The window was open just enough to let in the cool night air. Its cooling effect, however, was lost on Richard.
Bernard von Leiter. What the hell kind of name was that for a grown man, anyway? German or something, Richard supposed. Sounded like some high-ranking Nazi. Or a vampire, dressed impeccably and with pale skin. A jerk name, anyway. At least it would stick out in the obituary section.
Richard turned to the right page and laid the newspaper flat on the kitchen table. He pushed his glasses up on his nose a bit and settled down to read. Thank God newspapers still existed, and they still had an obituary section, or he'd be doing this on a computer screen.
The Obituaries. Here they were.
"It is with great sadness that we report the passing of Franklin Donovan, 81, of meningoencephalitis, in his hometown of Banport, on April 12. He is survived by wife Grace, who he married in 1966, four children, and three grandchildren. Franklin worked in the steel industry for many years, and then had the happiness of opening his own hobby shop. Visitors to the shop will remember the model planes he would build and hang from the ceiling. A celebration of Franklin Donovan's life will be held in Banport Community Hall on April 17th at 2 p.m."
Same wife for 53 years, and then cut down by a quick lethal disease, lucky bastard. But then his wife had never crossed paths with the likes of Bernard von Leiter, all silver hair and narrow waistline and capped teeth. They must have been capped. No one lives that long with teeth like that without some kind of medical intervention. Probably really expensive medical intervention.
But the guy was sickly, at least. Been ailing for years. His name would soon be in the obits, and the day he saw it, Richard Nelson would open the bottle of elderly scotch he had in the top cupboard and toast the thief's demise.
And then what? Would he drop by his ex-wife's house, just to supposedly make sure she was doing all right after her loss? Yeah, probably. He'd think about it. About the best way to get her to come back to him.
"At the tender age of eight, Monica Maria Candelaria sadly passed to the next life on April 13th, attended at her bedside by her parents, Daniel and Rosa. A memorial will be held in the Most Pure Heart of Mary Catholic Church at 10 a.m. on April 16. Her parents ask that, in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to the Wallaby Sanctuary Fund. Monica was crazy about wallabies, as anyone who has been in her bedroom would testify."
Oh, jeez. A little kid like that. Eight damn years old. And a devil like Bernard von Leiter just kept on living, drawing breath, stealing wives, leaving wreckage and pain behind him. Forty-two years Richard had been married to Maxine. High school sweethearts, the whole clich'e, domestic vacations and flowers on Valentine's Day. Then Bernard von Leiter strolls in and takes it all away.
Sure, Bernard von Leiter had come across all smiles and kindness and thoughtful gestures. Flowers and opening the car door and all that. He had taken Maxine to Hawaii, just like Maxine had always wanted. But Richard could have done that. It wasn't hard. He just hadn't gotten around to it, that's all.
Richard finished reading the obits. No von Leiter today. But his time would come. And Richard would see the notice in the newspaper, black on white. Maybe tomorrow.
* * *
But tomorrow came and tomorrow came and tomorrow came, and no obituary for Bernard von Leiter. Richard drove to the man's house once in late September and parked across the street. He saw that Bernard had built a little greenhouse alongside the house for Maxine's flowers. The kind of thing Richard would have gotten around to, eventually.
As the daylight faded, the lamps came on behind the curtain. Or whatever the light, translucent curtain that you drew during the day was called - Maxine would know. Maybe the heavier one was a drape instead of a curtain. And eventually yes, he saw one shadow pass in front of the window, and then later another.
So Bernard von Leiter was still alive, probably still coughing all the time, complaining about his blood pressure. And he was still with Maxine.
* * *
"We grieve the passing of Rigoberto Rangel, 82. Bert was born in North Tawton, Great Britain, but came to the U.S. at the age of 12, and settled in Phoenix and then Tucson, where he was an electrician and an enthusiastic rider of horses. Bert is survived by a sister, Angelina, and two daughters, Claire and Susan. The funeral will be held on the 19th of this month at Union Baptist Church at 1 p.m."
Well, too bad for old Rigoberto. Sounded like a good guy. The worst thing that man had ever done, Richard guessed, was take the place of Bernard von Leiter in the obituary pages. But Rigoberto's had been the last obituary for today, so Richard would just have to hope for better luck tomorrow.
