We all know how much we depend on our postmen and postwomen,” intoned Arthur, the vicar, concluding the eulogy, “and Barney was one of the best. Everyone loved Barney.”
I looked around the packed church. There was Mavis McLung with her cheeky face surrounded by a mop of ginger curls, courtesy of L’Oréal. Then there was Carol Hardaker, her pug-like visage glaring around at the other villagers lining the pews, her bitchiness silenced through necessity for the time being. In the front row sat Maureen, Barney’s widow, dressed in a neat, black two-piece with a black hat and veil. Her two teenage sons sat to her right, their eyes red and swollen.
My wife, Sue, took my arm as we finally traipsed out into the graveyard and the warm sun of an early spring morning. “What a bunch of hypocrites,” she whispered.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, no one was that bothered about him when he was alive, were they? Sure, they’d say ‘Good morning, Barney, and goodbye, Barney,’ but be bitching about the post being late behind his back.”
“Well, I liked the chap,” I said. “Well, I didn’t really know him, I suppose, but, well, all those years his little red van would come down our road, come rain or snow.”
“Or sun,” said Sue. “Well, I spoke to Maureen at Bingo sometimes. She’d talk about all the big houses and farms he’d drive out to, places almost no one knew existed. I always felt she was holding something back though.”
“How d’you mean?”
Sue beckoned me away from the rows of mourners screening us from the grave, where the vicar was doing his ‘dust to dust’ routine, surrounded by Barney’s tearful relatives. “Well, I mean, as a postman, he’d be privy to a lot of secrets, wouldn’t he?”
“Well, like what?”
“Come on, dear, like who was getting summonses, speeding fines, warnings for debt, all that kind of thing. Easy enough to tell from the envelopes, especially if it’s your job.”
“Hmm. I suppose so.” I thought back with embarrassment about the speeding fines I’d had. But didn’t everyone get them? Apparently not, according to Sue.
“Then, there’s stuff you can feel through the packages, isn’t there?”
“Well, like …,” she lowered her voice even further …. “Well, like sex toys, y’know, vibrators, dildos that kinda thing.”
I felt indignant. “Surely postmen, er, and women, would be discreet? It’d be more than their jobs’d be worth to be seen having a good feel of customers’ mail, I’d have thought.”
Sue snorted. “Dream on. Oh, look out.”
Maureen was coming towards us, flanked by her two sons. We made apologetic noises as she passed.
“And then he’d likely come across people in inappropriate places.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Well, like where?”
“Like people shagging other people’s wives … or husbands, for instance.”
“All in all, sounds like some may have been pleased to see the back of him,” I remarked. “Anyway, you go on to the village hall and get us a table. I just want a quick word with, er, Bill Dikkers. About the compost club.”
“Blimey, you look like you’ve just seen a ghost,” Sue exclaimed, as I sat down at a table with her, clutching a cup of tea and a cream scone.
“Oh, I just had, er, one of my turns.”
“What are you on about, you don’t have ‘turns’.”
“I was speaking figuratively.” I sipped hot weak tea. In fact, I had seen a ghost. The ghost of Barney, leaning nonchalantly against the church masonry and puffing on a cigarette. One of the advantages of being a spirit, I surmised. You could hardly die of lung cancer, after all.
He’d been kind of transparent and it seemed I was the only one who could see him at the time. He’d wagged a finger at me and held up a little black pocketbook. Then he winked and rubbed the first and second fingers of his right hand against his thumb. Pay up or Maureen would spill the beans seemed to be the message. Plus, I’d be haunted into the bargain, I supposed.
Looking around the room, I noticed a few other faces that might be considered pale and worried. Even Rosie Bale, the sumptuous doctor’s wife looked a little off-colour. Now, that was a turn-up for the books. Either way, it seemed Barney’s ghost had been busy.
In a corner, Maureen sat with her sons, chomping on a large ham and cheese sandwich. She caught my eye and gave me what looked like a wink. She was on track to profit from Barney’s little ‘sideline’ for some time to come, I imagined. I decided it might be prudent to continue the payments. After all, fake or not, I never could resist ginger curls.
Taken from the book, Letters from Reuben and Other Stories: 40 Little Tales of Mirth, 146 pp. Dec 2021
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