Excerpts from Mr. Deadman
by Peter Cherches
The Mortal Coil
Bitten by the bug of nostalgia, Mr. Deadman goes to his dusty old toy chest and brings out the favorite toy of his youth, and his life, his Slinky. Jiggling the Slinky between the palms of his hands, Mr. Deadman is enveloped by the warm glow of familiarity. The Slinky is the perfect toy, Mr. Deadman thinks, a thing inanimate, yet able to mime so faithfully the force of life. With rapt anticipation, Mr. Deadman goes to the top of the stairs and lets the Slinky loose to do its famous walking down the stairs trick. A child again, Mr. Deadman is transfixed as he watches the Slinky slink its way down the long, long staircase. So transfixed is Mr. Deadman that he suddenly loses his footing and he too begins to descend the staircase. But this is not the graceful walk of a Slinky; this, he knows, is a fatal tumble, pure and simple. Never one to fear death, Mr. Deadman begins to sing:
To my maker in a coffin
Itís a trip Iíve taken often
Here I come sweet soil,
Off Iím gonna shuffle,
Shuffle off this mortal coil.
And with those final words, his song now fully sung, at the bottom of the stairs, beside his beloved Slinky, Mr. Deadman expires, returning, once again, to his natural state.
* * *
Death on the Installment Plan
Lacking the requisite capital to finance his next death, Mr. Deadman is forced to purchase death on the installment plan. That is, in order to achieve his next full-blown death, Mr. Deadman must first pay for a series of little deaths over time. This will not be so difficult. Mr. Deadman has learned that the French refer to orgasm as le petit mort, the little death, so his plan is to buy an orgasm a week for the next year. To this end, Mr. Deadman pays a weekly visit to the bordello of Madame Céline. Each time he chooses a different woman, thinking, variety is the spice of little death, as it is of life. Mr. Deadman never bothers with foreplay. The little death itself is foreplay, he thinks, foreplay to the ultimate death.
Mr. Deadmanís weekly visits to the bordello of Madame C are short with but a modicum of sweetness. Mr. Deadman does enjoy the sex, to be sure, but nonetheless, each and every time he returns to life from a little death and considers the rate of interest, he flees Madame Célineís, into the night, convinced heís been taken for a ride.
* * *
Every life is more exhausting than the last, Mr. Deadman thinks. I could really use a little rest.
Easier said than done. Mr. Deadman has been plagued by insomnia for as long as he can remember, which is longer than you could imagine. For Mr. Deadman itís all or nothing. For Mr. Deadman the big sleep is the only sleep, but right now all he wants is a little shuteye.
The funeral director had assured Mr. Deadman that the coffin was a Perfect Sleeper, but it appears that itís only perfect for the perfect sleep. This time Mr. Deadman just wants to take a nap. Oh, sure heíd like to be dead to the world, but only for an hour or two, this time.
Mr. Deadman slips into his pajamas and hops in his coffin. He tries to make himself comfortable, tries to relax. But thoughts keep racing through his head, thoughts of life and death, and the obligations of both. And then, when he has just about cleared his mind of all cares and woes, the guy in the next coffin over starts snoring, a snore so thunderous it could raise the dead.
Exasperated, Mr. Deadman sits up in his coffin. Eternal rest is such a simple thing, he thinks. But forty winks, forty lousy winks — now thatís the killer!
* * *
At the Sushi Bar
“Greetings, Deadman-San,” the sushi chef says as Mr. Deadman takes a seat at the bar. Mr. Deadman is a regular at this particular establishment. Indeed, all Mr. Deadman has to say is, “the usual,” and the chef prepares a combination of his favorite sushi.
Mr. Deadman, a creature of habit, always eats his sushi in the same order. In succession he eats maguro, toro, taco, hamachi, uni, ikura, mirugai, and unagi.
Mr. Deadman has saved the best for last: fugu, poison blowfish. Mr. Deadman appreciates the subtle, delicate flavor, but it is the risk he most enjoys, the culinary flirtation with death. Of course, it is well known that fugu is only served by licensed chefs who are meticulously trained in the art of removing all the poisonous parts from the fish, so in reality the danger is so minuscule as to be illusory.
Mr. Deadman pays the bill and leaves the sushi bar, sated, once again, but unsatisfied, as always, feeling that, however good the food, something was missing.
Tomorrow, Mr. Deadman tells himself, I shall eat mushrooms.
* * *
Keeping Up With the Joneses
Mr. Deadman is an avid reader of the obituaries, and of late he has noticed an inordinate number of Joneses cropping up. The death notices are chock full of Joneses, positively bursting at the seams with them. What gives? Jones, to be sure, is a common name, yet for some reason the numbers of dead Smiths and Johnsons, equally common surnames, pale by comparison with the Joneses. And what about the Deadmans? Why, if it werenít for Mr. Deadman himself youíd never see that name in the obits at all. Mr. Deadman is enraged. No matter how many times he dies, he just canít keep up with the Joneses.
In an effort to correct the imbalance, Mr. Deadman devotes his life to saving the lives of others — as long as their name is Jones, that is.
* * *
The Nail Salon
Out for a stroll, one fine day, Mr. Deadman passes a nail salon. A nail salon, Mr. Deadman thinks, just the thing I need! So he enters the salon and says to the receptionist, “Iíd like to have my nails done.”
“Of course,” the receptionist replies. “Just have a seat over there and Julie will take care of you.”
Mr. Deadman takes a seat in the manicure chair, his hands in his pockets. “Iíd like to have my nails done,” he tells Julie.
“Yes, of course, but youíll have to take your hands out of your pockets, sir, so I can see your nails,” Julie, the lovely young manicurist, says.
Mr. Deadman removes his hands from his pockets. In each hand is a fistful of rusty iron nails. The nails jangle as Mr. Deadman drops them onto the manicure table.
The lovely young manicurist is taken aback. “What are these?” she asks.
“Doornails,” Mr. Deadman replies.
Peter Cherches is the author of two volumes of short prose: Condensed Book and Between a Dream and a Cup of Coffee, as well as several limited-edition artist's books. His work has recently appeared in the anthologies Poetry 180 and Up Is Up, But So Is Down: New York's Downtown Literary Scene, 1974-1992. His fiction and short prose work has been featured in a wide range of magazines and journals, including Harperís, Semiotext(e), Transatlantic Review, Fiction International, and Bomb. Sonorexia, the avant-vaudeville music-performance group he co-led with Elliott Sharp in the 1980s, appeared at such legendary venues as The Mudd Club and CBGB. Cherches is a two-time recipient of New York Foundation for the Arts fellowships in creative nonfiction. He blogs about food and travel at http://petercherches.blogspot.com