But before he put the newspaper down, Richard's attention was caught by another column. Right next to the Obits, but he hadn't seen it there before. It was called Unobituaries. There was only one entry.
"It is with great fear that we report the reanimation of the corpse of Linda Sundin, who died just last week. Linda, a schoolteacher for over 35 years, had contracted visceral leishmaniasis while on a vacation in Latin America, and was buried by grieving relatives and former students in Restview Cemetery on the 20th of last month. Those currently residing near Restview Cemetery are advised that the former Ms. Sundin is now a ravenous and unthinking and murderous and ugly monster."
Well, that was something new. But now that he thought about it, hadn't there been something on the news about a new disease or something? Richard usually skipped the front parts of the newspapers on his way to the obits, but he'd noticed some disquieting headlines. He thought he'd seen some pictures, too - walled-off cemeteries, black-and-white-figures tottering on stiff legs. Morbid stuff. Nothing you'd want to dwell on.
The good news, he supposed, was that at least Bernard von Leiter hadn't first died, and then come back from the dead. That would be just too much. Besides, Bernard von Leiter was monster enough already.
* * *
There were times when Richard firmly resolved not to look at the obituaries anymore. What good was it doing him, to look for evidence of Bernard von Leiter's passing every day? Maxine probably wouldn't come back to him, even if the old fart kicked it. She had complained about Richard, his habits, the way he talked, long before she left him. It was time for Richard to move on. She had left him three years ago, after all, and had been married to Bernard von Leiter for almost two. Just let it go. That's what his neighbor Phil was always telling him. Get a hobby, find an activity, meet new people.
But if she came back to him, he would show her. He could change. She wouldn't believe how much he could change.
Each time he skipped the obituaries for a day or two or three, he would go back later, dig the papers out of the recycling, and check them. Just in case.
* * *
More obituaries, and an increasing number of unobituaries. No Bernard von Leiter. Checking the obituaries column in the paper had become an obsession, getting worse as Bernard obstinately continued to cling to life, and Richard sometimes read the same obits several times, just to be sure each name was correct, that he hadn't passed by Bernard von Leiter's obit by accident or carelessness.
And what if Bernard von Leiter had died, but Maxine hadn't put in an obituary notice? No, Richard couldn't believe that. Maxine had always been a stickler for keeping track, keeping records. Birthdays, his niece's graduation, all that kind of stuff. She had to put it in the paper.
* * *
Richard had begun to despair. What was the point? Bernard von Leiter, it seemed, was strong as a horse. He'd live forever. With Maxine. Now, when the papers came, Richard flipped through them automatically, eyes listlessly gliding over the pages.
Then it was there. Right there in the paper. He blinked back the tears of happiness that had sprung from his eyes to read it. He would savor this!
"Bernard von Leiter has returned to his Maker at age 74. Born in Ocean View, Delaware, Bernard served in the Navy for several years, and later settled in Ankeny, Iowa, where he became a cost analysis engineer for the Rasson Corporation. He was married in 1967 to Miss Trisha Biggar, and lived happily with her until her untimely death in 1992. In 2015 he moved to the Banport area where he married Maxine Nelson, of that city. Sadly, Maxine, who had preceded Bernard in death two weeks earlier due to a sudden heart attack, became the involuntary cause of Bernard's passing. He was visiting the gravesite of his beloved wife when his reanimated spouse clawed her way to the surface, grabbed his leg, and pulled him down to the earth and tore Bernard's throat out with her dentures. A memorial commemorating the passing of Bernard von Leiter will be held in the Banport Community Center at 4 p.m. on Saturday the 27th. The repassing of Maxine von Leiter can, unfortunately, not yet be celebrated, as her horrifying corpse was last seen stumbling away from the cemetery, leaving a trail of screams and blood in its unholy wake."
Richard leaned back in his chair, hardly breathing. Maxine. And the bastard hadn't even submitted an obituary for her. That Nazi vampire bastard, without the common decency.
But at least she'd gotten an unobit, of a sort. And she was still out there. Alone, wandering, probably cold and hungry.
She needed him.
He could get her back! He climbed out of his chair and hurried to the closet to get his coat. He'd changed. She'd see.
Things would be different this time.
x x x
We got obituaries. How come no unobituaries? Vamps, zombies, other undead - who speaks for them? Let's hope this story starts a new movement toward social acceptance for those who - sort of - passed on passing on. - GM