The Bitter Dead

by Charles C. Cole


The furniture lay covered in white sheets: a dusty mansion no longer occupied by the living. Lightning flashed. Thunder rumbled. The French doors to the patio and the gardens swung open on their own, revealing the ghost of Sinclair Meriwether, in a black Kenneth Cole suit, looking much as he did in life. Morgana, his late wife, also a ghost, reclined listlessly on the sofa in a red rayon sheath, reading a women’s fashion magazine.

“Honey, I’m home!” Sinclair called out. “Morgana? Please don’t be here.”

“Welcome back, Sinclair,” Morgana cooed. “If it would make you happy to see me go, then I promise, I’m never leaving, ever, for eternity, cross my heart.”

“The curse continues, I see. Not my desired outcome, I assure you. Fire away.”

“Together again. I killed myself to get away from you. Even suicide is no relief.”

“Let’s be honest.” he said. “You killed yourself because it was the closest thing to killing me.”

“What was your excuse then?” she asked. “I was gone. You had the house to yourself. And you didn’t even know how to enjoy it. Why kill yourself when you were finally free of me?”

“Because,” he explained, “it became infinitely more challenging to deny our broken marriage when one of the parties was missing. I had a choice: move out of the house which reminded me of you, gorgeous but hard to manage, or kill myself. Seeing as the house belonged to my family, selling was not an option.”

“You mean I showed you the way out; I was your role model.”

“You?” he scoffed. “My beautiful bad penny, you never could do anything right. You couldn’t even die right. Three messy suicide attempts later—”

“Those weren’t even practice,” she corrected. “Haven’t you heard of a cry for help?”

“Is that what all those confetti-colored pills were, a cry for help? It’s hard to hear someone when her mouth is so jammed full with the contents of the medicine cabinet that you can’t see her tonsils.”

“Too subtle?”

“Not to hurt your feelings,” Sinclair said, “but I had shirts louder than you.”

“I thought I was sending a message. ‘MARRIAGE IN SHAMBLES STOP TENSION INTOLERABLE STOP NEED IMMEDIATE EXIT STRATEGY.’ What about you? You’re a well-read man for goodness’ sakes. Couldn’t you find a ‘Do Yourself’ book and just follow the instructions? I mean, how hard can it be?”

“You must forgive me,” he responded, “unlike you, it was my first time. I was a little nervous, to be honest, following in my father’s footsteps: shaky hands, sweaty finger on the trigger, but here I am, and in one shot, no less.”

“Only because you kept backing away from the gun, like you were putting in a contact lens, and fell down a flight of stairs. Don’t deny it. We see everything from ‘beyond the veil.’ And that’s exactly how the maid found you, in your robe no less, with three days’ stubble, reeking of alcohol like a common drunk. It was embarrassing.”

“Nice of you to notice,” he said. “Here I thought you’d abandoned me, seceded from life and luxury, without looking back.”

“I was tired of winless fighting,” said Morgana quietly. “And, apparently, so were you.”

“Putting it mildly,” said Sinclair. “You chose a rather dire means to avoid a nasty divorce. It doesn’t balance out, being a success at work while a total wreck at home. My suits were pressed, my weight managed, my calendar full. Envious underlings literally pointed at me when I entered the office, from their news-gathering stations near the photocopier or the coffee machine. I was on top of my game.

“Then the phone rings. Urgent news. My wife has finally achieved her life’s ambition: mortally wounding me. You were shamed by the circumstances of my death? As embarrassed as I was, being called out of a meeting with a client because the yard man found my wife floating face-down in the pool?”

“At least I wasn’t reeking.”

“At least I was wearing more than just undergarments.”

“For the record,” she corrected him, “they were expensive undergarments, new and clean, never worn before that fateful day.”

“How conscientious of you,” he said, “as if the whole sordid thing were meticulously planned out. So much for the more pleasant fiction of an accidental overdose.”

“A modicum of decorum, that’s all I ever asked.”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “All those years I thought you wanted a modicum of devotion. My mistake.”

“Oh, sweetness,” said Morgana, “did I hear you correctly? ‘Sorry, Morgana, it was my mistake.’ Really?”

“I’d argue the point,” he said, “but what I couldn’t give you in life, I’ll magnanimously grant you in death.”

“Satisfaction?”

“It still thrills me to receive a cold come-uppance at your steely hands,” he said with a hint of pride. “If I have to be defeated, it might as well be by the best. You were always more of a man than most of my partners at the firm.”

“I could be gentle, but you always wanted it rough.” Morgana growled like a mountain cat, pawing at the air.

“Morgana,” he said, “before you work yourself into a toxic lather, keep in mind that our golden years are behind us for good. The spirit may be willing, but the fleshly instincts are sadly unavailable, so keep your motor on idle.”

“I could have given you your wildest dreams,” she said. “Death for the damned knows neither decorum nor dignity. But, if we can’t have that, then I give you the optimistic promise of a critical lie. More than your other wives gave you.”

“What are you going on about?”

“In my wedding vow,” she explained, “unlike my predecessors, when I said, ‘Until death do us part,’ I clearly didn’t mean it. Look at me: I gave you Life, tortured though it may have been, Death and Beyond.”

“And the good news?”

“Just think,” she responded, “I can never embarrass you in front of your family or co-workers again.”


Copyright © 2014 by Charles C. Cole

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