The Otherlife

Posted on: February 9, 2016

The day after he crashed his car through the guardrail of Route 1, rolled twice, and came to a stop against Fairfax County’s oldest oak tree, Brennan Davis got up to go to work.

He put on his gray pants with the barely-noticeable hole beneath the back pocket. He tied the maroon and green striped tie that Becca bought him, the one he thought made him look fat, but that she seemed to like so much.

“Skinny ties are for tall, skinny dudes,” he’d told her. He was neither.

“That’s ridiculous,” she’d said.

As Brennan brushed his teeth, he remembered the impact of his head on the windshield and opened his mouth. Huh. No chips or gaps.

Brennan was dead, but he didn’t know it yet.

When he stepped out into the driveway, his car was gone. He rubbed his temple. For a moment, the image of his VW Golf becoming one with a tree flashed before his eyes, but then it faded. Did Becca say she needed the car today? That must be it. He walked to the bus stop.

When the bus arrived, he boarded, hesitating as he tapped his transit card to pay. The bus driver looked familiar, like the man who drove the school bus when Brennan was in middle school.

Weird, Brennan thought, and took a seat by the window.

He took out his phone to text Becca about the car, but something was haywire with his contacts. Most of them were deleted. He tried to recall Becca’s number, but realized the only numbers he could remember were his parents’ landline and his own cell.

This is what being technology-dependent gets me.

He dialed his parents, hoping they were at the house. It was roundabout thinking, he knew, but his mother would have Becca’s number. He meant to call her anyway, to tell her about something that had happened. What had happened? Yesterday. Something big? With a tree?

The phone rang.

“Hello?” a scratchy voice said.

“Uh...Mom? Are you sick?” Brennan said.

“Who is this?”

“Wait, who is this? Have I reached the Davises?”

“You’ve reached Millie Davis.”

“Aunt Millie?”

“Oh, shit,” the scratchy voice said.

A wave of adrenaline spread through Brennan’s bloodstream. His hand shook as he pressed the cell phone closer to his ear. Aunt Millie had lived with his family until her death, when Brennan was eight.

“Which one of of you is it? Your poor parents. Holy hell,” the scratchy voice said.

“It’s Brennan?” Brennan answered.

“Where are you? How did it happen? Well, you’re here now. Come to the house.”

“I don’t understand--” Brennan said, before his phone beeped and died.

“Fucking battery!”

There was something wrong with his ears, maybe that was it. Or maybe his parents got a new number. Right? He hit his head yesterday! That’s what he wanted to tell his mother. No wonder nothing made sense.

The bus pulled up a block away from work, and Brennan got off. He popped into the Starbucks that was right next to his office.

“What can I get you?” the barista asked.

“Let me do a tall--no, make it a grande Latte Macchiato.”

“Ooh. I’m sorry. We don’t have that.”

“I’ve been ordering it all week! Did you guys discontinue the new menu items already?”

“Wait--are you new? Jolie--Jolie, we got a fresh one!” the barista called to her manager, who turned off the milk steamer to answer.

“Awww, man! So there’s a new drink out?” Jolie said. “Can you describe it for me? We like to stay current, so if it’s something I can just mix together from what we have, that’d be great. Otherwise, we gotta wait for someone from corporate to kick it, and who knows how long that’ll take.”

Brennan loosened his tie and took three cleansing breaths, like Becca always did when she was trying not to flip her shit.

“Pardon my language,” Brennan said to Jolie, “But what on God’s green fucking earth is going on here?”

Jolie cackled as she scooped ice into the Frappuccino pitcher.

“Oh, honey,” she said. “You’re not on God’s green earth any longer.”

Brennan left the Starbucks without his latte. The whole world was losing its mind. He swiped his badge to get into his office building and took the elevator to the fifth floor. Before going to his own desk, he stopped at Matt’s cube to bitch about his phone and the incompetent Starbucks employees.

“Dude, you won’t believe--” Brennan started.

But when Matt turned around, it wasn’t Matt. In Matt’s desk chair sat a fat, middle-aged guy with 1980s aviator-style glasses.

“Hey,” Aviators said, extending his hand. “You must be new.”

“I’ve worked here for five years!” Brennan said, before passing out.

  When he came to, an elderly woman with pink lipstick was leaning over him, fanning his face. Aviators stood behind her.

“Arlene?” Brennan said.

“Yes, baby. Didn’t expect to see you around here so soon.”

Brennan used his elbow to shade his eyes from the fluorescent lights. Arlene, the director’s secretary, had died last month of a heart attack one week shy of her retirement date. Brennan had given $10 towards flowers for her family.

“Where are we, Arlene?”

“This is the Otherlife,” Arlene said. “Boy, is the accounting office going to be glad to see you.”

Arlene and Aviators sat with Brennan as he cried. They explained what was going on, that it was perfectly natural to be upset. That some people, like them, felt it was best to pick up where they left off--it added some stability. Lots of people kept their old jobs for awhile until they saved up enough to move on, making room at the office for the new dead. 

“Some people choose to relocate right away--back near their family who have passed too, or to another country they always wanted to see, but others stay forever. There’s a guy on the third floor who’s been here since the 1930s,” Arlene said.

“I--I need to borrow a phone charger. I need to call Becca,” Brennan said.

“That your fiancee? She’s not here. She’s still living.”

“I guess I need to call my Aunt Millie, then.”

“That’s the spirit,” said Arlene.

Written by: Dot Dannenberg
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal

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