Chapter 0:



There’s a strange woman who has taken up residency on the sofa at the back of a bar I’m quickly coming to call my favourite. It’s a quaint little place with dim lights and furniture pretending to be from the 20s. I’d been here once before with friends but last month, for the first time, I came here alone and last week the bartender remembered my name.

Today, I order a vodka-cranberry that comes a little more vodka than cranberry.

The woman smirks as the bartender places glass on coaster, turning her head for half a second only to make sure I’m drinking. Her black tracksuit would make her stand out if it didn't blend into the sofa's leather.

She is still a strange sight though, someone without a care in the world drinking nothing in a bar full of people who wear suits to bars.

I’m the only other person here.

It’s my suspicion that this woman is a regular. I didn’t see her when I came with my friends but she’s been here every time since. Arriving before and leaving never, it’s like she’s waiting to see me.

I asked the bartender about her:

She’s around when people are around.

An odd answer; she doesn’t strike me as a people person.

Finishing a drink, as I’ve just done, and ordering another, as I always do, elicits that same rehearsed set of movements from her. Head tilts upwards an amount almost imperceptible, right corner of the lips twitch once into a smirk and then the eyes return to what they were pretending to look at. That she makes it so obvious enrages me to no end.

This time I ordered a full bottle of champagne in honour of my Grandfather; 33 days deceased due to acute pancreatitis that definitely wasn’t caused by anything. I never developed a taste for it as a young man but I discovered 32 days ago that I’d actually always had it.

Following my grandfather’s wake, I had a glass. Following in his wake I had a second. And a third. What’s a ninth?

He had lived in France you see, that’s why he liked it so much. I was raised by a man who had lived in France you see.

To accompany the next received smirk I decide to order the least expensive expensive-sounding red they stock. It’s 3 p.m. right now, and I don’t eat lunch anymore so that means it’s basically dinner time. My grandfather always told my grandfather that champagne was a pre-meal drink, which is why I ordered my bottle at 2:51.

Now while I have developed the taste for champagne, I actually still don’t like wine. This glass, and any glass thereafter, is strictly to honour the dead.

My grandfather was a fantastic man. His relationship with the dead was fraught. He would not be drinking to the spirit of someone else were he in my shoes right now. He did not believe in anything after, that was reason enough to drink.

I was grateful that he died this time and not one of the three times before. This time it was a gradual deterioration, so we were able to speak. The near misses before were so sudden that it seemed there would be no chance to talk, made more difficult by the fact that he refused to talk about it. He didn’t want to die. At 77 years of age, he was more scared of death than ever.

They don’t have bars in palliative care wards but they should. We got to talk because he recognized time was his most finite resource but then he seemed to forget that; telling the doctors his insurance would cover a heart transplant after they broached the subject of whether or not to restart the one currently in his chest. Why was I the one in the room with him then? Why not anyone else?

The woman feeds off me again as I order an assortment of shots.

On the night before he died, I slept in his room to help my grandmother look after him. In the morning it was clear he was struggling against every organ in his body to keep going. My grandmother and I held his hands but he couldn’t look at either of us, instead fixated on something in front of him.

She’s getting the better of me.


I knew Grandad had an ego but mother of fuck. In his mind death had been something after him all his life.

But it’s so much more mundane than that. Death doesn’t come dressed to kill, she comes dressed to watch.


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