It was the 22nd of February 1942. It didn’t matter how long he stared at the calendar it was always the 22nd of February 1942. Time, if it could be called such, with no perceptible movement hung like a wet blanket. Einstein had his theories however, Bill could attest to the facts. Hours spent with a beautiful woman may evaporate in mere moments but time spent with his companion George had lasted an eternity.
Bill sat on an upturned crate, newspaper open with a cup of tea steaming on the table beside him. He didn’t know why he bothered, he’d read the same text a thousand times. He could recite the obituary column word for word, broadcast the shipping forecast to the entire room from memory, and could announce the complete sports section in either a Scottish or Irish accent. He’d perfected the subtle nuances so well that his intonation could resemble either northern or southern regional peculiarities at whim. Quite an accomplishment for a man who’d never travelled further than the coast, but there again he’d time enough to perfect his delivery.
”What’s the time,” asked George.
Bill sucked his teeth,” What does it bloody matter what the time is?”
“Course it matters. I want to know, “persisted George.
Bill glanced at his wrist. It was five o’clock in the evening.
“Soon be time then,” said George. The same thing he said every day.
“Soon be time to get it done,” mouthed Bill before George turned around to face him and said, ”Soon be time to get it done then!”
“Exasperating! Bloody exasperating is what it was. The man had no conversation, no hobbies, no game, no stories, nothing. This wasn’t purgatory, this was bloody hell. Stuck in limbo between this world and the next with a mindless moron would be the death of him, of that he was certain. At least cast the occasional aspersion, proffer an opinion – hell, pick a fight. Do something, anything to change the monotony.”
George turned back to the window, Bill to his newspaper.
Busy on their way to somewhere to do something, people bustled passed the window; as ever the planet continued to revolve, life went on. They’d seen it all. The changing fashions, hairstyles, the cars on the streets, the aircraft in the sky. With every passing, reintroduction of the very-same-day, they took no part in modernity and change. Change wasn’t for everybody, at least not on their side of their glass. For Bill and George it was always 1942.
They could see humanity, but humanity couldn’t seem them. Energy transference was not transmutable and so having passed through the veil of death it was only possible to observe – interaction was physically impossible. A whole world had walked by without ever registering their none-existence.
He’d stood where George stood now, watching the pretty girls and their ever decreasing hem lines. Things had certainly changed since they’d walked the earth in human form. Now as mere shadows or rather specters of the people they’d once been they could only listen and watch as regular people went about their hum-drum lives. Bill yearned for hum-drum, what they’d had to endure was beyond mundane. If it wasn’t for the fact they were already dead, the boredom would’ve bloody killed him.
George turned, opened his mouth and went to speak.
“If you ask me again, I’m going to punch you on the nose.”
George looked shocked, “What do you mean?”
“If you ask me what the time is, I’m going to kick your arse
“I was just going to ask you if you wanted another cuppa?” said George.
Tea was the only thing they had left, that and a couple of curly cheese sandwiches. Every day as much tea as they could drink was available, their only sustenance the brown paper wrapped sandwiches they’d brought with them all those years ago. What the hell, “Sure I’ll have another brew.” Wasn’t as though he was going anywhere.
“What’s the time?” asked George.
Bill screamed, clenched his fists and tried to control himself. “It’s five bloody minutes since the last time you asked me.”
“ Nearly time then,” said George.
“Yes, yes, it’s nearly bloody time. It’s always nearly bloody time. You know that as well as I do?”
With an audible demonstration of lost patience, Bill turned the pages of the newspaper.
Page six; Political commentary. The rising cost of living, or the dearth in your shilling by Michael Maverick
Bill read about an expanding war economy that instead of creating wealth, cheap beer and lucrative over-time was the cause of an overworked underpaid population. The fruits of their labors, instead of going to the British workers, went instead towards more advanced munitions with which to kill more Germans toiling under equally diabolical conditions. What was it all about anyway? The papers in the early years had been filled with ‘poor little Poland’ needing protection from the ‘big fascist bully’. Old John Bull had been just the man to put an end to the playground tyranny except, it hadn’t worked out that way, and mean old Adolph had sent England home with a split lip. Three years now they’d been pounding the shite out of each other, and for what? Ration coupons, rickets, longer lines, blackouts, conscription and fake butter!
“Sugar?” asked George.
“Yes, the same as bloody always. How long have you been making me tea?” screamed Bill.
“Touchy, touchy,” chided George,” I was only asking.”
Their work at the local munitions factory had placed them in a protected occupation category and so call-up papers had never arrived. There was money to be made in a blitzed city and the shift work had enabled their moonlighting. Between the munitions, moving families out of bombed housing and the black market both he and George had done pretty well , in fact their war had been going rather well until February the 22nd 1942.
“Here you go, drink it while it’s hot.”
“Thanks,” said Bill.
George went back to the window raised the cup to his lips and sipped. Even in death the British had tea, a cruel irony that the afterlife consisted of hot brews and stale butties. What had happened to the paradise they’d learned about in Sunday school? Where were the blue skies, the wispy clouds, green pastures – where were the harps?
They’d been told by some celestial authority figure or other that they were on a waiting list. The war was causing a huge back log of transferees, the term used for the latest residents entering the kingdom of heaven. It was just a small matter of paperwork, “a little patience if you please”, and they would soon be through the gates. Clearly the bearded, winged-figure’s estimation of a little time was worlds apart from their own. It seemed like an eternity since they’d last seen the official – who knew maybe it was?
Surely they hadn’t been forgotten?
Bill drank his tea and considered George; he wasn’t a bad lad, just a boring bastard. There again, after being stuck in here for all this time he probably wasn’t the most brilliant conversationalist himself.
He looked at his watch, “Bollocks, it was ten-till, they’d have to get a wiggle on, it was nearly time.”
“George, get your arse in gear we have to get started.” With so much time on their hands they were running late. What kind of sick joke was that?
The men picked up the box and moved towards the staircase.
“Up up on your end, down on mine, to the left, no the right!”
It was the same dance they did every day as they fought to get the packing crate up the stairs. Once they’d made the first landing the stair case widened out a little making their task easier. Puffing and panting the two men placed the box on the floor – a quick breather before they proceeded up to the next level.
Suddenly a woman dressed in a night gown walked out of a bedroom and across the landing to the bathroom. Tall with blonde hair, she stopped and stared at the two men, rubbed her eyes and shut the door.
George looked at Bill. “Did she just see us?”
“You know they can’t,” said Bill.” She was probably dreaming. She was half asleep, anybody could see that.”
The toilet flushed and the woman reappeared briefly before disappearing back into the bedroom.
“Bit of a looker,” said George.
“Not ‘arf,” smiled Bill. “Wouldn’t mind spending an afterlife with her.”
George chuckled. “Half an hour would do.”
With the box safely delivered to the top floor the two men took their prospective positions. Bill sat on the bed and George stood by the door, in exactly the same manner they always did.
“Any moment now then.”
“Yeah, any moment now.”
“See you in a bit then.”
“Aye, see you in a while.”
“Tea and sandwiches?” asked George.
Before Bill could reply the bomb dropped by the German aircraft crashed through the roof and exploded, eviscerating their bodies and turning the building into a ranging inferno.
Bill looked at the calendar, it was February the 22nd. It was always bloody February the 22nd.