Comedy Of Terror

Entry by: Oren Pepper

5th February 2016
‘Oh! This bleedin’ lock!’ grumbled Mrs. Rummidge, shoving the rusted key into its slot.

‘He must have been a strong bugger before his accident’ she said, once again referring to that event which had acquired an almost torturous mystery in my mind: the accident. Mrs. Rummidge plowed the great slab of her shoulder into the door, seemingly unconcerned that it was probably worth a great deal more than her monthly salary. Eventually, it swung open.

‘Bloody thing’ she said and began making her way across the hall to the mahogany staircase, dusting off her tunic as she went.

‘I’ll go wake him up and you get on and make his breakfast. There should be yogurt in the fridge’

She ascended and left me alone, once again frustrated by her vague mention of the event that had crippled Mr. Corpius from the waist down.
Mr. Corpius lived in a large, old and rather beautiful Georgian house. Dust lingered on every surface and cobwebs clung to every cornice, though since it was not my job to clean the place I didn’t much mind. It looked as if the interior decoration hadn’t been altered since the 19th century. The walls held gilt-framed paintings of vast romantic landscapes and evidence of the iron-wrought fixtures that once held gas lamps were still visible through the wallpaper. I suppose Mr. Corpius liked it this way; it seemed to match his character. He often said he was a relic from a different time.
Breakfast was always the same: bananas, yogurt and a scant sprinkling of corn flakes over the top. Mr. Corpius was trying to lose weight, which is a considerably difficult task for someone perpetually confined to a wheelchair. However, it seemed to be working; he wasn’t nearly as large as he had been when I first met him. That was months ago, now. He told me I was pretty, though not in the somewhat disturbingly lustful way some of the other old men do. From him it was merely an observation, not a compliment.
I filled Mr. Corpius’s favourite mug with tea and placed it on the tray beside his breakfast. The mug, much to Mrs. Rummidge’s displeasure, was decorated with a drawing of a plump, red-faced Roman drinking wine surrounded by beautiful women. Beneath this picture was the phrase ‘God of Tits & Wine’. Mr. Corpius found the mug hilarious. Mrs. Rummidge did not. I picked up the tray and made my way upstairs.


‘Ahhh, Rebecca, how are you today?’ asked Mr. Corpius.

I put the tray down and touched his hand.

‘Very well, thank you. How are you, Mr. Corpius? Did you sleep well?’

‘Oh, I slept dreadfully. That wretched blackbird woke me up again. Would you mind shooting the bloody thing for me?’

‘Mr. Corpius!’ scolded Mrs. Rummidge. ‘You know you can’t be askin’ us things like that’

‘He was joking’ I said, winking at Mr. Corpius behind her back.

The bedroom was irrationally large for a man who couldn’t walk. Still, he somehow managed to make use of the space, erecting pillars of leather bound books wherever he found himself sitting. One corner was dedicated to the various medical paraphernalia we needed to keep him alive: oxygen tanks, heart rate monitors, various bottles of pills. It was the only section of the house that jolted one out of the nineteenth century and into a time where old, paraplegic men were kept alive by the tools of our desperate invention. Other than these two phenomena the room was relatively bare, excluding his bed. There were no paintings or photographs, no television atop a table or mirrors on the walls. Light would pour through the lead-thatched windows and reveal the living space of a man interested in only one thing: reading.

‘Could you pass me my glasses, dear’ he asked me, masticating noisily on his breakfast.

‘Finish your breakfast first’ said Mrs. Rummidge, who was busy counting out Mr. Corpius’s pills.

‘Goodness, Lady Adelaide is in a terrible mood today, isn’t she?’ Mr. Corpius said, looking at me with a cheeky smirk.

I smiled, saying nothing. He often called her Mary, or Princess, Adelaide. It happened numerous times before I bothered to look her up; Mr. Corpius was right, they bore a cruel, though startling resemblance.
Mrs. Rummidge handed Mr. Corpius a few dozen pills and began snapping on a pair of latex gloves.

‘Nmmm’ he said, still chewing. ‘Can’t you let me finish my breakfast before you start applying that hideous grease?’

‘No’ replied Mrs. Rummidge, dipping a finger into the colossal tub of Diprobase that stood on the bedside table.

‘I can do it, if you’d like’ I said, hopefully saving Mr. Corpius from enduring the harsh kneading of Mrs. Rummidge. ‘I don’t have a shift after this and I don’t mind waiting’

‘Yeeees! Rebecca can do it! Wonderful’

Mrs. Rummidge, without a word, slipped off the gloves and handed me the tub of moisturizer.

‘I’m off, then. Remember and make his bed before you leave’ she said, rather curtly. ‘Goodbye, Mr. Corpius. I shall see you next week’

With that, she was gone. Both Mr. Corpius and I smiled with relief. She was not an easy woman to get along with.


‘Mr. Corpius…could I ask you your name?’

‘Why, you just said my name, grrhhmph!’ he chortled, sputtering out some of his tea.

‘No…your first name. I believe we should be on first name terms by now, don’t you think?’

‘Ha! Considering you’ve seen me naked more than any other woman I can think of then, yes, I do believe you should know my first name’

He beamed at me with a schoolboy grin.

‘My name is Edwin Corpius. My father told me it was after Edwin Drake, the first man to drill for oil or some other such nonsense. He probably thought I might actually do something that would make as much money. It was always a great disappointment to him that I became a philosopher. Do you want to know what he said when I told him I had decided to study philosophy?’

I nodded.

‘He said: I thought that died out with the Greeks!’

He erupted into one of his large, gurgling belly laughs. I laughed too, though not so much at the joke but at the sight of Mr. Corpius rocking to and fro in his wheelchair, incomparably pleased with the humour of his reminiscence. Never before had I met a man so physically incapacitated with such a jovial sense of humour. ‘If I can’t entertain’ he would say ‘then what good am I?’
The rest of the morning passed much like any other. He finished breakfast, told me a rambling story about a sixteenth century philosopher and interrogated me about the consistency of his bowel movement. He was as sunny and curious as he always was. Not once had I ever seen him ‘have a bad day’ (which, in carer-speak, meant that the patient had given in to the realization that their existence was one almost entirely made up of suffering and, quite often, loneliness).

‘Oh, Rebecca! I must tell you this joke I read in the paper. It’s absolutely devilish!’ he blurted out, still laughing.

He was, by far, my favourite patient.


When I Googled Edwin Corpius that evening I discovered that he had been in car crash twenty-six years ago, on the road from Perth to Dundee. The driver, a Mr. Charles Bicket, had lost control on the motorway and swerved into oncoming traffic. Mr. Corpius suffered severe injuries to his spinal cord and was told he would never walk again. Charles Bicket walked away with a broken arm. Mr. Corpius sued him, successfully, for £90,000 and started a petition to get the University to install ramps into the lecture halls so he could continue teaching. Since the early 90’s he had been an avid campaigner for the legalization of assisted suicide, stating that he himself was the ‘ideal candidate for a test-run’. This comment was typical Corpius, finding humour in the bleakest of subjects. I thought it strange that a man so curious with the world should want to die; in fact, it made me rather sad. Though, perhaps, it was just another one of his curiosities. In 2006 he retired from teaching and was interviewed by the student newspaper. When asked what he would be doing now that he was free from the responsibilities of academia he replied: ‘Laughing, I suppose. I’ve yet to find a more enjoyable pastime. Have you heard the one about the paraplegic philosopher?’


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