Sabrina Absinthe is forever running after Death
I saw Death today – by a burnt out bus on a sunny day. He stood surrounded by the dead passengers that had fallen from the wreckage, smoking a cigar and laughing silently. He wasn’t what I expected – but then nothing ever is how you expect. He was fat, wearing a stripy black and white suit. His hourglass necklace swung as he hobbled over the burnt corpses. I knew it was him because his smoke caused a passenger to drop dead. I wanted to approach him and confess my feelings, but instead I took a picture on my phone. My name is Sabrina Absinthe. I wish I was dead.
The bus that crashed and burned was the one I caught every morning, no fail. The alarm clock didn’t go off. It wasn’t my fault. I tried to catch the bus, but I could only watch as it veered off course and smashed into an ice cream van. You play the same numbers in the lottery and miss a week, they come up. You fall out of schedule, something beautiful happens. After the bus exploded I sat and watched passengers stumble out. They say the lucky ones will meet Death when their time’s up, and sure enough there he was. I guess he’s fat from all the life he swallows.
I printed out the picture I snapped of Death and stuck it on my wall by my bed. He stood out a little among the bony Grim Reapers on the surrounding posters, but I knew he was the real deal. It actually made sense that he wasn’t a pile of bones.
‘We’d be dancing in the gardens of death right now if I was on time,’ I sighed, stroking the image and kissing his cheek. It left a green lip mark. I picked up the alarm clock, a digital hourglass, and threw it against a wall. There was a loud ring but when I examined it everything was fine. ‘Time goes on.’
I unclipped my boots, unstrapped my corset and threw everything over my mannequin. It kept me company. Aimlessly browsing the Internet for monster sightings and talking nothing much to nobody really, this is how I enjoyed nights after my shift at the burger restaurant, Bad Taste. But this night I couldn’t focus. The plastic skulls and alpine candles scattered across my oak desk stunk of incense. And Philistine Phil was calling me on my mobile. Great.
‘Hi, Sabrina,’ he started.
‘Go fuck yourself, Phil.’
‘Are you alright? I heard the news and thought you might be… you know.’
‘I wish I was Phil, a little bit more than I wish you were.’
‘Ouch. I’m glad you’re okay. S-so, what you up to? T-there’s this movie on, Giant Gatling Robots 3, I-I was hoping I could ask you today but…’
‘Look, you work at Bad Taste, I work at Bad Taste. Outside of Bad Taste I don’t want anything to do with that processed garbage. I’m going to hang up now and I hope you cut yourself.’
‘Wait! Have you seen a large guy? He came into work today and asked about you.’
I paused and calmly considered this morsel of information. ‘Seriously? Was he wearing a black and white suit?’
‘I wasn’t really paying attention. I told him you weren’t here. He looked like a gangster -‘
‘You best have given him my address, you shit head.’
‘Why would I do that?’
‘Fuck you.’ I tossed my phone like I tossed my clock. It bounced off the wall.
It seemed everything I wanted was being dangled in front of me then whisked away as I got close, all because of my dodgy alarm. I hugged the mannequin by the window and caught sight of a large figure shuffling about by the shrubbery.
Death lingered outside, looking all warped through the peephole. I couldn’t believe he had gone through all this effort to find me, but here I was standing in my underwear, completely unprepared. I unchained the door. Death seemed surprised to see me holding out my arms ready to embrace. He was smoking his death-bringing cigar and my nose twitched at the strong musty stench. He spat it out into the bushes and grinned. He approached me, slow wide steps, his hands moving to caress me and take me away from this shitty little world.
He retracted his hairy fingers and pushed his hands into his stripy suit pockets.
‘Meet me upstairs in ten minutes. I need to put on a little something.’
He nodded, his nose breath swirled in the cold air.
I lit the candles, put on INXS and got into my black wedding dress. This couldn’t just be a standard death, I’d been fantasising for too many years. No more bus rides, Bad Taste, mindless web browsing, or Philistine Phil. As I sorted out my Plastic Fantastic hair I could hear his heavy footsteps creaking on the stair boards. A soft knock and I was ready.
Death walked in with his hair slicked back. He looked around my room, his bushy eyebrows raised, probably at all the phony Reaper posters I had on my walls. He stopped on the poster of himself and scrunched his face up. He kept staring at the poster, did he love himself so much?
He looked at me and pointed at the poster, his mouth hanging open.
‘Are you going to take me away?’
