Phil Crockett Thomas

Grand Designs

 

Upon our time, a widower there was in rural France, who had strangers crossfingered to claim his home when he died. Neither had squeezed, softly skulled from his wife’s belly, their gym-bodies were hard from a different sort of labour. City of Londoners. Roast Beef.

 

With manicures clamped around his writ, searching a flailing pulse, they had made a Viager on his certain death. [1] They told their friends “it’s not morbid, it’s like sponsoring a child in Africa, or buying them a goat for Christmas. We get a picture of our old man every year to see how he is looking.”  84 for women, 78 for men, and ours is slightly overdue. The heart at his age, might just…

 

But he is looking well, sits dancing his legs under the kitchen table. Spoon drips to mouth, fattened arms blue with mountain ranges. He’s marbling on their monthly stipend and making home improvements. He thinks about the end, if he could just sit death out and keep it all. They send him a bottle of good port on each birthday, which he will not drink (you hear wild stories about Viager).

 

Still, nature had its way, and how. The earth sucked at the little old man, loosening his collar. And just as they were preparing to bound tit-first over the threshold, his lawyer informed them of a late insertion in his will. The old man had been buried under the stone flagged kitchen floor of their new summer house – another late insertion if you will.

 

– we could not have, imagine it, my dad to dinner and imagine him dangling over the grave, mouth whistling joy about the heft of cheese, the saucisson: so frenchified! We’d have to tell him. It’d be like that flick, the Hitchcock with those gay guys, what's that film with the body under the table? This is not the death we signed for.

 

How would we do the washing up with him behind us, his hair growing ever after. It might creep up and push through loose floorboards, providing warmth underfoot in winter. Not that we’d be living there in winter –

 

She pushed off down an overgrown path to where, just listening, water pounded rocks, buttoning-up her blood. She had wanted to know all of this, have all stinking jubilant nature to herself. It was to have been her project, her sympathetic design in keeping with the local flora. An army of local boys to help them build, learning English with grateful tongues, then leave at dusk on quad bikes.

 

They sat together at the gate and drank the port. Of course they wouldn’t go through with it.  The male, an old choirboy, had already spent his childhood sliding his feet along the cracks between tombstones on the church floor to avoid mussing the noses of the dead.  

 

Nature had its way again; corpse-confident, powdery walls fell apart in its clinch. Word got out and it became a popular spot for suicides, gallows making a feature of those stunning old wooden beams. The wild boars pass unremarked on prehistoric pins, or else are stuffed into sausages. Eyes blackened pits, like absented apples. The man under the floor grins through receded lips.

 

[1]Viager is an act of French property law that allows elderly homeowners to sell their house whilst retaining the right to use and live in it until their death. The new owners must pay a monthly sum (rente viagère) to the previous owner based on the elderly house-seller’s life expectancy. Of course, death could come at any time to both parties. Thus, it is a legal arrangement that appeals to gamblers and those with undeserving children.

Phil Crockett Thomas is a sociologist, artist and writer based in Glasgow. She is a researcher on the Distant Voices project at the University of Glasgow, for which she created Stir (2020): a collection of poetry based on prison-based fieldwork. Before that, Phil undertook a PhD in sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London, which involved writing stories and poetry based on people’s experiences and perceptions of the justice system. She has had fiction published by Ambit and Nyx. She tweets @crowdedmouth, her website is https://crowdedmouth.wordpress.com/.   

© 2020 Colin Herd and all the individual poets

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