2014 SA Writers' College Short Story Competition Runner Up | Literary Fiction


'Death and Sandwiches' - by Gina Kukard

 
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Oliver Green woke up with a slightly nauseated feeling churning in the pit of his stomach. His neck was stiff, he was sitting in a green plastic chair in some sort of pensioner’s queue and he had no idea how he’d got there.  He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, smoothed his long, rumpled ginger hair, and looked around anxiously.   He was second in the queue.  The green door at the front of the room opened and a small, wiry haired old man walked out.  The lady on the very last chair got up and went into the small room.  Oliver, sensing his missed opportunity, got up with the rest of the surprisingly old people and moved one chair space forward.  He was now sitting right at the front of the queue.  He turned to the man sitting next to him.

“Er, excuse me sir, but could you tell me what this queue is for?”

The man smiled absently at Oliver and started spouting in some sort of mixture of French and Arabic, suddenly he stopped and said in flawless English, “Why, yes.”

“Yes?” Oliver said, getting excited.
“Yes!” said the foreigner.
Oliver paused, wilting. “Ah, yes is it?”
 “Yes,” said the bizarre little man, beaming at him.  Oliver nodded, blinked hard, and began looking for an exit.  There was a blue door at the opposite end of the room; he started for it.  Suddenly the green door opened and a commanding voice called out, “Next Please!”

Oliver turned; the funny Arabic man was looking at him, he gave him a thumbs up and said “Yes,” quite exuberantly.  

Oliver sighed; he was, after all, first in the queue.  He went in. 

The room itself was surprisingly cosy: a few antique looking pictures of chickens adorned the walls, which were painted a pleasant pale yellow.  An old, scratched desk made of maple took up most of the room, and two scabby looking black leather chairs sat on opposite ends of it.  The closest side of the desk held a brass placard that stated the name Rufus Geddes; and beneath it, in evenly spaced letters fit for any preschooler to read was the lone word:

Q U E R I E S. 
The far side of the desk held Mr. Geddes himself, a bald man with a moon shaped face on a stout little body.  His eyes were set quite far apart, giving him an air of immense genius or intense madness, and he seemed quite ready to leap out of his chair and begin pacing the geometrically printed carpet for any occasion whatsoever. He was also wearing a brown hounds-tooth jacket that reminded Oliver inexplicably of his long deceased grandmother. 

“Ah, Mrs. Olive Green,” said Mr. Geddes. “Please sit down.”
“Mister,” said Oliver,
“Yes?” The man looked up quizzically.
“No, I mean I’m a mister,” said Oliver, “Mister Oliver Green.” 
“Oh I see!” Cried the little man in a slightly quizzical voice that clearly said he didn’t see at all.
“It’s the long hair, I’ve been trying to write and it’s just really grown…”Oliver trailed off, “That’s really beside the point though, how did you know my name?”
“The labelling department gives you a bracelet that the door scans as you walk in; I get a read-out on my computer.” 

Oliver glanced at his wrist, sure enough, in bold letters it was printed MRS. OLIVE GREEN.

“This is…I mean, I’m sorry sir,” said Oliver, holding up a hand in a state of complete bewilderment now, “But where exactly am I?”

True to form, Geddes sprang up and began pacing the brown carpet, he narrowed his eyes a little and looked at Oliver disapprovingly, “Let me ask you this first, Mrs. Green; have you recently stopped paying your life insurance policy?”
“Mister, and I’ve been having a little problem with the bank since I’ve been between jobs but I don’t see how that’s-”
“And have you stopped forwarding your chain mail via email?"
“Yes, but how-"
“Well you see, Mrs. Green, we now have a perfect storm.  You, uninsured, have failed to secure your own post death future, and by not sending on that chain mail, you have died directly as a result of your own actions.”  Mr. Geddes rounded on Oliver, and in a foreboding tone said slowly, “Suicide.”

“What?” Oliver started to hyperventilate, trying to piece together information.  “Is this a joke, did my friends set me up?” He reflected a moment; he knew a lot of accountants.  Not exactly the most humorous crowd.   

Mr. Geddes sat back at his maple desk and looked at Oliver over steepled fingers. 
“I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Olive, may I call you Olive?  But you have recently died.  You are now in the Administrative Department of Lost Souls; or the Sandwich Canteen.  We’re a bit short staffed at the moment, strikes and all that.  So everyone’s pulling double duty.  Speaking of which, would you like a ham and tomato while you wait? Made them myself this morning, they’re quite good.” 

Without waiting for an answer, he pushed a button on the aging intercom system on his desk. 

“Ms. Schoemann, please can we get two of my ham and tomato’s on white up here?” He paused and gestured to Oliver, who was sitting watching the little man as though his head had suddenly mutated into a tarantula.

“White okay with you?”

Oliver nodded weakly, his natural manners kicking in enough to manage a polite smile that came off rather more like a grimace. Geddes resumed his speech.

