In order to start keeping these things straight, I decided I needed to be naming them, so now this one has a name: The Dead Must Die.
I couldn’t believe it.
“I can’t believe it.”
“Can’t believe what?”
“I can’t believe you’re sitting there, telling not to be crass, and I’m—” I caught myself before I screamed, “—dead. I’m F—”
“I’m fucking dead,” I finished, keeping my voice at a not-quite-shouting level, my hands flat on the table, hoping they would stabilize my attitude and my body: so I didn’t lunge across the table and choke him out.
He glanced away in the direction Flo had gone before returning to meet my gaze.
“Well, yes, technically that’s true, but to be fair, you are sitting here having a Coke and a grilled cheese sandwich,” he said, taking a bite of his sandwich.
I looked down. On a plate in front of me sat a perfectly golden grilled cheese sandwich, with an ample pile of fries off to the side.
“I know it’s confusing, Hazel. I really do. But if you’ll just give me a moment to explain?”
My head swam. Without thinking, I picked up one of the triangular halves of the sandwich and took a bite right out of the cut edge. The still malleable cheese wrapped around the corners of my mouth and stuck to my cheeks. Just like when I was little.
“There you go,” he said, taking a sip of water. “Best thing for the transition, really: grilled cheese sandwich.”
“Why grilled cheese?” I asked, at this point unsure how to ask what kind of “transition” he was talking about, though in hindsight it was clear enough.
“Well, any dairy will do, really, but we’re not sure why. Grilled cheese sandwiches, however, have the added ability to make anyone calm. It’s the ultimate comfort food. Nobody hates grilled cheese sandwiches.”
Well, at least he was right about that part. Wait. He? Did I even know his name?
“What’s your name?”
“What is your name?” I asked again, slower.
“Did I not introduce myself back at the hospital? Where are my manners?” He pushed his chair back and stood up, buttoning his jacket as he did.
“Professor Reginald O’Toole, at your service,” he said, with a flick of his right hand near his temple in a quasi-salute.
“Well, before I took this job, I taught history at a small university out west. I had just submitted my doctoral thesis, which was a slam-dunk, and, well…” He unbuttoned the jacket and sat back down.
“And then you died.” I finished for him.
“And then you took this job?” I prodded.
“Well, I fell into it, actually. Turns out a man of my education has uses, even after he’s dead.” He took another bite of his sandwich. “And it was better than the alternative,” he mumbled.