Martin didn’t mind that he was dead so much as the fact that he’d been killed by his unloving wife of twenty-three years. To add insult to injury the bitch was now living the high life in what had been their suburban semi in Fairmilehead on the outskirts of Edinburgh.
Mary had laced his dinner with arsenic night after night for weeks and smiled at him over the dinner table as he’d eaten every last mouthful. She had tended him as he vomited his guts up and held his hand when the pain got so bad he begged her to put a pillow over his face. Finally she had relented and, picking up one of the over-stuffed cushions she liked so much, had done as she was bid with a little quirk of the mouth he didn’t recall having ever seen before.
He had tried not to fight of course, but found that his wasted body’s instinct to survive thought differently. He began to struggle, to signal to her that he’d changed his mind, that she didn’t have to carry out her grisly promise after all. But she only bore down harder with a strength he hadn’t known she had in her. And then:
“Die you fat bastard, why don’t you die. You should go to hell after what you’ve done.”
That was strange he’d thought, because he hadn’t been fat at the end. On the contrary the weeks and months of illness had rendered him skeletal, skin hanging in folds around a wasted frame as though he was wearing a flesh suit three sizes too big.
Well, she had got her wish, the dead part at least. Except he didn’t think he was in hell. No, it looked very much like he was still here in the home sweet home they’d shared together for over two decades. He had tried to leave, but found he couldn’t get further than the gate at the end of the garden. This was unfortunate as he subsequently discovered that he had also fallen victim to the oldest cliché in the book: she had been having an affair with his so-called best friend Cliff Morgan, the man he’d played golf with at the Swanston Golf Club twice a month for almost as long as he’d been married to Mary.
Well, as he had been fond of saying when he was alive, this was indeed a pretty pickle. The first time Cliff had come round, he’d tried to get through to him, screaming himself hoarse to make his friend understand what Mary had done. It was only when Cliff put one hand on Mary’s breast, while unbuttoning his trousers with the other that he realised the full horror of his predicament. What was he to do?
What, he wondered, had Mary had meant when she had referred to something he’d done. He couldn’t for the life or even death of him fathom that one out. He also wasn’t sure what had upset him the most: Mary’s betrayal or Cliff’s. To his surprise, on balance it was his friend’s behaviour that cut deepest. She had killed him to be sure and he wasn’t about to forget that; but it was Cliff’s treachery that had cut him to the quick. He hoped fervently that didn’t mean he was some sort of homo. No, that wouldn’t do at all.
Tonight the traitorous love-birds were having a romantic dinner for two: scented candles, roses, and the big dining table set as though it was a fancy restaurant. She of course was done up like a dog’s dinner in a pink evening dress that was far too tight and revealing in all the wrong places for her frumpy body. He was freshly coiffed with that hideous Bobbie Charlton comb-over that Martin and Mary had laughed about behind his back. Well, she wasn’t laughing now, the two-faced cow, as she slid her stocking-clad foot up and down Cliff’s pinstriped leg and gazed adoringly into his eyes.
Maybe this was hell. Doomed to imprisonment in his own house watching his killer and his best friend canoodle with not a thing he could do about it.
Or at least that’s what he’d thought. Just the other day (although time was fluid in this state so he couldn’t really be sure) he had met another occupant of the house that could see, hear and understand him perfectly. She said she had died in the house when she was young and she certainly didn’t look older than sixteen. She told him she used to watch over him when he’d been alive to which he retorted that she had obviously not done a very good job given recent events. She huffed for a while and only came round after he had apologised profusely. Some assiduous flattery and ego massaging later (of which he was rather proud given he’d never had to do it before), she revealed that yes, there was a way to intervene in the physical world after all. It was tricky and dangerous, even for ghosts such as they, but it could be done.
It would be done, he thought with mounting rage. As though in response, a china dog he had never liked fell off the mantel-piece and shattered on the hearth. Things were looking up.