After the death
The old woman's passing should have been reported days ago, but my sister still won't hear of it. 'Not yet,' she says. The corpse is lying face down on the bed in a room neither of us can bring ourselves to enter. We burn incense to mask the smell. A human body takes a long time to decay. In the hall mirror I catch a glimpse of a shadow passing. On the carpet in the livingroom dark stains have begun to appear, and the walls are covered with a pale graffiti whose origin we cannot explain. My sister camps in the kitchen, the only room in the bungalow where natural light enters. Every day she makes soup. 'Have some of this,' she says. 'It will help to keep our strength up.'
A true story
During the shoot Phil hit a mallard flying over the marshes at a height of about 15 feet. Instead of plummeting into the reeds, from where the dogs would have retrieved it, it stopped in mid-air. As other members of the party began to notice it, the guns fell silent, and the landowner came over to take a look. 'We'd better get something to climb on,' he said. Two of the beaters were sent off and returned with an extendable ladder. A group of men waded out into the marsh to set it up. While they held it in place a young boy, the lightest person present, climbed up to the bird. 'It's got blood around its beak,' he shouted down to the men, 'and on its breast.' The boy took hold of the mallard by its wings, but it wouldn't budge. It seemed to be fixed in space. 'I can't shift it,' he said. The landowner told the boy to come down and sent up one of the beaters, a brawny farm worker. After a lot of heaving and much swearing the bird was still exactly where it had been when it died. By this time the light was starting to fade. 'Hadn't we better hang a lamp on it,' someone suggested. 'So people know it's there.'
After her boyfriend left her Lou decided to get a dog. She went to the local rescue centre and picked out a dog called Nietzsche. 'We don't know his history,' said the woman at the centre. 'Looks like there's some Schauzer in him. He barks at members of the clergy.' Lou liked the animal's furry face and perplexed expression and agreed to take him.When she got him home she started to notice other oddities in his behaviour. He chased his tail obsessively, and gazed for hours at photographs of ancient Greek statues in a book she was studying. One morning when The Ride of the Valkyries came on the radio Nietzsche started to howl and she had to turn the music off. She looked up 'Nietzsche' online. Things were starting to make sense. Among other facts she learned that the philosopher had been interested in metempsychosis. She called the dog rescue people. 'This may seem a strange question,' she said. 'But have you ever come across a case of someone being reincarnated as a dog?'
Simon Collings lives in Oxford and has published poems, stories and critical essays in a range of journals including Stride, Journal of Poetics Research, The Cafe Irreal, Tears in the Fence, Ink Sweat and Tears, Lighthouse and PN Review. His most recent book, Why Are You Here? Very Short Fictions, was published by Odd Volumes, in 2020. He is a contributing editor of The Fortnightly Review. Three of his stories appeared in Issue #69 of The Cafe Irreal and another three in Issue #71.