In which Citizen Jim arrives with plans to seize a great opportunity in the face of a “secret” (and possibly fake!) royal death.
On Friday morning at 7:24 I got a great idea for Chunk 9 of the Citizen Jim novel, My Dumbest Idea Yet, but there was one huge problem: it was 7:24 am.
This meant only six minutes remained before I had to start getting ready to go work. There was no way I would be able to write an entire chunk in that amount of time, and there was also no way that I would be able to replicate my New Idea-momentum later in the day.
While I was telling the cats every chore I expected them to do by the time I got home, there was a knock on the door. Because it was just a normal knock—without any seeming malice or impatience or anger attached to it—I was shocked when I opened the door and saw Citizen Jim standing there.
He was wearing a black suit and dark glasses. He lifted the dark glasses off the bridge of his nose, but said nothing when our eyes met.
“Hi?” I said, not sure why he was stopping by at such a weird time of day. “Is everything okay?”
He dropped the shades and scowled at me. “How can you ask me if everything is okay at a time like this?”
“I know, I haaaaate the thought of going to work,” I said. “But duty calls.”
He shoved my shoulder. “Get inside, I gotta tell you something!” said, then whispered, “It’s something secret that needs to stay under wraps for a little while longer.”
Though I was sure he was there to tell me nothing important, I was kind of hoping he might have come up with a way to find out if Jodie Comer—the Queen of Liverpool, my imaginary niece—was going to win an Emmy award for the final and worst and most horrible, contemptuous, and gut-wrenching season of “Killing Eve.”
When I asked him if this was what he needed to tell me, he grabbed his face and pulled downward, groaning. “With all the crazy, cataclysmic, world-changing events going on at the moment, why the hell would I care if Jimmy and Donna Comer’s daughter wins or loses a useless acting award?”
I shrugged. “If that’s not what you’re here to tell me, you’ll need to come back after I get home from work,” I said.
“Listen, this is important. I’m not at liberty to disclose where I got my information, okay, and before I tell you, you’re going to need to swear on some holy book to any God you choose that you won’t breathe a word of it to anyone,” he said. “If you swear you won’t tell anyone what I’m about to tell you, I’ll let you in on a sure-fire way to lift yourself out of working poverty and escape the so-called ‘fascist hellscape’ you keep moaning and groaning about but won’t do anything to change in any way or bomb into submission once and for all.”
I pulled a copy of Harriet the Spy off the bookshelf beside me, and held it between my palms. “I swear,” I said.
He seemed satisfied with my super-truncated oath. He snatched the book from my hands and tossed it across the room.
“In the next day or two, you’re going to hear that the Queen—Queen Elizabeth II of England—has died,” he said, his voice lowering to a whisper near the end of the sentence. Still whispering, he continued. “I just found out about an hour ago. From someone who wasn’t supposed to tell me.”
I leaned toward him and whispered, “Are you kidding me?”
“No,” he whispered. “That’s why you’ve got to promise you’ll act surprised when you hear about it later.”
“You know what?” I whispered.
I replied in a normal tone of voice that startled both of us. “This has been worldwide public knowledge—discussed and examined and considered and reviewed ceaselessly—since Thursday afternoon.”
He walked across the room and picked up the copy of Harriet the Spy upon which I’d sworn myself to secrecy and threw it at me. I ducked down before it could conk me upside the head. It missed me by less than half an inch.
“Why’d you do that?” I asked while standing upright from my crouched position.
“If you knew about this yesterday, why the hell didn’t you let me in on it so we could go ahead and start creating our opportunities?” he asked.
“I guess I just figured you, like everyone else in the world, would have already heard. Also, I didn’t realize there’d be any opportunities arising for me due to the death of a British monarch,” I said. “And it’s been an exhausting week, so I’ve only just had an idea about the next Chunk of the Citizen Jim novel. I’d like to spend the weekend writing that, if you don’t mind.”
