I remember the first time I learned that people died. The first time that I considered how our skin yielded to the ravages of time, and our eyes popped from our skulls to be devoured by small maggots and all manner of tiny things with many legs. I was sat on the floor, tucked beneath the ironing board, as my mother flattened the creases from clothes in a compassionate act of steam and warmth, placing them eventually, neatly folded, on the white leather sofa. In the years which would follow, the sofa would become brown and the woman conducting the ironing would change, but this had very little to do with death in the literal sense. More to the point and perhaps more disturbingly, I would also became too large to fit underneath the ironing board and would spend most of my time instead sneaking crisps into the pocket of my dressing gown, so that I could eat them in my bedroom without fear of judgement, or indeed fear of human interaction.
I faced the television, underneath the ironing board, surrounding by drapes of white fabric and damp heat. The stifling steam was somehow comforting- I knew that if I were to drop into an infinite sleep that at least it would be warm and comfortable. But death was never quite death at this point, it would be a brief fading of the daylight into the comfort of imaginings. It would hiss and spit warm water, but it would too be acceptable and quietly unobtrusive. I smiled as I thought about my dad telling me about the worms in my eyeballs as I would giggle and he would tuck me in. The worms crawl in and the worms crawl out, your brain comes trickling down your snout. The white of my textile castle around me was much like my bed sheets, and if death would mean spiders dancing in my throat, I would embrace it with open arms.
But the television stood along the long wall of the living room, though in later years it would sit in the far corner and we would twist our necks to look at it. We were watching the News; news with a capital N, because it is new, and news, and on at Six, with a capital S, and important. The kind lady in the red dress was explaining that they had found several skeletons buried in a forest, and as she casually narrated with the mildest unease, suddenly death made a great deal of sense to me. I knew about skeletons, and I could feel the bones which made up my spine pushing against the inside of my skin. In one moment worlds collapsed and hair was torched from skin. Teeth tore at flesh and nails were pulled from their beds in a fit of red and swelling. I sat beneath the ironing board and felt the steam penetrate the back of my throat. My eyes watered at the prospect of maggots gnawing at my retinas, my skull remaining in the mud as my very memory vacated the realms of the earth. My mum switched the iron off at the plug.
Ooo, eee, how happy we shall be.