry Office for Deaths and Birthdays
“Number 358,” the woman behind the desk called.
I checked my chit, probably for the 358th time. Yep, it was me.
I’d been waiting for hours, forced to sit in a sterile room with dozens of others, now all desperately double-checking their chits in the vain hope that they had number 358 while already knowing they hadn’t.
My arse was over it. The pre-formed orange plastic seat hurt. One size fits all – bullshit! How can they get away with it? – the seats never actually fit anyone; a perfectly designed anatomical abomination.
But, like everything else these days, there was no point complaining. What good would that do? – It would just get you on someone’s birthday list. As I stood, my hips screamed stop; I arched my back, then waddled over to the bespectacled woman behind the perspex protection at the front desk.
“Room 14c,” she said sourly, “down the left corridor, follow the yellow line. You must follow the yellow line.”
After a long walk down a personality-free corridor, then up an escalator, I easily found the cream-walled room: two chairs and a desk.
Nice, I thought sarcastically.
Besides the trifecta of insults to interior design, the room was empty. Unsure what to do, I sat in front of the desk and waited.
I checked the screen on my sleeve. It was 11.12 am; I’d been waiting in this showcase for banality for over three hours.
Hurry up, I thought; what a bloody nightmare.
Bored; 10 minutes later, I looked about the room. Non-textured navy felt tiles, fraying at the edges spread like a carbuncle from the room into the corridor and then throughout the floor. The chairs were moderately more comfortable than those in the waiting area but had clearly been designed by a sadist. The desk was clean, a virgin space of lost opportunity and bureaucratic administration.
The walls were cream, not the light wispy shade of off-white, but the gut-churning unguent paste somewhere between snot and gastritis vomit. I studied the walls intently, trying my hardest to find at least one redeeming feature. After 5 minutes of scanning, I laughed out loud. I’d found it! It was a fly. It was sitting on the rear wall, near the top right corner. The fly seemed to smile at me as his eyes contacted mine.
I wondered if he followed the yellow line as well.
I continued to study it. The fly put on a show for me. It started stepping out to an imaginary walking baseline. I had no idea fly’s knew how to grapevine. I smiled and thought I saw the fly wink.
A woman with a clipboard stormed into the room.
They must only employ visually impaired women.
“That’s me,” I said, rechecking the number just to make sure. I handed the chit over.
“I’m Mrs Drake; happy birthday, Mr Whiti,” she said without smiling.
I smiled back anyway.
“Married soon, I answered with pride.”
“You live together?”
“Er, no, not until we’re married.”
“Single, then,” she said, ticking another box.
She looked up, “that’s quaint – old-fashioned.”
“She’s worth it, Mrs Drake; I love her so much.”
Mrs Drake’s sharp features softened.
“You know why you’re here, Mr Whiti?”
“Sort-off, but not really.”
“You read the information sheet airdropped to your reading cap?”
“But, you’re still unsure?”
I nodded again. She rolled her eyes.
“Okay,” she said. “When you turn 25, you get the opportunity to register your birthday. If you register, ‘The Supremacy’ will gift you a present every year. If you don’t register, then you get no present.”
“Simple,” I interrupted. “Is that all?”
“Er, no. The present you receive comes with conditions.”
She handed me a laminated card.
“Read this, please.”
I did a quick scan and then paraphrased.
“You can only kill one person per annum.
Cannot kill family members.
Cannot kill spouses, partners or love interests.
Cannot kill officials and employees of ‘The Supremacy.’
You cannot kill anyone under the age of 25.
You cannot kill people by proxy.
You cannot kill random strangers.
You cannot kill employees of the same company you work for.
You cannot kill people who aren’t on the register.
Killing can only take place on your birthday.
Revenge killings are not allowed.
I must inform ‘The Supremacy’ 7 days before the killing to confirm the present.
Failure to identify a gift will result in a proxy killing by ‘The Supremacy.’ “
“Cool,” I said, “You mean I’m allowed to kill someone on my birthday and get away with it? Oh wow, how awesome. Sign me up – register me now, do whatever you need to do.”
“Mr Whiti,” she interrupted. “I must explain this to you, so listen carefully: registering yourself means you are eligible to be murdered. And, once registered, you can never de-register.”
“Crikey, that’s heavy. Do I get time to think about it?”
“No! Mr Whiti, you were supposed to have made your decision three months ago! This is the last day for you to decide. If you decide to register, you must complete Form 637 to extend your first gift until the 3rd of October. If you do not register by the end of today, you can never register.”
She was getting pissy.
“Can employees of ‘The Supremacy’ kill on their birthdays?”
“Yes,” she answered, with a smile on her face.
I had thawed the ice queen a little.
“Well, I’d better hurry up and make up my mind then! One last question, though, sorry. I can’t get killed if I don’t register, right?”
I paused and looked up at the fly; he seemed to nod.
“Better get Form 637, Miss,” I said.
I let myself in; Ang was probably out the back doing some sewing.
“Ang,” I yelled, “I’m here.”
“Be with you in a minute, Jack,” she called.
