Published Monthly

First Up
by Aliya Whiteley

I will contract a flesh eating virus. It will devour an inch of me a day, starting with my big toe. I will be dead by Autumn 2006.

So yesterday I went to the park after work as I usually do, and got talking to the girl who works in the Mr Whippy van who has nice eyes but I’ve got no idea about the legs, obviously, because she’s behind the counter and that’s part of her appeal. After that I walked around for a while, licking my ice cream, thinking about what she had said to me--about how you need to get a good grip on the machine handle and hold the cone steady at the same time.

God, life is just full of these little tricks of the trade, full of things we have to juggle. It’s not enough to be good at just one thing any longer. It got me thinking about my own talent, and how I’ve been treating it as if it’s not enough. Like it’s just holding the cone steady and ignoring the handle. So I decided to start being proud of it. I decided to share it around.

So that’s what I’ve been doing this morning. I went to work, as I usually do. But I went in armed for the Friday Morning Departmental Meeting with a presentation I’d spent all night working on. After all, when you make a decision you might as well get on with it. Particularly when you know you don’t have much time anyway.

I kicked off at the coffee machine. Fat Nigel was there. From Human Resources.

"Hey, Fat Nige," I said. "Slip me some skin, my man."

He looked me up and down. He pointed at the machine. "Coffee?"

"One sugar."

He pressed the button and passed me the plastic cup. "See you in the meeting then."

"Fat Nige?" I said.

He turned round. "What?"

"February 2009. Cancer."


I smiled at him and he smiled back. I don’t think he really heard me. He went off, drinking his coffee, dreaming of his next cafeteria meal. Sausage and chips probably; something that leads a grease trail from the plate, down your throat, and all the way through to the toilet bowl.

I had my presentation ready. I took the front seat at the meeting and listened to the Head of Department blah on for an hour and a half about targets and distribution before finally asking if there were any questions. Of course, he wasn’t expecting there to actually be any questions, so I could swoop on in there before he had collected himself enough to object.

"Right, I’ve got some important info to cascade to the group, it won’t take long."

I put on the first slide.

A Helpful Overview of Your Mortality

You can’t say I hadn’t thought about impact.

"Okay," I began. I was slightly nervous. "I know that we as a company strive to utilize all our assets, and by that I mean how we try to nurture excellence in every one of our employees so that their special abilities can be allowed to grow."

Someone’s stomach rumbled, and someone else--I think it was Stephanie P--coughed. There was a general shuffling. Not an auspicious start.

"One area in which we are not implementing best procedure in regards to this nurturing of excellence is with the personal abilities of our staff. Actually, with my personal abilities. I’m talking specifically about my talent."

There were fourteen people, plus the Head of Department, John, in the room. I had drawn up a table listing them all, plus a few names who weren’t present. I slammed the table up on the OHP and gave them a moment to take it in.

Everyone was squinting. I suppose I hadn’t really thought about the size of the thing. "Shall I read it out?" I asked the group. A few people at the back made a kind of a yes sound so I plunged on, giving John an innocent look as he coughed and did that punch with the arm and twist of the elbow that people in films do when they look at their watch.

"Okay - number one. I thought I’d start with you, John, and work down the chain of command, as such. 2006. Mountain climbing accident."

He didn’t say anything, so I moved on.

"Stephanie P. You’re going to have a heart attack in 2032. And Stephanie T - are you in today?" Someone at the back raised a hand. If it was Stephanie T she had dyed her hair red, which threw me a bit. "Um… yeah. You’re going to be a grand old lady. I’ve got you down for 2059. You get run over by a Meals-on-Wheels delivery van."

She lowered her hand and made a sound that wasn’t quite a word.

"I’ve already done Fat Nige, all right, mate? So I’ll move on to--"

John coughed and stepped up to me, putting his hand on my elbow. I could smell him - a mixture of Aramis and ambition, with a dab of fear wafting from the seat of his pants. "Could I interrupt and ask what all this means, Paul?"

"It’s a table."

"Yes." He drew out the word.

"I’m implementing my talent. As the department wants."

"That’s good. That’s very good, Paul. Could I just clarify what your talent is?"

"Predicting death." The Friday Morning Departmental Meeting had never been so attentive. "Time of death," I dropped into the silence. "And manner. I can be very specific; shall I do that? I can get it down to the minute."

John screwed up his eyes and hunched his shoulders. He seemed to be trying to wrestle my words into a joke. "And I die whilst climbing a mountain?"


"But I don’t mountain climb, Paul," he said in his best Head Of Department voice.

"Have you been thinking about starting?"

He looked at me as if I was Uri Geller and had just bent his spoon. I’m sorry to admit I played up to it a bit. I made a show of concentrating, even though my talent doesn’t work like that. "Actually, updating that info, apparently it’s just moved forward to 2005. I guess you’ll decide to prove me wrong and take up the sport earlier. Would you like the exact time? I could do a running update?"

Somebody at the back of the room started crying. I think it was Stephanie T - it really was difficult to tell with that shock of red hair.

John coughed again. I was surprised he wasn’t down to die of bronchitis. "I think perhaps we should end the meeting there, okay?"

"I’ll just leave the table up, shall? People can take a look at it later?"

"Of course." He sounded like he was humouring me. Ha. He was going to die before me, and it was due to his stubborn pride. He would have had a year longer if he wasn’t so determined to prove me wrong.

So, anyway, they made me go along for a check-up, and I said the word ‘stress’ to my doctor and she was happy to sign me off work indefinitely in order to make up four minutes 30 seconds of her precious time. So now I’ve got all my time to myself, well, until I notice a black spot on my toe in about a year and eight months.

Might as well spend it in the park.

The Mr Whippy girl is at her post as usual. I ask for a double.

"Bit early for you, isn’t it?" she asks me whilst holding the cone steady and getting a firm grip on the handle.

"Off work. Long term sick. Putting it down to stress."

"You don’t look stressed." She throws me a look under her mascara clogged lashes. "Sorry. I ask direct questions."

"Nah. It’s not stress. It’s my talent, but nobody believes me. But what good is a talent if you don’t use it?"

"I so get that," she sighs. "Here." She hands me my double cone. "It’s on the house."

"You have a talent too?" I ask her. She nods, looking over my head at the empty benches and rusted swings. "What is it?"

"You first."

"You really wanna know? Okay. I’ll give you a demonstration, all right? I’ll just say it flat out. November 17th 2067. You pass away in your sleep. Peaceful, like."

"Oh my God." She takes a long time over each word. There is silence.

I have to admit I’m nervous. I’m starting to think the whole ‘being honest about my talent’ thing is a bad idea, but I really wouldn’t have told her anything if it had been bad. The girl has years ahead of her. It’s not like some of the deaths I’ve predicted, I mean, bungee and steamrollers and straining at stool type deaths.

She says, "You just predicted my time of death."

I give her a nod and start eating my ice cream. That may sound callous, but it’s starting to drip over my hand. I slurp the worst of it up as quickly as I can. She still looks stunned rather than angry. "That’s so weird," she says.

"Come on then," I say, wanting to change the subject. "Give me a demo of your talent."

"10:58 A.M. today," she says, leaning over the counter. She smiles and bares her uneven white teeth. One protrudes at a funny angle. It’s cute.

I look at the clock on the wall of the Mr Whippy van. 10.55am. "I don’t get it."

She opens the door at the back of the van and invites me in. It turns out she does have great legs. And that’s not all.

Aliya Whiteley was born in a small town in Devon, England, but she now lives in Germany, where the beer is better. Her first novel, Mean Mode Median, is currently available through online bookshops or via her website.


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