I will contract a flesh-eating
virus. It will devour an inch of me a day, starting with
my big toe. I will be dead by Autumn 2014.
I went to the park after work as I usually do, and got talking
to the girl who works in the Mr. Whippy van who has nice
eyes but I’ve got no idea about the legs, obviously, because
she’s behind the counter and that’s part of her appeal. After
that, I walked around for a while, licking my ice cream,
thinking about what she had said to me—about how you
need to get a good grip on the machine handle and hold the
cone steady at the same time.
God, life is
just full of these little tricks of the trade, full of things
we have to juggle. It’s not enough to be good at just one
thing any longer. It got me thinking about my own talent,
and how I’ve been treating it as if it’s not enough. Like
it’s just holding the cone steady and ignoring the handle.
So I decided to start being proud of it. I decided to share
I’ve been doing this morning. I went to work, as I usually
do. But I went in armed for the Friday Morning Departmental
Meeting with a presentation I’d spent all night working on.
After all, when you make a decision you might as well get
on with it. Particularly when you know you don’t have much
I kicked off
at the coffee machine. Nigel was there. From Human Resources.
“Hey, Nige,” I
said. “Slip me some skin, my man.”
He looked me
up and down. He pointed at the machine. “Coffee?”
the button and passed me the plastic cup. “See you in the
“Nige?” I said.
He turned round. “What?”
I smiled at
him and he smiled back. I don’t think he really heard me.
He went off, drinking his coffee, dreaming of his next cafeteria
meal. Sausage and chips probably; something that leads a
grease trail from the plate, down your throat, and all the
way through to the toilet bowl.
I had my presentation
ready. I took the front seat at the meeting and listened
to the Head of Department blah on for an hour and a half
about targets and distribution before finally asking if there
were any questions. Of course, he wasn’t expecting there
to actually be any questions, so I could swoop on in there
before he had collected himself enough to object.
got some important info to cascade to the group, it won’t
I put on the
Overview of Your Mortality
You can’t say
I hadn’t thought about impact.
“Okay,” I began.
I was slightly nervous. “I know that we as a company strive
to utilize all our assets, and by that I mean how we try
to nurture excellence in every one of our employees so that
their special abilities can be allowed to grow.”
rumbled, and someone else—I think it was Stephanie
P—coughed. There was a general shuffling. Not an auspicious
“One area in
which we are not implementing best procedure in regards to
this nurturing of excellence is with the personal abilities
of our staff. Actually, with my personal abilities. I’m talking
specifically about my talent.”
fourteen people, plus the Head of Department, John, in the
room. I had drawn up a table listing them all, plus a few
names who weren’t present. I slammed the table up on the
OHP and gave them a moment to take it in.
squinting. I suppose I hadn’t really thought about the size
of the thing. “Shall I read it out?” I asked the group. A
few people at the back made a kind of a yes sound so I plunged
on, giving John an innocent look as he coughed and did that
punch with the arm and twist of the elbow that people in
films do when they look at their watch.
one. I thought I’d start with you, John, and work down the
chain of command, as such. 2013. Mountain climbing accident.”
He didn’t say
anything, so I moved on.
P. You’re going to have a heart attack in 2032. And Stephanie
T—are you in today?” Someone at the back raised a hand.
If it was Stephanie T she had dyed her hair red, which threw
me a bit. “Um…yeah. You’re going to be a grand old lady.
I’ve got you down for 2059. You get run over by a meals-on-wheels
her hand and made a sound that wasn’t quite a word.
done Nige, all right, mate? So I’ll move on to—”
and stepped up to me, putting his hand on my elbow. I could
smell him—a mixture of Aramis and ambition, with a
dab of fear wafting from the seat of his pants. “Could I
interrupt and ask what all this means, Paul?”
“It’s a table.”
“Yes.” He drew
out the word.
my talent. As the department wants.”
That’s very good, Paul. Could I just clarify what your talent
death.” The Friday Morning Departmental Meeting had never
been so attentive. “Time of death,” I dropped into the silence. “And
manner. I can be very specific; shall I do that? I can get
it down to the minute.”
up his eyes and hunched his shoulders. He seemed to be trying
to wrestle my words into a joke. “And I die whilst climbing
“But I don’t
mountain climb, Paul,” he said in his best Head Of Department
“Have you been
thinking about starting?”
He looked at
me as if I was Uri Geller, and had just bent his spoon. I’m
sorry to admit I played up to it a bit. I made a show of
concentrating, even though my talent doesn’t work like that. “Actually,
updating that info, apparently it’s just moved forward to
2012. I guess you’ll decide to prove me wrong and take up
the sport earlier. Would you like the exact time? I could
do a running update?”
the back of the room started crying. I think it was Stephanie
T—it really was difficult to tell with that shock of
again. I was surprised he wasn’t down to die of bronchitis. “I
think perhaps we should end the meeting there, okay?”
leave the table up, shall? People can take a look at it later?”
“Of course.” He
sounded like he was humouring me. Ha. He was going to die
before me, and it was due to his stubborn pride. He would
have had a year longer if he wasn’t so determined to prove
they made me go along for a check-up, and I said the word ‘stress’ to
my doctor and she was happy to sign me off work indefinitely
in order to make up four minutes 30 seconds of her precious
time. So now I’ve got all my time to myself, well, until
I notice a black spot on my toe in about a year and eight
Might as well
spend it in the park.
The Mr. Whippy
girl is at her post as usual. I ask for a double.
for you, isn’t it?” she asks me whilst holding the cone steady
and getting a firm grip on the handle.
Long term sick. Putting it down to stress.”
look stressed.” She throws me a look under her mascara clogged
lashes. “Sorry. I ask direct questions.”
not stress. It’s my talent, but nobody believes me. But what
good is a talent if you don’t use it?”
“I so get that,” she
sighs. “Here.” She hands me my double cone. “It’s on the
“You have a
talent. too?” I ask her. She nods, looking over my head at
the empty benches and rusted swings. “What is it?”
wanna know? Okay. I’ll give you a demonstration, all right?
I’ll just say it flat out. November 17th, 2067. You pass
away in your sleep. Peaceful, like.”
“Oh my God.” She
takes a long time over each word. There is silence.
I have to admit
I’m nervous. I’m starting to think the whole ‘being honest
about my talent’ thing is a bad idea, but I really wouldn’t
have told her anything if it had been bad. The girl has years
ahead of her. It’s not like some of the deaths I’ve predicted,
I mean, bungee and steamrollers and straining at stool type
She says, “You
just predicted my time of death.”
I give her
a nod and start eating my ice cream. That may sound callous,
but it’s starting to drip over my hand. I slurp the worst
of it up as quickly as I can. She still looks stunned rather
than angry. “That’s so weird,” she says.
“Come on then,” I
say, wanting to change the subject. “Give me a demo of your
“10:58 AM today,” she
says, leaning over the counter. She smiles and bares her
uneven white teeth. One protrudes at a funny angle. It’s
I look at the
clock on the wall of the Mr. Whippy van. 10:55 AM. “I don’t
She opens the
door at the back of the van and invites me in. It turns out
she does have great legs. And that’s not all.