ON BEING DEAD BY DEFAULT
In a rough school in a posh area of London in the mid-seventies, I was looking into the decline in school meals take-up. Installed in a broom cupboard next to the music room, I interviewed pupils as to what they liked to eat. When the bell rang for lunch, the pupils rushed to the fast-food vans parked outside. Since the jobs of kitchen workers were at risk, the teachers' union was actively against them.
I questioned prowling squad cars as to the legality of pirate traders pulling up on yellow lines. The police were not helpful, saying that double parking was so widespread they could only responded to 'complaints specific to traffic flow'. And they had their work cut out: delivery vans, stretch limos and idiot shoppers blocked bus and taxi lanes.
I lived in a revamped mansion. One hot summer's day I cycled home for lunch to find my flat door open, and the ever-vigilant neighbour, Miss Parrish, holding my violin. It had been dumped on the steps when she disturbed an intruder. 'I've phoned the police.' The rooms were as I left them. No sign of anything else missing. So after a bite I returned to work. But there was a strike picket at the school gate, which I couldn't very well cross. So I went home again.
A chunky young policeman blundered in the door, sweaty in his uniform, and refused my invitation to sit down. 'Is this the Young residence? I have bad news for you. Augustus Young has been found dead at the foot of Adelaide House.'
'But I am Augustus Young.'
The cards - library and bank - found on the dead man were mine. I called Miss Parrish to deal with the distressed policeman. 'I am not used to dead bodies. This was my first', he said hoarsely as she handed him a glass of water.
'What's happened?' she said, though she had been listening at the door.
'My cards have come back from the dead.'
Next evening a blond police sergeant called, by arrangement. He smelt of graduate training college and Brut. It was, he said, his 'young colleague's first major incident', and 'though householders are the primary victims in such cases, one must not forget police officers too have feelings'. More dead than alive after a sleepless night, I wished he wouldn't linger. As though it was a social call, he was looking around the flat, and asked me if there were any similar properties in the building for sale, and roughly what price could be expected. He had a friend who might be interested. I told him Miss Parrish would know. He finally left when I signed a statement that I was still alive.
The local paper reported a teenager, Declan McLaughlin, had jumped from the tenth floor of Adelaide House during a police chase. The name rang a bell and I spun my wheel of index cards. There he was, a dropout from my study, what was called a 'rejection'. I felt vaguely responsible.
A woman called at my flat some days later, introducing herself as 'the sister of Declan who died in the accident'. She wanted to visit 'the scene of the crime' as it was 'the last place her brother was alive'. Declan, she said, had clearly been given bad drugs, and her brothers were keen 'to clean the matter up'. After a peremptory expression of sympathy I closed the door on her. Regretting it. I had forgotten to ask if Declan McLaughlin was musical.
I have been feeling a little dead ever since.