Friday, November 20, 2015


She didn’t remember the first time she met Death. She was too young. Just a baby. But he remembered. He was much older at the time.

The first time he saw her he was standing at her crib side; it was her time. Look, it wasn’t his fault that her time had been so short, it was just his job. He didn’t decide the time lines. That came from above his pay grade. He just got the list and took care of things. She was the last person he was to visit that day. And it just didn’t go as planned. He’d never had a problem before, and hadn’t since. Though he really felt that the visits with her now helped with that. Just having someone to talk to helped, you know? Anyway…

He had come from a big accident on the freeway. It had been a mess. Trying to sort out who was on the list from who wasn’t in the middle of all of that chaos? Really stressful. He almost marked someone who wasn’t on the list. He was reaching out for one of the men involved in the crash and his son dashed right in front of him. He almost grabbed him instead. The son whose time wasn’t up for another 50 years and had a future that was going to impact hundreds of thousands. That’s how close he got to grabbing him. Close enough that the systems to automatically back up his life story kicked in. The proximity alarm rang. He almost took someone too soon. That’s probably what shook him. To come close to a mistake like that? Well that would have been a big mess. Although it turned out that he made his own big mess anyway. But at the time he didn’t realize it. And honestly, was it really all that big of mess? It seems like it worked out for the best. He’d even made a suggestion that the higher ups take a look at his situation and maybe expand on the program. The official word back was “don’t push it” but he’d heard through some unofficial channels they were looking in to it. The problem is that nobody really understood how it happened. Or why. Or why it worked out the way it did.

Okay, back to the first time he saw her. He was standing next to her crib. He was still a little off his game but she was the last bit of work on his list for the day. And really the little ones easy. Yes, he knew that made him sound like a bastard, but again, it was his job. The little ones weren’t afraid. They went with him without a fight. Honestly it was a little grating to have people always talk about how scary Death was. He wasn’t scary. He was inevitable, sure, but not scary. Sickness, disease, pain, those were scary but Death? He liked to think of himself as a relief. As a soothing balm. Like a dark comforting blanket. So anyway…he was reaching out to her when she let out one of those little sighs. You know the ones that only babies make? That kind of cooing rush of air? You know what that is the sound of? Pure innocence. And he’d had a really busy and rough day. The car accident had just been the end of it. There had been a flu epidemic at the nursing home, an outbreak of E-Coli at a fast food restaurant, and just the normal daily list of times. He was flat out exhausted. Dead tired.

Don’t groan! That’s was a good one.

So the sigh. And before he really understood what he was doing he was in the rocking chair by her crib holding her in his arms. Rocking. Smelling that top of the head baby smell and well…he cried. Just a little. But he did it. One big fat tear formed and fell. Splash. Right on her little noggin. BOOM! Everything changed. He could see it. Like literally see it. Where the tear had touched her she now had a spot shaped like a sickle. He pulled himself together, put her back in her crib and left. He was going to have to file a report. Man he hated filing reports.

So the first time she met Death she didn’t remember him. And she wasn’t sure when the next time was. Or the next. What she did know is that she had always known Death. One of her earliest memories of him was a tea party. She must have been around 3 or 4 by that time. She had set up the table and put her stuffed animals in a circle and left a space open for him. Then she waited. He didn’t disappoint. When he sat down at the party she poured him a cup of tea (water from the bathroom sink) and served him the finest tea sandwiches that could be found (some graham crackers she had saved from snack time) and they talked about the latest goings on with her stuffed animal crew. Then when tea time was over he picked her up, sat in the rocking chair, and told her a story of his own. As she was drifting off to sleep she looked up in to his dark black eyes and tried to count the stars. She made it to 5 before nap time took over. Some of her best naps started sitting in the lap of Death counting the stars in his eyes. So no, she had never feared Death.

She went through a short Goth phase in High School. She wasn’t sure if it had to do with her friendship with Death or if she just liked the clothes. But she got instant coolness cred when she shaved the sides of head and revealed her unique birthmark. She would sometimes darken it if she was going to a party or a concert. But mostly she left it alone. So people could see it was natural. She had a sickle on the side of her head. She was that cool. If only her friends knew. Though her experiences trying to tell her parents about her friend when she was very little taught her to just keep some things to herself. Besides as much as her friends liked to talk about Death, they really didn’t understand him at all. In fact Death found her new friends to be misguided and lacking in fashion sense.

Eventually she grew her hair back out and started wearing colors again. She and Death were still fast friends. Though now she shared the stories of her school friends instead of her stuffed animals. And when he told her the stories of the world she wasn’t in the rocking chair but usually camped out on the floor. Then there was the one time when she caught mono and couldn’t even make it out of bed to eat without having to take a nap he sat at the foot of her bed and told her stories about ancient Egypt when he was worshiped as a god. She thought it sounded cool. He said it was a lot of pressure and he actually preferred taking things a little more low key. She learned a lot from Death. And he learned a lot from her.