“Well, I DO mind, so you’d better just forget about it,” he said.
I peeked at my phone to check the time. I was already going to be late for work so I figured it wouldn’t matter if I were super-late.
Plus, I was just so tired of going to work. Those ladies (and now a couple of gentlemen) had tested and drained and exhausted me so much that by the time I left at the end of each day, I couldn’t truthfully tell anyone all the parts of my full name in the correct order.
“Let’s go sit down and you can tell me your plans,” I said.
“This could take a while,” he said. “It’s an extra-good plan I’ve got, maybe the best plan I’ve ever cooked up.”
He said the same thing about every other set of plans he cooked up, so hearing him say it again was no surprise to me. I just don’t know why it had to come at the end of such a hard week, on a weekend when I just wanted to continue writing my doomed Citizen Jim novel.
I was thinking how wonderful it would be if, for once, Citizen Jim’s “extra good” plans were actually good to any degree.
If Citizen Jim had some kind of plan so perfect and fool-proof that I could dial the phone number of my boss at that very moment and give notice that I might not be back to work the following Monday, the following Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or any other day from now until the last days of Earth—oh, how thrilled I would be!
I love my job. I love planning and taking part in activities with the residents at Wimbledon Village. But I am sick to death and beyond the grave of actually working, feeling tied to a job, knowing that my livelihood and my life are in the hands of a force that could cast me aside at any moment, with no explanation, and no need to explain.
“Now look! We need to get our bags packed and head over there to the United Kingdom to get things in place. Once the funeral is over, we’ll have to make a seamless transition. That’ll take very detailed planning, and that kind of planning requires time and deep thought,” he said. “Since I can’t count on you to think, the least you can do is make sure you don’t waste any more precious time.”
“It seems like you’re the one wasting time, now, by pointing out how much time I’m wasting,” I said.
“And there you go!” he said. “More wasted time flapping your trap about me wasting time instead of just saying, ‘Tell me what I need to do to help you help me.'”
“All right, then, continue,” I said.
I figured that the residents were already calling the community security officers and positing theories about why I wasn’t there. In the previous two weeks, my absence on two occasions led them to assume—and agree—1.) that I was gravely ill, and 2.) that I had moved house.
Neither thing was even remotely true, but I still had to go into every resident’s room to say, “I wasn’t sick and I didn’t move.”
I glanced up to see Citizen Jim pacing, his hairy, ape-like fingers clutching his Wooly Willy chin as he spoke.
“As you know, since the Queen is dead—”
I barely smirked at this.
Still, he felt the need to warn me: “DO NOT say a WORD about that album by the Smiths, or I swear to God I’ll push you off the plane before we get to England! Now that there is a sizable dearth of people to perform the duties of the Royal Family—”
“Yes, the Firm,” I said, referring to what King George VI allegedly deemed the Royal Family. His son-in-law, Prince Philip, used this sobriquet more than anyone else, though.
“Who said anything about John Grisham? Your monkey mind is even worse than usual today. You’ve got to FOCUS!” he shouted.
I tried staring at him with an intensity that would suggest focus.
“Okay, okay—don’t focus so hard that you crap your pants!” he said. “Now. With the Duke of Edinburgh and the Queen out of the picture, King Charles and Queen Camilla will move into the top roles. Which means the new Prince and Princess of Wales will most likely assume many duties of the former Prince of Wales and his wife. So who’s going to do what William and Kate used to do?”
“It sure as hell won’t be Harry and his podcasting bride—they’ll scuttle back to California as fast as they can after the funeral,” said Citizen Jim. “But not before they stuff their pockets full of petits fours and ham salad sandwiches from the buffet.”
“True,” I nodded, though who knew what might happen? They might shock and infuriate everyone by leaving the U.S. and begging William and Kate to let them live in the apartment above their garage until other accomodations could be found.
Ugh! Citizen Jim was right: I needed to focus!
