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Still Got Stuff To Say

Rachel Stevenson

There was a message from Bill. It looked like him, because it was his avatar on the social media site, but it didn’t sound like him. 'Hiya, how ya doin,' it read. I stared at it. His picture, of him on holiday a year before his death, stared back. I typed: 'Whoever this is, it's not funny. Please stop doing it.'

         Within a few minutes there was another message: 'What u mean, I jus tryin to talk to u.'

         'Whoever you are, you've hacked into the account of a dead person,

so this may be funny to you, but it's not to me.'

         'No, it's me, Bill, I'm writing from the afterlife.'

         I flipped the laptop lid back down and thought for a minute. Usually, during moments like this, when I passed a restaurant we'd gone to or a pub we'd laughed in, I had a little cry and then I felt better, but this. This. This was not remembering a dead friend. This was fraud.

         I turned the laptop back on but there were no new messages. I deleted the ones that were there and clicked through to the homepage to see the usual cats, babies, holidays and assertions that my life is great, thanks. Living the dream, out loud.

         I tended to think of this perusal of my friends' and acquaintances' lives as like a lady in a drawing room dealing with her morning correspondence, but eventually I had to stop and go to work.

         At lunch, I clicked back on and there was another message from “him”. 'Y u no speaking to me.'

         'Because you're not who you're pretending to be.'

         'I'm a ghost lol.'

         'No you're not, you're a troll, you're sitting under a bridge waiting for me to pass by.'

         'Aren't we friends now?'

         I imagined him, it was bound to be a him, sitting on a bus or in the 6th form common room (did they have those any more? They probably called them Createspaces or Chill Out Zones in the Academies and the Free Schools) on his iPhone, chuckling to his idiot friends, before looking at hacked pictures of nude actresses.

         'No, because Bill died from lung cancer last year.'

         'But Katy, I wanna talk to you.'

         I jumped, literally, a centimetre out my seat. My name on the site was Lady Kitty. Stupid, I know, but it made it harder for ex-boyfriends, potential stalkers, current employers, future employers, and my parents to find me. I scrolled up through the private messages between me and Bill, but neither of us had used my real name. Was this a professional hacker rather than just a bored teen, was he in Bill's email as well? Was he trying to steal the identity of a dead man to set up credit cards and suchlike? If so, then why bother having this inane conversation?

         'If you're Bill and you know me, then tell me something only he would know.'

         There were a few minutes' silence and I thought the kid had got bored and decided to harass someone else, but then a message pinged through.

         'Remember our day out in Clacton?'

         My heart beat like techno.

         'Yes,' I typed, 'it rained and we sheltered in Pizza Hut.'

         'It wasn't Pizza Hut, it was a bakery. You had a cream cheese bagel and I had a coffee.'

         And a cigarette, I thought.

         'How do you know all this?'

         'I told you, I am Bill.'

         Like thingy off that '90s TV programme, I wanted to believe. Every time a coincidence happened, I wanted to tell Bill, because, despite being a rationalist atheist, he believed coincidences were part of some bigger thing. I wanted to tell him about books I’d read that I thought he'd like, films I'd seen, people I’d met, like when I bumped into Carl from our old office, who was still working there, but was unaware that Bill had died. Although that wasn't as bad as the dream I’d had when Bill had turned up and I'd had to tell him that he was dead. He was pretty upset, in the dream.

         'U still there?'


         'Gotta go now, got things to do.'

         'Don't go,' I started typing, 'I've still got stuff to say!'

         But he had logged off.

         I could not unfriend the fake Bill because I still wanted to flip back over the real Bill's posts, mostly political rants or unfruitful calls to arms, but his essence, his soul, you might say, was there. When I had reset my phone and his texts had disappeared, I had shouted at it, and the tech person from the phone company, although that might have been because I'd been on hold for twenty minutes.

         When I'd told other people, who didn't know him, that he'd had lung cancer, they said: Oh he was always a smoker though, wasn't he, as if that made it OK. As if they'd say of someone dying in a car accident, Oh he was always a reckless driver though, wasn't he. Or someone murdered by their partner, Oh she did always pick the wrong types though, didn't she. What did they know of his stressful life, being a single dad, a manager who hated authority, his political groups always being infiltrated by the police, and until lately, a father with dementia? I would have smoked too, given that. There was a sketch on the TV a while ago about people having Good AIDS and Bad AIDS, contracting it through blood transfusion versus having risky sex. It's the same with cancer, if you've got leukaemia, you're a victim, but lung cancer – you're a fool. But Bill, he was a victim of life.

         That said, I’m not going to be running around a park in a pink top or strolling through London in my bra any time soon. Other diseases are available. People who want to run a half marathon or cycle from one coast to another should just go and do it, rather than pretend they're putting themselves through exercise for the casualties of whatever illness is fashionable this year.

         At home, I eschewed the laptop and went into the kitchen to make my dinner, I chopped onion, garlic, carrots and tipped it all into a pan with some stock. I added salt, pepper, coriander and a bayleaf. I had two bags of bayleaves – Bill had cut a massive stack of them for me from his bay tree and given them to me the last time I had seen him before the diagnosis. I sometimes thought that when I had finished them, I would have nothing physical left of him, although I still had a book I’d borrowed. I didn't want to read it, because then, technically, I should return it and it seemed rather odd to contact his son to say: I’ve got your dad's book. But, I thought, on the other hand, I could tell Terence about this.

         I wasn't friends with him on the social media site, but it was easy to find him, and you can send messages to anyone.