The first time she ran in to him at work had been a shock to both of them. He was waiting in the corner of a darkened room. His next name was here but it wasn’t quite time yet. He didn’t have anyone else between now and his time though so he was just waiting. Death was very good at waiting. Nobody was ever as patient as Death. There was a knock at the bedroom door and in she walked. He watched her go to the side of the bed and take the hand of the boy laying there. “I got your text. You’re worrying me. What is wrong?” And as the boy talked to her Death felt the pull to be in this room fading. He mentally checked his list and saw the name had disappeared. Hunh. Just then she looked toward him. Noticing him sitting still and calm in the corner. He held up a finger to his lips, “Shhh…” and he left.

The spoke later in her bedroom. She asked why he was there; why he had been sitting in her friend’s room. He told her it was his job. She started to cry thinking that she hadn’t made a bit of difference after all. He soothed her. Holding her in his arms and rocking her slowly while he smoothed her hair. No she had. Her friend’s name was no longer on his list for today. She had changed his time line. It wasn’t an easy thing to do. To change someone’s time line. But she had done it. She asked if he knew when her friend would die now. If she should keep worrying. He said he didn’t know. And if he did he could not tell her. That would be against the rules. And since he was already on probation for his last little incident, he tapped the side of her head where her hair now covered her unique “birthmark”, he would not be breaking any more rules. She understood. Or she thought.

When she went away to college she learned that being friends with Death wasn’t always easy. She had that strong unshakable sense of right and wrong that can only belong to mad men and college students. Walking back to her dorm one night she saw her friend Death walking ahead of her. She thought he must be on his way to visit her and thought it would be fun to sneak up on him. Who else ever got the chance to sneak up on Death? You know, it was usually the other way around right? She tried to stifle the giggle that was bubbling up as she thought about it. She might also have been slightly tipsy. When Death walked past her dorm and kept going she decided to follow him and see where he went. Maybe he knew she wasn’t back yet and was wasting time while he waited. He wasn’t. He walked toward two people sitting on a bench in the quad. Then he stopped and waited. For a second she thought he was making sure he wouldn’t be seen. But then she realized why he was waiting. One of the figures on the bench reached toward the other and before she could even scream for them to stop it was done. One had killed the other. Death was there so quickly she hadn’t even seen him move. His hands lifting the second person, oh no, she recognized her… it was a girl from her Psychology class, Death grabbed her and then she was gone. The body was there, but the person? Gone. The boy she had been sitting next to got up and slowly moved away. He was going to get away and Death had just stood there letting him get away with it, he had HELPED. She started to scream then.

He didn’t get away. Her screaming caught the attention of some people walking by. They caught him. He was arrested. She had to testify to what she had seen. Or at least part of what she had seen.

When Death came to visit she didn’t speak to him.

She didn’t speak to him the second time either.

The third time she yelled at him. Death had just stood there and let that man kill her classmate. Then he let him get away. If she hadn’t been there he would have. Why didn’t he kill him instead? Or at least try too? She didn’t want to hear about the rules. Or about whose time it was to go. Or the higher powers. She was mad. He should do something. He explained again and again that he did. That he did his job. She didn’t want to hear about it. She was too mad. She told him to leave. That she didn’t want to see him again. Ever.

The next week her mother was diagnosed with cancer. It was late. Too late. Too fast. Too widespread. Too soon.

She went home from school.

She spent the next few months taking care of her. Listening to her stories. Cooking her meals. Cleaning the house. Visiting with her mother’s friends who came in droves when they heard the news.

Toward the end her mother told her, “I’m not afraid of Death, you shouldn’t be either. I am ready.”

And then she understood again. It was his job. If he didn’t do it her mother would suffer endlessly. People would age and never move on. Bodies would grow frail and weak and they would never find relief. Some lines ended too soon. But that wasn’t his fault. He was there to help. In his own way.

When she went to bed that night he was waiting. She fell in to his arms and sobbed. She fell asleep counting the stars in his eyes.

The next day he came again. She sat on the edge of her mother’s bed holding her hand. Telling her it would all be okay soon. Her mother looked in to her daughter’s eyes and swore she saw all of the stars in the galaxy reflecting back. Death took her other hand and she was relieved.

They reached an understanding that day. She would not judge his work anymore. They were friends and she understood him better than anyone had before.

When she went back to school she changed her major. She became a nurse.

She found work in a hospice center. She helped those that were facing their time. She held their hands and told them stories about the world. And when her friend came for them she sat with them in the calm spaces and helped them count the stars as they fell asleep. 

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