He pointed to himself. I didn’t know why he was giving me the silent treatment.
‘I saw you kill all those people on the bus, I should have been on there too, but I was too late.’
I put my arms around his belly and sunk into its softness, but he stepped back and stumbled into my throwing wall. His head smacked the putrid purple wall and he rolled onto the floor like Humpty Dumpty, but a tomato smear instead of yolk. He didn’t get up, and he was too heavy to pull up. The clock hourglass rolled to my feet. I’d killed Death.
Vino Turning drives in circles all day and can’t comprehend anything else calmly
Today was a bus strike. I couldn’t drive my bus no matter what and I could either protest or go home. I didn’t have any gripes with my job and turned up in hopes that the strike would have fallen through. They probably wouldn’t get what they wanted anyway.
Following my bus route on foot I entered the fast food branch, Bad Taste. The inside stank of disinfectant, muffled pop music played over a red plastic chair and white greasy table backdrop. The only person eating was an old man in a smart suit. I caught him pouring something from a hip flask into his drink. There was one employee behind the counter, a ginger kid rubbing one area of the counter with a cloth. Again and again he rubbed that spot – it would be the cleanest place in the joint – a man possessed doing a pointless motion to pass time.
‘Next please,’ he said without looking my way. As I stepped closer I made out his name on his badge, Phil.
I studied the dimly lit menu. I couldn’t read it. ‘The cheeseburger will do.’
Another employee walked out into the dining area with a mop and bucket. She had pale skin and whisked past like a ghost haunting the joint.
She gave the table a quick wipe then walked towards me. I knew her. She was the girl who always played her heavy metal too loud on my bus each morning. How I longed to ram those headphones so far down her ear holes that she would never be able to hear anything else. How had she got here without my bus?
‘Your meal,’ Phil stated and there it was. A small paper-wrapped lump, stiff chips and a plastic cup.
‘I know that girl.’
‘Me too,’ Phil said before going back to rubbing the same spot on the counter with a brown cloth.
The burger was nothing much at all, not even worth mentioning.
I didn’t know where to go after Bad Taste. I kept thinking about the girl. Was a bus service so unimportant that if it wasn’t running the people would still reach their destinations? I decided to go home, possibly catch my wife before she went to work.
I lived in an okay house. Semi-detached, unkempt garden. I was going to go in check on my wife and maybe… I didn’t know. I couldn’t think of anything other than my bus sitting silent and empty. Maybe it was away at some burger place getting drunk before midday. In the hall, I fell over some large shoes. Not mine. Not hers.
Size fourteen, too big for my pitiful size seven. Alligator leather with a golden buckle. I’m sure it was real gold. Someone was in my house with better shoes than me and bigger feet. Is that what she needed? Everyday I drove around in circles she was getting off at another stop? I hid under the stairs, to see the man who I shouldn’t be seeing. After twenty three minutes, I studied the clock, a creak at the top of the stairs broke the silence. Then another. Each creak got louder and the intervals longer, the smell of vinegar creeping in on me. I carefully peeked around the corner, saw the back of a gigantic man in a monochrome stripy suit. I didn’t see his face. If I did I’d have probably leapt out and tore it off like wrapping paper. I just sat under the stairs, listening to the ticking clock. I wasn’t ready to confront her. Besides, the proof was in the pudding rolling out of my house.
I spent the rest of the day kicking leaves in the park and when I returned home everything was quiet. I made my tea, watched the football and went to bed. Same route. I fell asleep in the double bed with one side empty, and woke with it filled. There she was sound asleep. A relationship made up of brief encounters and TV dinner weekends. I brushed her red hair from her eyes and thought about tearing her eyes out and placing them in her palms. But that would wake her up, so I went downstairs and instead wrote a note. I was going to scribble ‘I regret everything I’ve ever done with you’ and post it on the fridge. I left for work. More circles, it was all I knew.
I sat in the driving seat waiting for the usual suspects. The couple who I’m pretty sure fuck on the back seat, the old hag with the rat dog, the skin head with the horrible breath, the goth girl with her brain dead music. They would all get on and I’d take them off route, to a park somewhere with an ice cream van. They’d appreciate it.
Everyone got on except for the goth girl. Had she decided she could get to work without my service? I looked to the seat at the middle of the bus, it reminded me of the empty side of the bed. It was all her fault.
I waited till the rat dog started yapping, then drove off .
Samantha Turning attempts to piece everything together
My assistant, the Temp Agency had sent me, a fat man in a stripy suit with a penchant for smoking, walked from the wreckage puffing and wheezing.