         'Hi Terence. I'm not sure if you remember me, I was a friend of your dad's. I've been receiving these odd messages from someone purporting [I crossed it out and instead typed pretending] to be him. It's probably some bored kid, but I wondered if you'd had any messages and whether we could report it, or change the password or something. I hope you are well.' I crossed this out and wrote: 'I hope everything's going OK with you.' Then deleted that too and just wrote Katy. Then added and deleted a kiss.

         He responded within a few hours. 'Hi katy, yes I remember you. That sounds a bit  weird, i'll look into it. Are you ever in west london? If so, let's meet up, you can show me the messages.'


It was the sort of pub that watered down both their beer and their liquid soap in the lavatories. Old men lined the sides of it. I thought these type of establishments had been abolished and replaced by craft beer and artisan pork pie places. Maybe it reminded Terrence of his dad.

         He was there already, sitting looking into his pint in the same way that Bill did. Or had done. My heart bounced. I remembered when I’d gone to see him when he was ill and I’d assumed the loping fellow approaching the plate glass door was Bill, thinking, oh well he can't be that ill then, then realising it was Terrence and Bill was sitting in a chair in an oxygen mask, rug over his desiccated legs, drinking some herbal mixture he was convinced was going to cure him.  At least he'd stopped smoking by then.

         'Hi Katy.' He stood up, almost hugged me, then seemed to decide against it and sat down again.
         'Hi,' I said, 'it's nice to see you.'

         'It's been almost a year, hasn't it,' he said, 'since the funeral.'

         'Yes,' I said and then felt bad. Was I supposed to keep in touch? Bill was a compartmentaliser, I had only met his son a few times, his ex-wife two or three. 

         'How've you been,' I said, lamely.

         'Oh, you know.'

         'Are you still living in Leytonstone?'

         'With Chelsea? No, we split up. She's in Dalston now. I'm back here. Mum's moved into dad's house. Because they never got divorced, she inherited it. She's given up her flat. We're going to sell the house at some point, but y'know. So much stuff. Dad had so many books and records and CDs and tapes and videos and DVDs and hundreds of photo albums. Although we sold his laptop – it was so old it was barely booting up anymore. But it's impossible to get through all of his things.'

         I decided I’d keep the borrowed book for now.

         'I guess everything you own is on your iPad, right?'

         'Well it's an android, but yes. Easier to carry around than boxes and boxes of belongings.'

         He wasn't that much like Bill. He didn't have his vigour, he had the same easily defeated air of his mother. At the funeral, she'd acted the grieving widow in full mourning garb. Since she and Bill had split up almost twenty years previously, this had seemed ridiculous.

         'Can I ask you something?'

         'Yes,' I said.

         'You had an affair with my dad didn't you?'

         I blushed. 'We were seeing each other for a while. But it was long time ago. You were just a kid then.'

         'I'm not having a go at you. I'm just piecing together his life.'

         'We were mostly friends.'

         'I think he slept with a lot of his friends, the female ones anyway.'

         And one attempt with a male one, I thought, but did not say. 'He was an attractive man.'

         'I get the feeling it was me stopping him marrying again. If he hadn't been the main carer for me, he might have prioritised a relationship.'

         'I don't think that's true,' I said, 'if he'd met the right person – '

         'You weren't the right person?'

         'No. He was a lot older than me. And I wasn't really stepmum material.'

         'You're probably nearer my age than his.'

         I blushed again. 'I've always looked younger than I am.'

         'You're what? 30, 32?'

         '36,' I said.

         'I do remember you being around', he said, 'I thought you were very glamorous. I asked dad if you were an au pair.' He grinned in that same way. It was as if Bill were untouched by the spoils of time, as if I were seeing him in the '70s before life caught up with him.

         Leaving the pub, we walked past an incongruous row of pastel-painted cottages, along the main road's lorry roar. The day was cold and grey with the kind of spiky rain that finds the holes in your coat and your mood. We walked around the graveyard, where Bill's remains were interred. 'We couldn't think of where to scatter them so they're just in the crematorium,' Terrence said.

         The recent graves seemed garish with green glass gravel and clashing plastic flowers. Others were done up like a suburban garden with ceramic windmills, gnomes and toadstools. Maybe the families didn't want to keep nor part with Nan's stuff. One had a tiny, tinselly Christmas tree stuck into the headstone. I wondered if they brought hearts on 14th February and eggs at Easter. The angels, obelisks and slumbering lions of the Victorian times seemed more sombre, if equally OTT.

         A squirrel jumped onto one of the gravestones and sat there ignoring us, nibbling on something. Squirrels were worse than pigeons for disrespecting the dead. I couldn't connect the place with Bill at all. The messages from the troll seemed more real than this. We left as it was starting to get dark and the only light was from the nearby overhanging supermarket. 

         'Thanks for coming,' he said, as we reached the station.

         'It was good to see you,' I said.

         'We should keep in touch,' he said.

         He leaned forward to kiss my cheek, but I miscalculated and we ended up kissing on the lips, then both moved away, embarrassed.

         'I'm sorry,' I said.

         'Me too.'

         There was a pause and then he said: 'Oh I changed the password on dad's account. You shouldn't get any more messages.'

         'Great,' I said.

         On the train, I checked my phone, logging onto the site. Terrence was right, no more messages.

         But I missed him.





Rachel Stevenson grew up in Doncaster and now lives in London. She has been a contributor to Smoke: A London Peculiar, Here Comes Everyone, Short Story Sunday, A Cuppa And An Armchair book (Createspace Publishing, 2011), The Guardian travel section, the Utopia Arts Festival, Are You Sitting Comfortably short story podcast, the forthcoming book, Night Bus To Camden (Smoke Publishing), and her work has been made into a short film, narrated by Christopher Eccleston, for the Tate Modern website. She has recently completed an MA in Creative Writing.

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