Carol and I play a new game in the supermarket, our masks over our nose and mouth so that our words come out hot, as if we had just fallen from each other’s arms, tumbling across the bedsheets with the shopping trolley. The game is called ‘Deathband’. All one word. A pact. A band. It has nothing to do with heavy metal either, though there is link in the game with those we choose to die in car crashes, like the way James Brown died. We create alternative pasts to wipe away the present misdemeanours.
The game is simple.
Take any recording artist, anyone you once loved, admired or danced to as a teenager in your bedroom only for you to grow up and become aware that they became something you never dreamt they would be, a racist, a sexist, a hater of trans, a wife beater, a bag of bile that spouts from the corner of the internet to try and fill the void that Katie Hopkins left on Twitter. This list of musicians becomes longer each day during the pandemic, as if Covid-19 has woken up and given voice to their demons. Fans still follow them, watch the modern equivalent to bread and circuses but how many believe what they tweet? How many of them applaud as a new lion is released into the social media auditorium with its clusters of liars backing up their claims? Today we embellish some our old favourites.
‘Died on the plane to LA when he decided to leave England.’
‘You wouldn’t get the Hector album.’
‘It’s a good song if you take away the white privilege but some things you have to sacrifice.’
Morrisey at 27,000 feet pushing his button for a top up, a bag of nuts and someone pushes another button, a bomb, a boom and bits of him falling down like tinned meat behind the dog’s home at Battersea.
‘How many people on a plane?’
We make it a private jet. Too many people have already suffered for loving him. Even the pilots and the stewardess get out alive stating how there were only three parachutes and how Morrisey demanded they saved themselves, as the engines failed, telling them that he had said everything he wanted to say in The Smiths.
Between the cabbages and potatoes, a hateful glare from an old dear behind us who gets too close and hears us mention Michael Jackson. We let U2 rise-up instead. After all it wasn’t Bubbles fault that Michael fell into the wet concrete foundations of Neverland shortly after the release of Thriller. Nothing was ever proved.
‘Fucking Bono,’ I say.
‘Can’t believe I took you to see them.’
‘Kelis was good.’
Even though the crowds booed her and they didn’t turn down the house lights. Three hours of pomp from U2 saw me sit down after twenty minutes of Bono with a backing band, if I had a book, I would have read it. I don’t tell Carol my secret, that back in the 80s I loved U2, I thought Joshua Tree was the pinnacle thanks to Brian Eno. I still love Brian to this day, and I pray he won’t drop a bollock, so he ends up in this game. How does one kill Brian Eno without feeling guilty?
‘I blame those glasses,’ I say, returning to Bono.
‘I reckon he was cloned.’
Over the last few months, we have killed Bono just before the Zoo TV tour, just before he donned those glasses. Bono has died in various gory ways from slipping in the bathtub and skewering himself on the taps to accidentally electrocuting himself during a soundcheck, his ricocheting body flying from the microphone and crashing fiercely into the drumkit, crushing and paralysing Larry Mullen Jr, so that every time Larry is seen in public in a wheelchair people will think, “Bono did that” In the end we tire of U2 and they all plummet off a cliff as we argue over toilet roll. The tour bus, management and all, going over the edge, with The Edge, screaming how much they love each other and how they could, if they’d had more time, put that love in everyone’s phone without them asking for it. We never remember how we killed Adam.
Then there is Madonna, she is contentious, Carol states she wants her dead before Dear Jessie. So, anytime before 1989 is okay with her.
‘The music after that is shit.’
We try to remember when Madonna decided she was English.
‘I quite like a Ray of Light, it felt like a comeback.’
‘Hasn’t aged well,’ says Carol picking up a pumpkin, testing how firm the skin is and discarding it. How many others play this game of vegetable Russian roulette?
The old lady is still caught in our wake, eavesdropping from two metres which is a skill in its own nowadays.
‘What about Gary Numan?’
‘What’s he done?’
‘He looks like our hoover.’
‘No, we named the hoover after him.’
In silence we walk past the tins, tomatoes, peas, mushy and original, sweetcorn. All sealed. All safe. I picture how poor Gary dies at the hands of an overactive vacuum cleaner which drags him down the stairs to his end, his head wedged into a wellington boot as he suffocates from the smell of the allotment he wears them on. I don’t even know if Gary has an allotment but it feels like an honest, gentle death compared to what we have planned for Madonna. Gary has done nothing to deserve losing his hands to lace gloves and sepsis.
Then there is my Dad.
I stop, holding a tin of chopped tomatoes in my hand, it hovers over the trolley.
My Dad died on life support.
I sat beside him, me on one side, my Mum and sister on the other side. My Mum holding his arm, my sister holding his hand, my hand on his chest so I could feel his damaged heart raging against his ribs, trying to break free. The nurse told us they would withdraw the drugs that kept it beating but turn up the painkillers so he wouldn’t suffer. I felt his heartbeat falter and fade. How much I wanted to hold his heart, close my fingers around it, keep it safe in my fist, will it to keep beating. How his heart went in a moment. How the beats leaked between my fingers. How all that was left was the three of us, holding what was left behind.
I am glad he went before all this, before the fresh produce and tinned products and the fact that even if Carol and I hold hands outside people stare, greedy, angry and wishing death on us.
The old lady coughs behind her mask. We move on quickly.
Andrew Oldham is a disabled writer, journalist and eco-critic. He is a Jerwood-Arvon fiction nominee. His fiction has appeared in Mechanics’ Institute Review, The Times Magazine, The Cantabrigian, Transmission, Gargoyle and Unthology 5. His work has been heard on BBC Radio Four’s Poetry Please and Channel 4. He is an ex-BBC journalist and has written for The Guardian. He has contributed on the climate change debate in several publications including The New Statesman. You can discover more about him at www.andrewoldham.co.uk
Photo Credit: “A plane right over your head” by Dave Heuts is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0.