“It’s not gonna be Andrew. Someone’ll probably be taking that poor bastard out in a fishing boat on Lake Tahoe before long,” he said.
At least Prince Andrew would deserve it. I’m still on the fence, though, about Fredo Corleone’s fate in The Godfather Part II.
“I’m sure they’ll figure something out,” I said. “What’s all this got to do with your big plans?”
“How blind can one person be? We need to swoop in right now and take up the slack! They’ll be so grateful for the help that they’ll probably put us up in Frog March Manor or wherever it was that Harry and Meghan lived before they got asylum from Empress Oprah in Montecitoland,” Citizen Jim said.
I didn’t say anything.
“Don’t just sit there not saying anything,” he said.
I stayed silent.
“Uh-oh. You have a look on your face like you think this might not be such a good idea,” Citizen Jim said. “Or maybe you are crapping your pants, even after I told you not to!”
I still didn’t say anything—especially not what I was actually thinking, lest I be accused of wasting more time with my monstrous negativity.
“No, I haven’t crapped my pants,” I said.
“But are you going to go with me to England? We’ve got to be at the airport in half an hour,” he said.
“Don’t you think we should wait a couple of days?” I asked.
“Wait? Why would we wait? We’ve gotta strike now, while the egg is still in the cup—but without the little cosy bobble hat on top of it,” he said.
“I think we need to make sure the Queen didn’t fake her death. You know, just so she could have a few days of rest and relaxation,” I said.
“Oh, for God’s—are you kidding me? I mean, why would…I mean, she wouldn’t! Right? She couldn’t just—”
Citizen Jim stopped himself and stared at a spot on the floor.
“Anything’s possible,” I said. “Everybody needs a break from time to time. I know I wish I could fake my death to have a few weeks off work.”
This was true. It was so true I have no idea why I haven’t done such a thing yet.
“Dang! I know I shouldn’t pay any attention to a word you say, but now you’ve got me a little worried,” said Citizen Jim. “On one hand, who would cause so much trouble for the entire world just to have a small vacation from their job?”
“On the other hand,” I said, standing up and checking the time on my phone: I really, really needed to head to work. “If anyone could pull it off, don’t you think Queen Elizabeth would be that person?”
“Yeah, I guess you’re probably right,” he said.
His shoulders slumped so sadly I thought I might burst into tears.
“So, don’t you think we should wait before we take such a faraway trip to make ourselves indispensable to the Royal family in their time of need?”
“No, we better wait,” he said.
I rolled my eyes. “That’s what I said.”
“Yeah, see, you’re just gonna hafta be patient—don’t get in a big hurry and go by yourself,” he said. “You have no clue what you’re doing.”
“Okay,” I said. I started toward the door. “I’ve got to go to work, now.”
“If you show up on the doorstep of Buckingham Palace without me, they’ll toss you out on your ear within seconds,” said Citizen Jim as I opened the front door and he motioned for me to go ahead of him.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to Buckingham Palace, or anywhere near it,” I said. “And besides, I have to be here on Monday night so I can watch the Emmys.”
Citizen Jim said from behind me as we walked outside, “I hate to say it but I don’t think Long-Fingers Lonnegan has a chance to win that Best Actress in a Drama Series award. So don’t be upset when she loses.”
I opened my car door as Citizen Jim walked past me. “Okay, fine. I don’t think the Queen is really dead, so don’t be upset when the Royal Family doesn’t need your help to carry out all their duties with a skeleton crew,” I said.
“Yeah. We’ll see,” he said.
“Okay, great! Can’t wait,” I said.
I had no idea how we had come to such a point in Citizen Jim’s visit. I just knew it had taken too long, and now I was going to be so late for work that my residents would probably pretend like they had no idea who I was or why I was there when I arrived.
Maybe they would think I was dead!
Maybe this was the perfect time to fake my death, just like the queen had.
Or wait! Had she?
I guess we’ll find out soon enough.