Cute as a button, smart and funny. A bit morbid at times. Casually lethal.
I’ve been thinking.
Yeah yeah bad idea. Whatever.
“You kill one-hundred people a minute. Right?” I ask her.
“And there’s other animals that need to die.”
“All over the world.”
“Yes and you are wondering how I manage it.”
“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”
Weak sauce. She reaches up and pinches my cheek for it.
Note to self: Death is ruthless.
“I’m not here,” she says. “At least not all of me. It’s hard to explain in words. Most of me is away. I can’t even say at any moment what all is being done in my name.”
“But the part of you that is here now —” I begin, not quite forming a question.
“— Is the part that thinks,” she finishes for me. “There is just this one of me who actually knows even though all parts of me are the same. I wish I could explain it clearly.” She pauses a moment then continues. “Imagine that most killing is mindless work. It is not, but just say it is. Then imagine that some killings require acknowledgement — a witness of sorts— and then this part of me must be there for there is only the one who knows.”
I’m about to ask what kind of killings those would be when I decide not to go there.
We walk on a ways and she says, “In fact I must be somewhere else just now. I shouldn’t be long, but you never know. Will you wait for me?”
What kind of question is that?
It’s a beautiful day. People are walking around in couples or alone, others are strewn across the sand on blankets. Children running.
I feel like I was just talking to someone. It was a girl but I didn’t get her name. She was really nice. Or maybe creepy. Though creepy can be nice too if packaged well.
This girl had the best packaging ever. I turn and look around wondering where she’s gone. Then I remember.
It was death.
My chin drops to my chest and I rub at my eyes with a hand. I’d nearly forgotten her. Death had been away five seconds and I’d forgotten.
I wonder if this is going to happen very often.
Looking around I notice a bench. There is an old woman sitting on one end feeding bread crumbs to a mob of pigeons that has collected around her feet. I walk over and sit down. She looks to be 90 and is very thin with wispy white hair pinned up under a small straw hat.
“Nice day,” I offer.
She doesn’t notice me. Maybe she’s deaf.
I people-watch, feeling invisible and wondering suddenly if in fact I am.
Death sits down next to me on the far end of the bench and gathers up my arm in hers.
“Miss me much?” she asks. She had been gone less than three minutes.
“I was heartbroken,” I lie artfully. “Don’t ever do that again.”
She beams up at me radiantly. What a beauty.
The lady down the bench is now looking over at us.
Death looks up at me quizzically, then leans over and peers around me at the woman and politely asks her, “Is it time?”
The old woman appears momentarily confused. But then she sits back and considers the question before smiling softly and saying in a tired but steady voice, “Yes child, I feel it is time.”
Death as a child. Sure, why not.
Death releases my arm and gets up from the bench. She walks around to kneel before the old woman, who looks on death with serene acceptance. Death then rises up slowly and without touching the woman in any other way, kisses her on the cheek.
The old body slumps into itself as the scaffolding of a long life leaves it behind. Death catches the dead woman’s body easily then turns in place and lays it down beside the bench among the pigeons and bread crumbs, cradling the wizened old head in one hand until it rests on the ground.
Death is beautiful. I had no idea.
Death straightens and steps around the corpse of the old woman, and then indicates that I should join her. We walk away and its as if a curtain rises behind us. People nearby suddenly notice the dead woman and rush to her side. They gently prod her and try to coax a response but by now she is far away.
We are away too, walking arm-in-arm down the sidewalk, splitting the crowd before us the way a ship parts the sea. Death does not look back.
“She could see you,” I observe.
“She needed me.”
“Is that why I can see you?”
“I’m still not sure why you can see me. You do not need me.”
I think I might need her, but not like that.
“Is that why we came on this walk?” I pursue.
“You want to go somewhere else?”
“That’s not what I meant. I like being with you wherever you need to take us. But it seems you handle some things personally and others you don’t. Did we have to be here for someone? For her?”
Death is silent a moment before she says, “Perhaps.”
There’s something death is not telling me.
“It was necessary, that’s all,” she continues suddenly. “I am summoned. I go. I kill and then I go somewhere else.”
“Your choosing seems random,” I say though I immediately regret it. I’ve just accused death of being arbitrary and capricious.
“I’ve already told you it is random,” death reminds me just as I’m about to launch into an apology. “And yet it isn’t. It is — necessary. I am summoned and I must answer the call.”
As simple as being summoned? Perhaps it is. But by whom? And if we were not here for that old woman, then for what reason? And why is it so hard to discuss all this?
She squeezes my hand in hers. “I am not accustomed to explaining these things. And your language does not contain the right words though other cultures can speak of it. I think it is something you have to long endure before you can understand it. Those few cultures that knew endurance before time understood the purpose of death.”
I’m not sure why she’s necessary, but death knows and she’s not telling me. Perhaps I’m not ready. Probably I’ll understand eventually, before I am gone, why death is necessary. It’s all somewhat confusing now but it’s also very exciting.
Learning a new language from living with death.