When Keith Vaz texts me out of the blue requesting that I bring poppers to his flat, my first thought is always, “why is Keith Vaz texting me?”
Later on though, much later, I will wonder, “no, wait – how is Keith Vaz texting me?” and I’ll reply and arrange to meet him.
Keith Vaz answers his door in cotton slacks, wearing sandals with socks. The TV is on, playing highlights from an old England game. We make awkward small talk on the landing, then he invites me in and we make awkward small talk in his living room. The place is kind of poky; tidy enough, I guess. It doesn’t feel particularly lived in, but then it doesn’t feel vacant either. A transitory apartment for transient people. After a couple of drinks, Keith loosens up. He says he is eager to get the party started, stating on several occasions, “I want to get this party started,” and, “this party, let’s start it.” Later, he asks if I brought the poppers. I reply that I didn’t know where to get any but, having consulted the internet, and emboldened by an E in GCSE Biology, have taken it upon myself to concoct a
herbal traditional ass-relaxer from things sourced from my neighbour’s shed. Keith Vaz does not look happy.
“I’m not drinking that.” he says, shaking his head at the half-filled vinegar jar in my hand. “You’re a damn fool, Keith Vaz.” I shout at Keith Vaz, who is now standing over me.
“Keith Vaz, Keith Vaz.” he says.
“Keith Vaz,” I say, swigging from the jar. “Look, it’s fine – Keith Vaz?”
When I come to, Keith Vaz, who only moments ago, had been clutching the tanned dome that connects to his shoulders in utter despair, is now seated at his living room table calmly punching out sums on a calculator. “Hmm,” he says glancing over at the TV, “I can pay you up to when you died, is that OK?”
I look down at what had been my body; my arms are ghost-white, my lips black.
“Am I dead?” I ask.
“Negro, you drank a bottle of weed-killer.” he says.
Keith Vaz tells me the soul takes fourteen hours to untether itself from the body, so until then I’ll just have to hang around. Not with him, of course; he has to go and open a school in Harrow. No hard feelings, he says smiling, and we both laugh.
“There are some painters and decorators coming later.” he says apropos of nothing.
You can’t do much in this state; can’t stray far from the body, can’t open doors, can’t call relatives, can’t shut the bulging, petrified eyes poking from the face of your awful corpse in a terrible photograph of the end. Instead you spend hours in the flat of Keith Vaz wondering why you responded to the text of Keith Vaz. When the answer doesn’t present itself – and it won’t – you just kind of sit on all fours staring at your body. Not a bad bod’. Would have responded well to the gym. Could have been better in the shoulders, probably.
This gloom is interrupted later on by two women. They are wearing overalls; the decorators, obviously. They force the door and make a beeline for my body. One shakes her head. They get to work straight away; pulling and stretching and massaging. And then they start breaking things. In fact, the more bones they snap, the more contortions my cadaver is forced to perform, the less I believe they’re here to decorate. They fold my torso in on itself and pack the whole thing into a box. This is taken to a van outside. I have to marvel at the lengths they’ve gone with their costumes. Even the van, a little long in the tooth, bears a name on the sides: Martinez Painters. The van they drive to a warehouse in Surrey Quays and, here, I’m carved up. The shorter of the two, a plump lady with dyed red hair, is at least somewhat sympathetic to my situation. “People used to drink weed-killer all the time before all this political correctness,” she says, before adding quietly, “your parts are entering an industrial freezer that will aid the snackification.”
It is some time before shorty and beanpole return, but when they do, it’s to move my pieces again; this time to a kitchen in the same facility to be with a sour-faced man they call Gary. ‘Gary’ spreads the parts out on a tray and seasons them with Chinese five-spice. “The Gary’s are dying out,” I yell over the sound of a flame-torch, “you’re the last of your kind.” He ignores the bait. And why not? He probably isn’t being paid enough for any of this. The birds of a feather come back; I’m wedged tightly into several hundred sandwich bags now; I smell faintly of burned bacon.
“You’re going away now. You’re going to live with Vince.”
“Vince. Only thing he eats.”
We head back to the court foyer and the van. I ask shorty her name. She tells me it is Sinita, but that doesn’t matter because these questions are only the ghost-thirst talking. “You don’t know me or my ghost-thirst.” I yell, punching through the van’s interior with my phantom hands. Sinita says to rest because Vince always has an appetite.
The box is hauled to the front door of some country residence. Could be Kent. Could be anywhere. I’m still sulking at this point.
Just then, a pale lumbering figure appears.
Vince Cable pops meat squares like they are going out of fashion. After several handfuls, he begins to feel his muscles weaken; enough to extricate his skeleton from his ass. It is seven minutes of agony, seven minutes of squelching.
In a roundabout way, I guess they worked. The poppers, I mean. Goddamn.
Except Vince Cable can hear everything.
“Quiet, ass-snacks.” he shouts from the pool.
I watch him transition from backstroke to front-crawl. His form is staggering, cutting through water like a shark. What talent! What unbelievable talent! I look once more at the heap of skin and organs he crawled from; the heart still beating, unseen parts that still twitch. Meanwhile, I’m waiting. Waiting for the profound thing that comes after. The fourteenth hour.