‘Did you find him?’ I surveyed the bodies sprawled across the cobbled road.
‘Nope! Your husband isn’t here!’ he replied in his squeaky voice.
‘Oh, a bus without a driver…’
‘There was a girl watching, she might know.’
‘A girl? I wasn’t paying attention.’
‘Trust me, I’ll get some info from her.’ He wobbled off looking for a girl. Nice guy – could stop smoking though.
I had no reason to stick around, it was clear Vino wasn’t there. I wanted to know what was going through his mind. Just last night he was sleeping peacefully as I got back from work. He even smiled a little as I stroked his chest. I awoke to find a blank Post-it stuck to the fridge.
My assistant didn’t come round that night with the info he promised. Or any other day after for that matter. I wondered if he too had vanished like Vino, but that wasn’t likely, unless there was a demon snatching everyone close to me away. In the living room I watched time pass by. It was better than looking over the note hoping for a sign. Sixty seconds is a lot slower when you think about it. I quit my job at the office and spent each day waiting at the bus stop, for Vino to arrive.
A month went by and there was still no sign of Vino. The death count had been tolled up at seven, bus driver missing. The rags gossiped about him so I stopped reading them. Then the television reporters turned on me so I smashed the TV with a baseball bat. The popular rumour was Vino was a radical protester for the bus strikes.
Everyone got a pay rise after the incident so maybe that was the case, he did love his job. It was all he knew.
It wasn’t long before they got to me. Neighbours would talk behind my back, locals would gape and point. The whispering was deafening. It wasn’t my fault! We were happy, I’m sure we were. His life may have started from the sun rising and mine from the sun setting, but together we were a unit. Love isn’t being together all the time – it’s maintaining a lifestyle and making the most of the time you get together. If something wasn’t working he’d tell me. Maybe he’d had enough? Maybe he’d gotten lost? It would make me feel better if that was the case.
Eventually I went back to a normal lifestyle. I got a new assistant, one who didn’t smoke, and started working at a drive in cinema. I’d go to sleep in the early hours of the morning alone and wake alone. I got used to it.. I tried putting a mannequin on the other side at first, but it had no head which sometimes made me scream when I woke. I continued doing what I knew best, because that was all I could do.
I awoke suddenly, my eyes just burst open as if being pried. I needed to pee. I looked around the room, but everything was dark shapes and heavy breathing. I kicked the covers away and fell off the bed. He was sleeping softly. I climbed back onto the bed to reach out and touch him, feel his soft skin, his hairy chest, his messy hair. He wiggled and sat up looking for the light.
‘What’s up, sweetie?’ he mumbled, waving his arms to find the bedside light switch. The light was found and I squinted as the dark shapes crawled away. It wasn’t him, of course it wasn’t him. I’d moved on. I grabbed my dressing gown and ran out into the night.
I didn’t know where I was running. Alone in the darkness, I eventually came to a stop at a bridge, my socks worn away, my feet bare and bloody.
‘I wish you were dead!’ I wailed so he’d hear. ‘If you were dead I could at least forget.’
I couldn’t go back home. Instead I walked into a neon lit restaurant called ‘Bad Taste’. It was empty inside, apart from a young man with jet black hair,ginger roots showing through, green mascara and lipstick.
‘Welcome to Bad Taste at the most incredible time of the night,’ he slurred. He ushered me towards him with purple painted fingernails. ‘Phil’ was his name according to the tag he wore.
‘Hi. I don’t want anything.’
‘And that’s okay,’ he smiled revealing yellow teeth. ‘It’s good to brood.’
I sat down on a uncomfortable chair. ‘Are you the only one here at this time?’
‘I’m the only one here all the time. There used to be two of us, but she vanished.’
‘There used to be two of me too.’
‘Maybe people vanishing isn’t so strange then?’
‘How do you deal with it?’
‘I play the role of two, I believe we are one.’
I sat down on a red plastic chair and pulled out the blank note. I always kept it in my dressing gown pocket, a bad habit as I’d glance at it some nights.
‘Do you have a pen?’ I asked. Phil pulled a purple pen from his pockets and tossed it over. The pen had a label which said ‘Absinthe.’
‘I remember when you proposed, we were eating ice cream on a grassy hill. Since then we’ve always been together, even when you disappear on me I still see you
everywhere. I know exactly what you were going to write the night you disappeared.’
‘I love you.’