Graham Kirkinackie loved to come home to his son Jove. He had so many things to teach him: how to bounce a football (he would have to learn this himself before he could teach it, but it was on the list); how to change the light bulbs in the high part of the hallway (with Mr Henderson from 3C’s step-ladder), how to record a new message for the answering machine (retain the manual; follow instructions therein); how to make bacon and eggs (the non-stick pan, but never with olive oil), how to drive a manual car (light on the clutch, heavy on the smugness), and especially, especially, how to love Emily Kirkinackie (gently, respectfully, verbally; with biscuits in the afternoon; with unexpected cups of black tea; with jonquils but never daffodils; with broadsheet newspapers; with holding on to the television remote; with a dark chocolate individually wrapped; with good books; and with a sleep-in on Sundays).
That was why, on a cold July night, he was running from the tram, in the rain, with his arms full of groceries and his pockets teeming with a spectrum of different coloured marbles.
He used the rear hotplate only — of the others, only one would light at all, and, when it did, there was a good chance you’d lose your eyebrows — and that night he cooked sausages. He kissed his wife’s soft face and his son’s ebony head, and he spread the marbles out across the kitchen table while the sausages burned.
A few minutes after seven, the doorbell rang. There were sixteen doorbells in the building in total, one for each apartment, and they were all different. Mr Henderson’s played Greensleeves, and the Lings-in-2B’s played Take Me Out to the Ball Game, and the Kirkinackie’s played Baby Elephant Walk. Every time it rang they paused to watch Jove do his funny little dance to it.
‘I’ll get it,’ Graham said. On the stove, the sausages spat and hissed. Jove smacked one marble into the next marble until every marble was moving. Emily looked on at her husband, possibly adoringly, possibly admiring the work he had been doing in the gym two nights a week, especially in the glute area.
Baby Elephant Walk played again.
‘I’m coming,’ said Graham. A marble shot across the floor and rolled under the door. Graham noticed Emily admiring his thick hair, which, at thirty-one, had not thinned even a little. The sausages had completely burned on one side and the kitchen had begun to fill with smoke.
Graham opened the door.
‘Hello,’ began the spiel from the other side. ‘Do you have an electricity bill I can analyse?’
And barely ten seconds had passed before Graham collapsed in front of the electricity salesman, narrowly missing Jove, who was chasing the marble, and just seconds longer still before the oil from the sausages lit up and Emily screamed ‘Fire!’, and then Graham was stone cold dead on the floor with the apartment burning around him.
Because, actually, there was more to Graham’s story. Besides being a financial planner who had so much to teach his son, he was a man with a bicuspid aortic valve. His doctor had told him this a fortnight prior, after Graham had presented to him with extreme tiredness and shortness of breath during his cardiovascular workouts (which he was doing to impress his wife). There had been an ECG, and an EEG, and he had worn a machine on a sling overnight to see what his heart did in its sleep.
If the irregularity was not too severe, his doctor said, he could live to be seventy or eighty or ninety. But on the other hand, he might need to have surgery. Not the pleasant, would-you-like-a-biscuit kind of surgery but open heart, where someone would saw his ribcage and take a video for the internet. Until they knew, Graham was to avoid all gluteus muscle exercise, creamy foods, and surprises.
It was unfortunate, then, that the man who came to his door that night, who pressed the button to play Baby Elephant Walk, and who asked to see a copy of his electricity bill, was in fact his exact double. That it was just the kind of surprise his doctor had warned him against.
Not to mention the issue with the fire, which had gutted the apartment and taken all evidence of the salesman with it, so Emily didn’t even know who to call to ask that he not come again.