‘If only I could move my hand!’ Pinot cursed out loud. His voice sounded oddly distant inside the carcass of the box. He hadn’t planned for this.
Normally a sneeze is nothing. You sneeze. You move on. This however was anything but normal.
The problem with sneezing inside a coffin is that there is nowhere for your sneeze to go. And now that the remnants of his sneeze was dangling from the roof of the box and swinging gently against the tip of his nose, he had an insatiable desire to scratch. Apparently, when designing coffins, undertakers never take into account that a buried body might just need to scratch his nose!
‘How long can I breathe for?’ he asked himself.
Months of preparation into this burial had taken place. Pinot pondered the many nights that he and Avie had researched live burials and even re-enacted them by shutting each other into the cyclone shelter for days at a time. This was to help him get use to the idea of being buried alive, being alone and being bored. This was all very fine for Avie as she wasn’t the one that was actually going to do it. She did however insist on participating in all the preparatory activities so that she had an understanding of what it would feel like. Pinot thought this was sweet.
In a strange twist of events, planning his death had bought them together again. It was ‘their’ project. It was as if events of the past had dissolved any animosity between them and they could finally focus on moving forward together as husband and wife.
’Fifty minutes,” Avie had stated to him. Fifty minutes is how long it would take for the service to end and for Avie to say her grieving goodbyes to the relatives and friends that attended the funeral. Fifty minutes for her to ask the priest and groundsman of the Fettle Funeral Home for some time alone with her husband before they filled in the hole, and fifty minutes for her to open the lid allowing him a gasp of fresh air before he clambered out and ran to the edge of the forest pines, where he would stay until nightfall.
Fifty minutes until the air inside the casket would be all but depleted.
Pinot shuffled himself slightly. He was starting to feel numb.
The box felt cold. As he moved, each shuffle sounded like the distant scuffle of shoes across old wooden floorboards. The vibration was hollow, as if its message was meaningless buried beneath the lid of the wooden casket. It was as if it knew that in here no one was around to appreciate the sound, so why bother.
He listened to the silence. It was very loud. The more he strained to hear, the louder the silence became.
Pinot thought back to the service. He felt fortunate that he was part of an elite few who had heard their own funeral. Avie had done a fine job. She’d played his favourite songs. Told his favourite stories. Cried. Sobbed. She had even thrown herself on top of the casket at one stage. She genuinely sounded as if she might never see him again. She was a fine act.
They had come a long way, the two of them. Life had dealt them some sharp twists and turns in their time. Avie always seemed to cope much better than he had. While she took to jogging kilometres of winding roads at night, he took solace in a bottle or four of red. That was when she had started calling him Pinot. At first it was a joke and her way of playfully teasing him for feeling so seedy the following day. A pinot was meant to be a smooth and mellow wine. He was far from that when he got on the grog. He became agitated and violent, with Avie often wearing the brunt of his frustration. But she had stuck by him. She was a steadfast Christian vowing to adhere to her marriage vows. ”In sickness and in health, til death do us part.” God he loved her.
Pinot took a breath. He stopped himself short of filling his lungs completely. There was no way of knowing how much air remained. He exhaled. ‘Smaller breaths………just relax’, he told himself. ‘Gotta make it last’.
He drifted off. His mind started to wander through a mental collage of his life up until this point. His childhood back in Greystroke, his Mother and Father, god rest their souls and his first dog, Gruff. His memory flicked back and forth between images with no real time line attached to them. Finally he settled on an image of Avie.
They had met as children. Some people called them childhood sweethearts. He preferred to think of it as simply following universal law. They were meant to be together. It was as if life had been carved out for them. Right up until he started to drink. Now it was time to take control and carve a little luck himself.
And everything had gone to plan so far. Or so it seemed. There was no way for him to really know whether their plans were running smoothly. He just had a sense.
Pinot tried to shake the uncomfortable feeling of being disorientated. From the moment he climbed into the box and was surrounded by a deafening darkness, he seemed to lose all sense of direction. He could only imagine that he was placed into the back of the family hearse and transported slowly down the familiar back streets of his home suburbs before reaching the funeral home. Here he assumed he was lowered down the hole and placed gently on the earth. It is here that he waited patiently for the next move. It is here that he painstakingly sucked in small shallow breaths, just enough to stop him from getting light headed. It seemed however that this was no longer going to help. He knew that the fifty minutes must have been drawing near as the air he was now breathing had begun to taste bitter and stale to him.