“You see, Olive, what people never realize while reading through the pages of their life insurance policies, is that somewhere between pages 34 and 72 that need to be signed in order to grant your policy; is a 'Life After Death' insurance form.  This little baby is wedged in an unlikely place to as not to cause the reader any discomfort, religious or otherwise, in the after death decision making process.  It seems that whilst you were in the process of signing these forms over breakfast, a large dollop of strawberry jam came to rest on the sheet; and you, thinking it would not be noticed in the myriad of paperwork, threw it in the trash.  Ergo, you have no one deceased to welcome you gracefully to your own death in a comfortable, happy place, and you have to go through the next life selection process quite painstakingly."
 
Oliver shook his head, “Next life selection process?  What? I don’t…How did I die? And why don’t I remember any of this selection stuff from the last time?”

A sudden knock had both men turning to face the red door directly opposite the desk.  A portly, middle-aged woman with massive breasts and spiked, bleached blonde hair ambled into the room without waiting for a response.  Seeing Oliver, she immediately dropped into a seductive pose against the door frame, which required much straining of her black leather pants around her bulging buttocks.  The frame itself groaned. Slowly she lifted her fleshy arm to stroke down her side, causing a ripple effect. A toothy smile cracked over two of her chins as she sauntered forward suggestively, dropping the two sandwiches in her enormous paw onto the desk.

“Allo Beaut’ful,” she said in a low-pitched Scottish brogue, ignoring her boss entirely. 

Oliver gave a weak smile in response. Ms Schoemann fluttered her eyelids coquettishly and waddled sexily out of the door with a lingering backward glance.  She did love the young redhead girls.

Geddes sighed, picking up a sandwich and peeling the plastic cling wrap off the top.

“She can be a bit over-zealous as an assistant at times, but she does have the most perfect pepper to salt to butter ratio I’ve ever tasted on a toasted sandwich.” He chortled absently before taking a bite large enough to finish half of the bread, and chewed in silence for a bit before he remembered that he was, in fact, mid interview.

He turned absently, “Now, what was the confusion again?”
Oliver didn’t blink.  “It was over how I died,” he said drily.

Geddes cleared his throat.  “Ah yes. It appears you had read a chain mail message stating that if you hadn’t re- sent the poem, Da Love of Da Earth in 24 hours, that you would fall off a roof while re-shingling and be impaled by bamboo stakes in your neighbor’s herb garden.”

“That does seem pretty specific, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, it’s quite unfortunate that you got the poem written by a witch doctor herself. Who knew? Anyhoo, as soon as you’ve filled in a few papers, indemnity forms for your eternal soul, and the like, we can get you to the next step; the Next Life Selection Process,” Geddes continued reading.

Oliver rested his head on his hand.  “So…what is this next life selection thing exactly?”

Geddes’ smile widened, he clasped and unclasped his hands in glee.

“That, Olive, is the best part.  After all the paperwork, which can get a bit tedious, you get to decide the kind of life you want to live next in accordance with what life lessons you want to learn, and at the moment of your birth you forget all these things instantly.  Every now and again you may experience a teeny tiny sense of déjà vu - your mind has experienced exactly the same sensation before when you watched to see which path you would select: but these are hiccoughs that happen so rarely, you hardly notice them.   The Viewing device that allows you to make these decisions is a machine we call the Life Path Generator.  Let’s say you want to lead a fulfilling life, learn patience and humility.  All you need to do is input the features, and Bob’s your auntie, it could generate a life path in which you can become a teacher of autistic children in Burkina Faso. Or, let’s say you want to learn to be more ambitious, more disciplined; it can put you on the path of a naval soldier who turns his passion for boat building into a billion dollar corporation.”

Oliver looked at Geddes blankly, “I kinda figured that was what free will was all about.”

 “People round here get a bit uncomfortable with that phrase, Olive.  The concept of free will was putting us into a bit of a quandary. Because then we’d have to bring the whole humanity versus religion sphere back into things - and that of course, makes people… uncomfortable. Reincarnation some call it, Heaven for others, it’s a place you’re happy because you choose to be happy, you choose what future can make you so.”  Geddes said this last part very softly. 
“We’re all givers and takers, Olive. We all take what meanings we want out of life, and we all give meaning to more than we think we do, ideas, people themselves; before we give ourselves to nourish the soil. Only our words remain to kindle fires.”

Geddes smiled, a slow and inexplicable smile.  Then he turned in his seat to the filing cabinet behind the red door and pulled out a sheaf of official looking beige papers. 

“I suggest you take a chair to press on and you fill these forms in, in the men’s bathroom, lad.” Geddes said winking, “Ms Schoemann will be on the prowl.”
 
 
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Bio for Gina Kukard


Gina-Kukard

Gina Kukard is a relative newcomer to writing, having earned her degree from the school of hard knocks.  She has written in a journalistic capacity for the Sunshine Escape, a locally based newspaper in a small town; and has just moved to the city to seek her fame and fortune in the entertainment industry, proving to all and sundry that she indeed has a sense of humour. She has recently overcome her fear of all things technological and is writing a blog, a play and six other novels concurrently.  “Death and Sandwiches” is her first attempt at humorous literary fiction.
 
 

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