You know job satisfaction is down when even Death is fed up.
It was one of those cold mornings when the sunlight feels empty and the air is somehow thinner than usual. I sat on a bench, staring out over the playground and watching a little girl move holes in the sandbox. She was alone.
I was alone too, until I looked to my side and saw that I wasn’t. I hadn’t heard her approach, but then, hearing and approaching were things of another time. These days, things simply were, and then they weren’t.
“Who are you?” I asked. She didn’t seem like the conversing type, but then, there were other park benches, and she’d chosen mine.
She didn’t take her eyes off the little girl as she spoke. “The End. The Harvester. The Caretaker. Take your pick.”
“Right,” I said with a swallow. “You here for me, then?”
“Why would you assume that?”
I followed her gaze back to the girl. She was all ruffles and ringlets, digging at the sand with a plastic shovel, and never seeming disappointed that her hole got no bigger.
“That girl, she’s–?”
Death nodded. She was entirely colourless, with skin like bone china and hair like raven feathers. Even her eyes were grey.
“It doesn’t seem fair,” I said, looking back at the child. “That girl can’t be more than five or six.”
“Five years, three months, twenty two days. And since when has Lady Life given thought to fairness? I don’t pick when or where. I’m just the courier.”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it. You’re just doing your job. I get that.”
Death gave a humourless laugh and looked at me for the first time. “My job? My job is to take what Life is done with and pack it away, like so many discarded toys.”
“Yeah, but it’s not over, right?” I said. “I mean, the very fact that you’re here means there’s an After. Something beyond death.”
“There’s nothing,” she said. Her voice was flat and her eyes held the despondent look of one who had given up searching for silver linings. “You go to sleep, and I watch you. There are no dreams, no rewards, no changes. Just nothing.”
I shrugged. “That’s not so bad. All things considered.”
“Not for you. But I don’t get to sleep. It’s just the same thing again and again. The crying, the bargaining, the anger, or resignation. Thousands of years. Billions of generations. And it never changes. I don’t know how much longer I can do this.” She turned to me suddenly, glassy eyes narrowing. “Why aren’t you?”
“Why aren’t I what?”
“Angry. I just told you there’s nothing and no one waiting for you.”
I gave her a small smile. “Because you don’t sleep.” Her head cocked to the size in a look of puzzlement. “So you can’t know that we don’t dream.”
She turned away. “I never understood you people.”
“It’s called hope. You should try it sometime.”
The sardonic smile returned. “And what would I hope for?”
“How about a smile?”
She raised an eyebrow at me, but I kept my gaze on the little girl, still playing quietly in the sand. After a few moments, Death rose to her feet and walked over to the pit. The girl looked up as Death crouched down in front of her.
“It’s time for you to come with me now.”
The girl looked around as if waiting for someone to intervene. “Where?”
Death glanced at me before turning back to her. “Somewhere special.”
The girl looked down at the sand that hadn’t moved the whole time she had been shovelling it. “What’s it like there?”
“It’s whatever you want it to be. It’s just a dream.”
The little girl placed her shovel on the ground and stood. Holding out her hand, she smiled. “Ok.”
Death took the girl’s tiny hand in her own. The faintest flush touched her cheeks, and just for a moment, I thought I saw her smile back.
And then they were gone.
FFM Day 15