Alison J Littlewood
I always wanted to be a dead person on TV. You see them all the time, and to you and me they're just dead, but there's one person out there who's thinking 'God, did I look like that? Is that me? Is that my necrotised flesh, my blood that's dried?' And then they might think, 'Is that how I'm going to look one day, for real?'

I mean they'd just be lying on a slab, they'd probably need a hand up and then they'd lie back, feeling the make-up thick on their face and body, trying not to breathe. Then they'd have to switch off their ears while they got poked and prodded and had bloody lines drawn across their flesh by fake knives, or how would they keep from laughing? Once they started there'd be no going back.

I think I'd make a great dead person. I'd sit really still while they painted me, and I wouldn't complain if it went in my eyes or if I got stiff from sitting so long. I'd just think about rigor mortis, it would help me get in role. And I'd lie there without complaining, imagining a certain solemnity about my lifeless form, eyes softly closed, enduring the indignities because I'd be beyond such things. I wouldn't complain if I were cold: you wouldn't catch a real corpse doing that.

I wonder if you need an equity card to play the dead. Almost insulting to a real actor. "Just lie there and think of…" well, anything really. All that training and then you don't even get any lines. Or maybe they have specialist death actors, they'd learn about the breathing and all that, just not any actual dialogue.

If you want to do something, you should practice. It's OK if your ambition is a bit… well, odd. It's yours. You can only dream your own dreams; it's not up to anyone else. It shouldn't even matter to them.

I remember that, when I'm sitting in the cubicle making sales calls. I slip words in sometimes where I shouldn't. "Would you like a free coffin survey and design?"


"Your kitchen. We can do a survey and design for you. It's free…"

I closed my eyes one day while I was sitting in the park. It started just like that. I closed my eyes and pretended to be dead. I didn't nod or snort or breathe really deep like a sleeping person; if anyone came I stopped breathing at all. I heard footsteps crunch on the gravel, then stop. After a while they moved on. I didn't even know if they were looking at me, they could have been watching the squirrels play in the trees for all I knew, but it felt like they were. I didn't even look after them when they moved on, because dead people don't. Well, not that we know of. Who knows what they do when your back is turned?

After a while, I heard scurrying noises and realised there were squirrels playing on the path by my feet. They were so used to me, I wasn't a threat any more. Maybe they really thought I was dead. If you can fool animals, you can fool anyone.

No one spoke to me; no one shook my shoulder to see if I was all right. It didn't bother them, seeing a body on a bench. I wondered if it would matter if I were rotting away, melting to liquid through the dried up slats. If I was slashed, or gored, or bleeding.

Next time, I was prepared. I sat in front of the mirror and spread out my stuff. There was a patch of decay I bought in a fancy dress shop. I held it in various positions on my face: forehead, cheeks, chin. It needed somewhere large and smooth. I stuck it to my left cheek. It was a ripe, deep red in the centre, flowering to purple with raised welts around the edges. It made my eyes look small and vulnerable.

Next was the greasepaint, off-white, the palest you can buy. I smeared it on, realising too late I should have done it first; the edges of the rot started to lift and flap. I worked a little of the paint beneath it and stuck it down.

The eyes took some time. Edged in a raw pink shadow and topped with deep grey, they looked like something belonging to the living dead rather than corpse, like something in a horror movie that won't stop walking. But it would have to do. Now I just had to wait for dark, not sitting too close to the fire, in case my face slid into my lap.

It was time. I got an oversized hoodie and put it on. It looked as though I'd lost fifty pounds but hadn't realised it yet. I pulled the hood as far over my face as it would go. Good. I looked like a mugger, but you can't be arrested for just looking one way or another.

I walked, head down, to the chosen place. It was an alley behind a street full of bars, bright lights and welcoming sounds on one side, darkness and bin bags on the other. I looked both ways and ducked down the alley. It stank of piss. Good.

I picked a spot about halfway down, next to a giant heap of bin bags, shining orange from a distant streetlight. It didn't smell as bad as it should. I lay down, hmphed around, then slipped off the hood and splayed my legs. Not an easy posture to maintain, but you don't feel anything when you're dead. My head would have to be at an odd angle too, to show my rotting cheek. I cocked my neck back and waited.

I didn't have to wait too long, just until the queues inside started to build. Then came the first.