With Ang out the back, I went to the lounge and jumped on the couch. A simple pleasure usually prohibited. I fluffed up two cushions from the plump adorning the faux leather suite.
“Hey you,” Ang said, as she walked in, material in hand, “feet off, how many times do I have to tell you?”
“Sorry.” I shuffled my feet to the floor.
“What do you think of this?” Ang held up the material and pressed it against her body; “it’ll be a lovely summer frock?”
“Yeah, very nice,” I appeased. “But, you’d look good in anything, darling.”
Ang raised her eyebrows, “how was the archery club?”
“Bloody good, getting better every week. That new bow you gave me for my birthday really makes a difference.”
She smiled, “have you worked out your target yet? You’ve only got two days left to register it.”
“I know, I know! But honestly, I’m struggling; I really am. I wish I never registered in the first place.”
“There must be someone,” Ang said, no doubt trying to soothe my angst.
“Oh, there’s plenty. There’s the prick who stole my vector park at the mall. There’s Charlie Henderson; he was such an arse to me at school and bullied me for years. There’s the wanker from the services authority who cocked up my information package then cut me off! Even Mrs Drummond is doing my head in. Constantly going on about me making too much noise at night. Seriously, there are hundreds of candidates.”
“Well, why not choose one of them?”
“It’s a bitch; I’ve checked the register, but they’re not registered. They can’t be touched.”
Ang sighed. “Looks like ‘The Supremacy’, stuffed up again. This policy was supposed to make people behave and be nicer to each other. It was supposed to eliminate the assholes, make more space, and food plentiful. Instead, the assholes don’t register. What a complete stuff up!”
It was my turn to sigh.
“Fancy Italian?” Ang asked. “We could go down to Toni’s.”
“Why not? I could do with a change of scenery. A nice feed of linguine and clams is just what I need.”
Candlelight made Ang’s eyes sparkle more than they usually did. Her beautiful brown hair shone like polished bronze, and I could barely hold myself back from reaching out and tucking the escaping soft bangs back behind her ears.
“You look beautiful,” I said before wetting my lips on a lusty Cabernet.
“Thanks, Jack, I’m happy. You make me happy. Not long now before the big day. “
I smiled as I watched her graceful hand move adagio-like toward her wine glass. She picked it up with elegant fingers and brought it to her lips with the poise of a prima ballerina. She swirled the glass; the wine danced, whirling around the rim before being glissaded to Ang’s lips. She didn’t sip the wine; it was far more sensual than that – it was a kiss, a kiss so gentle and soft, it could bring atheists to God, Jesus to bed and soldiers to weep. I fell in love with her again, which I did nearly every day. It was a love so pure; I was never sure whether I was her redeemer or whether she was mine.
Mario Lanza spun Catanzaro silk as he belted out Recondita Armonia, the music as soft as the lighting, both wafting with the smells from the kitchen, senses weaving themselves together into a majestic, exquisite tapestry nestling into the rustic chic of Toni’s trattoria. It was a tapestry of good food, fine wine and love.
Ang smiled at me.
I reached over and held her hand. “You look amazing tonight, simply gorgeous.”
There were times I said this half-heartedly; I mean, I meant it, she was gorgeous, but it was said with ulterior motives and intent. I still held onto the forlorn hope that one day, just out of the blue, Ang would relent and give herself to me. It had never happened before, but there was always hope. Once, just once, that’s all I dreamed of.
Not before we’re married, she’d told me a thousand times. It will make it more special.
Knowing you held the winning lottery ticket long before the drawer was made was excruciatingly painful. Every night, every day, I dreamt of cashing in – spending up big time. Give me the jackpot now – please, Ang, please! What’s the point of waiting?
She wore a crisp white linen shirt and an in-season forest green skirt with black tights. She looked a million dollars. If smell were a sound, an orchestra was playing; oregano, basil, thyme, butter and garlicky tomato, harmonising with the virtuoso Jo Malone, delicately daubed on Ang’s neck and wrists. My heart sang.
“I love you so much,” I crooned.
“Not long now,” she purred.
The waiter approached carrying two bowls of steaming soup, our entre.
“That’s me, thanks; the lady is having the pasta e Cici.”
The waiter stared at me, indignation on his face. “I’m not stupid; I know the lady is having the chickpeas; I took the order – remember?”
Gobsmacked, I uttered, “I beg your pardon.”
“Let it go, Jack, be nice,” Ang interrupted, “let’s just enjoy the soup.”
The waiter scowled and turned away.
“What’s his problem?” I muttered.
“Let it go, Jack; we’re having a lovely night. It’s not worth it – we just won’t tip him.”
“Okay,” I grunted, selling an unconvincing tepid smile.
“Uh oh, uh oh.”
“What’s up, darling?”
Ang was trawling her soup with her spoon.
“I don’t believe it,” she said. “She looked up, horror written on her face; she stared directly into my eyes.
“You won’t believe me, but there’s a fly in my soup!”
“Don’t worry; it won’t drink much – boom-boom!”
“Very droll Jack, no, I’m serious! Look, it’s dog-paddling! Oh my God, it’s so disgusting.”
Ang lifted and tilted her bowl; sure enough, a little black dot of wings and legs was doing frantic laps.