Pinot hadn’t always been an alcoholic. God knows he’d grown up around a few. But the line between being sober and being drunk was blurry. It was gambling that had been his demise. It was like a disease that ate up his every thought, his every move and his every hunger. It didn’t happen overnight, it crept on him slowly over time. It began with a small flutter once a year on Anzac day. He loved the camaraderie surrounding two- up. Eventually Pinot went from being inseparable with Avie, to spending every waking moment with the intoxicating spin of the ball and the sound of chips as they were casually fluttered across the table.
Avie had forgiven him. She’d forgiven him the booze, forgiven him the gambling, the loss of the family home and even the beatings. She even said she had forgiven him the burn.
The bloody burn. What was he thinking?
One night, after a particularly long drinking bender Avie had found him trying to cook himself breakfast in the kitchen. He was swaying over the gas cooker with a large pan of oil. He had obviously forgotten about it as he stood above it with his eyes closed and the smoke billowing from the pan. Avie had run over to him and told him to put the pan down. Pinot swung around abruptly causing the pan of hot oil to splash across her face instantly blistering her cheek down to the bone. As she fled from the room towards the bathroom he clearly remembers yelling after her, “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen!’
Avie spent six weeks in hospital recovering from third degree burns. The police investigated the incident, with Avie explaining that she tripped on the kitchen mat. Nobody believed her but what could they do?
Pinot knew that Avie’s words were sincere when she said that she forgave him. She said that she really did love him. He wondered if she just loved the idea of him, pre gambling days. Which is exactly why he was doing this. He was going to fix things.
Avie had strongly disagreed with his idea of faking his death at first, calling him insane and out of his mind. He understood her concerns, but after carefully explaining the options, even she could see that this was the only way to free them from bankruptcy and start again.
Pinot could smell the fresh pine from the box surrounding him. It was a clean smell. ‘Probably never be able to clean with Pine O Kleen again!’ he chuckled to himself.
His thoughts were broken by the sweet sound of Avie’s voice in the distance. He began to relax. It was time.
He wondered if this was what a caterpillar felt like. Lying still waiting for the time to come when it could burst free of it’s ‘casket’, rid it’s shell of the past and begin to live it’s life as it was truly destined.
Pinot smiled at his own analogy. This was a fresh start for them both. He was going to make it up to Avie. She deserved better.
The voices grew louder. Avie was talking to the priest.
“Do you mind giving us some time alone?’ she asked.
“Of course my dear. We have celebrated his life and rested his soul in the heavens above. You take all the time you need. When you are ready you may begin the process of resting his body in peace.”
Pinot heard the footsteps of the priest as he walked off into the distance. Soon, nothing could be heard but the gentle weeping of Avie on the other side of the box. He could only imagine her head as she rested it on the top of the casket. Damn she was good.
The anticipation of seeing her was killing him. He started to wiggle his fingers and toes vigorously. The last thing he needed was pins and needles tampering with his dash towards freedom.
Avie tapped on the box.
“Pinot?” she asked gently.
“Yes!” he hushed back.
“Thank goodness.” she sighed.
“Pinot?” she asked again.
“There’s something I need to tell you……….
……….. I’m pregnant.”
“That’s fantastic baby! We can do this. This is it. This will be the way it was meant to be.” Pinot reassured her.
“Yes it will.” She replied. “This is exactly what I need.”
Pinot relaxed. He could hear the strength in her voice. It was going to be O.K.
Pinot heard Avie smooth her hand over the top of the box before slamming it hard against something.
After lying still for so long, Pinot’s perception of direction seemed to have been heightened. Was the box moving? The box was definitely moving – smoothly, forwards. A sudden feeling of warmth began to spread up and over his body. It started at his feet and slowly worked its way towards his torso. At first, it was comfortable. Like snuggling under a knitted blanket on a crisp night. Quickly the heat grew stronger. The smell of fresh pine seemed to increase. ‘Pine O Kleen’ vapour began to saturate the inside of the box causing Pinot to gasp for what little clean air was left in his casket.
“Baby?” he yelled. “What’s happening? Open the box now baby! Baby!”
There was no reply.
As the casket continued to glide gracefully forwards, the crackle and popping of the pine could be heard as it began to split under the intensity of the heat. Pinot could hear Avie as she moved towards the head of the casket.
Confused, he listened intently, awaiting his next instruction.
Her words were clear and strong. She spoke them with the conviction of a woman who had herself just emerged from a cocoon.
“If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen Pinot.”
The Australian Literature Review