7th June

Death Takes a Drink

‘It’s not like that,’ he said, refilling his glass. ‘If it were, it would be easy. Best job in the world. “You deserve it, you don’t.” “You’re going now, you on the other hand get another five years.” Or, in some cases, the reverse: “You’ve had enough, pal, haven’t you? Okay, let’s go.” “You, mister, on the other hand, are a rotten bastard and always have been, so can suffer a bit longer.” If only it were like that. But my hands are tied.

‘It’s about process, as much as anything,’ he continued. ‘Sure, the present system’s unfair but start letting me make judgements and there’d soon be plenty more complaints. “Oh,” they’d say, “you don’t know all the facts. You don’t know how she treated her daughter.” “You don’t know what a decent man he was before the war.” In no time there’d be ethical commissions and rights of appeal and God knows what else. And God too. I mean, do you really want him getting involved again?

‘I understand why people get so upset. Especially when it’s children. Of course I understand. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to. But what can I do? It’s not democratic, it’s not fair and it’s not logical but you come up with a better plan. Believe me, sometimes I wish I could move a famine or a cholera outbreak from one part of the world to another. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see an earthquake demolish the lives of the rich and selfish rather than those of the poor and helpless. But, as I said, my hands are tied. And it’s not all down to chance, anyway. People can make a difference. They can lengthen the odds, for themselves and for others. They just need to want to.’

The glass was empty. He eyed his friend, the bottle.

‘Another thing,’ he said, and heard the slur in his voice. ‘Not only is it not the best job in the world, it’s the loneliest. But it’s a job, isn’t it? A job for life, and there aren’t many of them around these days.’

He reached out. He’d have just one more.

Reader: Tam Dean Burn
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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