I couldn’t help myself, “I hope he likes chickpeas.”
“Jack, stop it!”
I spied the waiter three tables away.
I raised my hand, “excuse me, service, please.”
The waiter looked over but continued serving.
“Excuse me,” I said again, this time louder.
It gave the waiter little choice other than to traipse over.
“What?” he scowled. “I’m busy.”
“Now, I don’t want any smart arse comments, but there’s a fly in my fiancé’s soup.”
He broke into a grin before repeating, “there’s a fly in your fiancé’s soup.”
“…And?” …he added
He stood there, a silly smug look on his face, “well, what’s the punchline?”
“There is no fucking punchline, you imbecile; take the bloody soup away and bring back the Manager.”
My tone and volume brought the busy restaurant to silence.
The waiter grinned, then unexpectedly burst into a soliloquy.
“I have eaten, I have drunk, I have taken a bath; if I die, what do I care?”
“What are you talking about, you fool?”
He stood hands-on-hips, Cheshire cat-faced, then, in slow motion, picked up Ang’s bowl and poured the stodgy contents all over her hair and blouse.
I exploded from my chair, my guns, ‘banger and mash,’ locked and loaded, I was going to punch the little shit into next month, but he was too quick. He had already torn off his apron and was halfway out the door.
Registry Office for Deaths and Birthdays
Another three-hour wait, but this time I didn’t mind. I’d gotten there earlier; my number 167 evidenced this. I knew exactly where I needed to go when my number was called – follow the yellow line.
Room 14c hadn’t changed. I scanned the room; no fly today. I smiled to myself, wondering if he had enjoyed the soup or at least his swim.
To my surprise, Mrs Drake charged in a few minutes later. Same stern face, same clipboard, same manner. She promptly sat down and clicked her pen with the efficiency only afforded to minions of ‘The Supremacy.’
“Hi, Mrs Drake,” I said while handing over my chit.
She ignored me; she obviously had a job to do and a way to do it.
“It’s me, Jack; we met a few months ago, Jack Whiti.”
“Married in mind and soul, but three months and 17 days to make it legal. I can’t wait.”
Half a smile escaped Mrs Drake’s lips. “Are you still living apart?”
“Single then,” she said.
“Now, Mr Whiti,” she added, “how can I help you today?”
“I want to register a killing, please.”
“Okay, we will need to fill out Form 637K.”
She flicked through her clipboard and came to a stop at Form 637K.
“Date of Killing?”
“3rd of October.”
“Name of Victim?”
She fumbled her pen; it accidentally dropped to the floor. She reached down to retrieve it, then came up red-faced, embarrassed for her clumsiness, I imagined.
Mrs Drake nodded.
“Server – waiter.”
“Method of killing?”
“Bow and arrow – archery target.”
Mrs Drake smiled, “ooh,” she said, “I haven’t had one of those before.”
“I guess you get all sorts in here,” I replied. “Quiet, shy types, accountants, and librarians. I suppose you get good people, as well as assholes.”
She nodded this time. “Yes, you get your fair share of assholes. I’m pleased to say I don’t think you are one of them. Sign here, please.”
I signed and smiled.
Metropolitan Vapour Station
I was running late. Early starts get me every time. It was cold this morning; there was more vapour around than usual. Spring can be a bitch sometimes. I pulled my coat closer, fastened the buttons – shivered.
“Stay behind the yellow line,” a voice on the tannoy instructed. “The 7.42 vapour train to Park Gate is approaching platform 5.”
I shuffled forward. My shift started at 8.00 am, and even if I caught the 7.42, I would still be late. I made my way through the commuters toward the platform’s edge, making sure I was behind the yellow line. Last night I’d stayed at Ang’s later than I should have. The closer the wedding day approached, the longer kisses and cuddles on the couch became. Like the vapour, it was breath-taking yet agonising.
Not long now, not long now.
I looked up at the platform clock – 7.42 am.
Then, I watched the vapour train approach from around the bend down the track.
There was the usual crush toward the encroaching train. I took another half step forward. I really needed to catch this train. My manager had already given me a verbal warning for my tardiness, and today I needed to ask him for time off tomorrow. Tomorrow, I was going to receive my last and belated birthday present! I needed to catch this train.
Space evaporated all around me. People sidled alongside me and behind me. The train was nearly here. I felt a sudden heavy push; I lost my balance, and the dimension I existed in suddenly morphed into slow motion. I was falling, falling toward the track in front of the train. I was going to die.
Suddenly, there was a yank on the collar of my coat. Some unseen power, some unseen person, was pulling me back. I turned – it was Mrs Drake. Still in slow motion, she reached into her handbag and withdrew a kitchen knife. She then lunged at someone behind me. I rotated to see the knife plunging into a young man’s chest. It was Cosi Marotta’s.
“Happy birthday,” she yelled at the dying man.
Stunned, I took a moment to gather my thoughts.
“Happy birthday to you, Mrs Drake,” I tentatively uttered.
She smiled, “my wedding present for you and your fiancé,” she said before adding.
“Just be nice, Jack, be nice.”