Do Not Stop For Me
The day after the wedding, Death comes to me.
“Hello, Death,” I said, gently laying my book aside and smiling.
Hello Linda, he replied, greeting me politely, like an old friend. His voice was mellow and almost melodious, yet a soft chill ran through it, like the first frost that falls on the flowers.
“It’s been a while.” Though, glancing at him in the dim lamplight, it made no difference; in the years since we’d last met, Death hadn’t changed –still tall, rather silent, rather thin, the black cloak clinging to thin shoulders. The scythe in hand, though held loosely, the sharp metal almost hidden in the shadows.
It has, he agreed. There was no emotion on his face or in the flickering will o’ wisps that were his eyes when he said it, no intonation to tell if Death felt relieved or saddened by the statement. Instead, he smiled. Death always smiled, and there was a peaceful expression on that skeletal face – like the smile of an old grandfather sleeping. It was a smile that could have been filched from a cadaver.
“Are you here for him, then?” I asked, slowly standing up. I fixed my eyes upon Death’s hollow lights, but, unbidden, treacherously, my eyes strayed to the queen-sized bed behind me. The lacy, white blankets were tangled, and they rose and fell like soft waves.
I forced my eyes back.
Neither, Death answered, his voice serene.
“Oh.” I stared at him a moment more, strong and straight and resolute, then collapsed back onto the chair.
“Good,” I said. Evenly, not letting the relief seep into my voice. Did not smile.
For a moment, the room was silent. On the wall, the hotel clock softly ticked. Death was quiet, a discretely silent figure looming in the lamplight.
Behind us, Theo gently snored.
“Then,” I asked, finally, “what?”
I come to remind you. A visitation, Linda. From an old friend.
“Remind me?” I stared at him, trying to keep my voice level – but, already, memories were in free-fall across my mind – but no, no, this couldn’t be, it wasn’t, he had said –
And to congratulate you.
“Oh.”I thought for a moment. “The marriage?”
Not solely. The last year, too.
“Well, then thank you,” I said. “But why are you here? I don’t –”
Want me here.
Do not deny it, Death said, the light glinting off teeth cast in a permanent grin. You are happy. I do not bring people happiness. But do not fool yourself; I did not come here. I have no need to. I have always been here.
“I,” I said, very slowly, “I am happy.”
“Please,” I said, “just let me forget. Today. Tonight.”
I cannot. And when tomorrow comes, you will remember.
“I know all you want to tell me, damn it!” I screamed, suddenly tired and furious and all too aware that it was long past twelve. “I know, damn you!”
Mother father Laura Sam mother father Laura –
My little brother. The only other survivor of the car accident. Now separated by two inches of wood and twelve feet of dirt. Betrayed by his own blood cells.
Behind me, Theo murmured something in his sleep, turned over in his sleep, one hand flopped over the side of the bed. His glasses had slipped down his face, and the lamplight cast warm circles of light on the glass.
Linda, Death said, and though there was no change in his voice, no flicker of warmth in the coal blue fire of his eyes, I flinched at the words, Linda, I could stop this.
I could put a frost in blood, chill mallow solid. I could cut out the silhouettes of shadow, paint bone and tendons into a still life, streak life onto marble and paintings. Leave him intact, keep him alive. There is no death in paintings, Linda. Do you understand that, Linda? I could keep him alive.
I looked at Death, warily, tried to gauge sincerity from weathered bone.
“You could,” I conceded, “if you wanted to.”
It is your choice, Linda. I could.
He could. He could. Yes, yes – could he? Would he? Because if –
I glanced over at Theo, saw the messy hair and the gentle curve of his sleeping smile.
Death waited, patiently silent.
“No,” I said, finally. “It’s not my place, it’s Theo’s life, his choice. Let him choose.”
He cannot. He would be unable to see me, unable to hear me. Do you think he would choose otherwise, Linda?
“I – I – no.” The word slowly pulled out, exhaustion in two letters. But so much in one word, so much pain in two letters –
Death nodded. Very slowly, very faintly. Slowly turned –
He stopped, turned and inclined his head back in acknowledgement.
I bit my lip, tasted blood without feeling pain.
Then, finally, slowly, whispered:
“Who will you take first?”
I cannot tell you.
I licked my lips. Tasted, again, that odd iron tang without feeling any sensation of pain.
“Then – then – when will you be coming back?”
I cannot – I can hope. I can hope it will not be soon. I can do nothing more.
I nodded. “I understand.” And I did.
He nodded at that, bobbed and lifted his head one calm, cordial cycle. As if agreeing, or perhaps understanding.
And then he was gone, suddenly insubstantial, a wraith vanished into the night’s fabric.
Now only that. A wraith, a nightmare caused by the effects of amnesia and pre-wedding stress.
I stared at the place where Death had been. No, there was nothing there, but –
- in the edge of the shadows, in the faded outlines of light –
There was a sharpness, a brightness, like that of a scythe’s edge.
I shook myself, then yawned. It was very, very late, and I was more than ready for sleep.
Cynthia Zhang has been described as many things, but her favorite description thus far is ‘math-English-history nerd-blob.’ Her hobbies include sewing, reading, writing, and sleeping far fewer hours than are probably healthy. She lives in suburbia, USA, and distinctly does not have an accent.
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