It’s one of those very still, hazy evenings. The view from the fourth floor window of this hotel room seems strange and unfamiliar despite the fact that this is a city you think you know like the back of your hand. Things look different from above, don’t they?
You take off your shoes and sit on the bed. You wonder if you’re allowed to get in the bed. You probably are. After all, you’ve been told that the room is entirely yours for the duration. You look around. There are lilies. A jug of water.
A red telephone.
It rings. You knew this was going to happen. It makes you smile. You decide to let it ring three times before you answer.
Hello. You are through to Dead Line.
How often do you think about your own death? How often do you talk about death and dying in your everyday life? Are you afraid of dying? How do you feel talking about death and dying?
‘Oh, if only you knew’, you think. There’s a part of you that wants to answer these questions in a more nuanced and conversational way rather than dialling them through, multiple choice style. But there’ll be time for that later. You’re told that your answers are being processed. You trace your fingers along the spiral telephone cord while you wait to be connected. Music plays down the receiver. You can hear yourself breathing. Maybe you’re a bit nervous. You lie down, facing the dead-still outside view.
And then there’s the voice. A woman. She’s upbeat, but calm. She tells you about herself. She’s an academic who lectures about death and dying. She talks to you about the kinds of people who go to her lectures. Some of them are death midwives. Death midwives. She teaches them about different traditions around death; the fact that Jews don’t tend to have flowers at funerals; that Muslims prefer to die facing Mecca; that Hindus like to lay the dead on the floor.
She tells you about her own, very real brushes with death and that she’s been told by a Tibetan monk exactly when she’ll die. She asks you if you have any questions. You do.
And then your time is up. You put the phone down and get up from the bed and walk towards the window.
And you hear a sound. A dial tone. It gets louder. The light changes. The sound distorts. The light brightens, framing the window. You step backwards and sit back down on the bed, the sound and the light enveloping you, giving you a hug, telling you that this is just for you, entirely yours. You take some deep breaths and look out at your city. Things really do look different from above, don’t they?