I went to the window.
Got up from my desk
for a rest.
Every hour you’re supposed
to get up, walk around and stretch.
I wanted to rest my eyes
by parking my gaze
in the trees across the street
when I noticed an old woman
leaning on a tree
catching her breath.
Not far behind her
and hiding behind
an adjacent tree
was Death. He had her
in his sights,
ready to pounce.
I pulled on my shoes
and ran out of our apartment
down the stairs and out
into the street. I blocked
He was a weird looking chap
as one would imagine him to be.
Giant ram’s horns around his ears.
Grey unkempt hair. A long back cape,
torn and ragged. Unpolished black boots
up to his knees.
His eyes were intense, the whites were red
and his irises were yellow, fluorescent yellow.
Dark circles ran around his eyes.
His lips were blue, and he had
a scraggly beard. Like a messy nest.
His hands were filthy. Nails long
and broken. And he smelled like tar pitch.
“Oh, come on,” I told him.
“This get-up may have worked
in the Middle Ages. It would’ve
fit in with their world view.
But now—it just looks you’re late
for Halloween, very late.
“I know the woman you’re stalking.
I see her on the bus
and in the stores.
She longs for your visit.
She’s had a very difficult life
with few joys. She waits
for you. She wants to give up.
But you don’t have to scare her to death.
“You should come to her
as Clark Gable. Handsome,
debonnaire. Ready to sweep
her off her feet. She’s ready
for that. It would be a pleasant surprise,
like winning the lottery
the moment she checks out.
“For this moment in time,
the fear of death is threadbare.
Maybe the terror you seek to engender
worked in a time when people
were afraid of judgment, brimstone
the fire of Hell. No more.
“Come up to my place
and we’ll clean you up.
And while you’re cleaning up,
I’ll work on a new PR campaign
for you and for dying.”
I dragged him to our apartment,
filled the tub, gave him a loofah and a brush.
“Sit there—soak and scrub. Make
yourself glow. Here are nail clippers,
trim all you nails. Oh, and let’s get rid
of the horns. The appeal is too narrow
a demographic. We’re looking for wide
acceptance. Dying will mean perishing
in the arms of the most romantic man.”
I took his clothes to the trash.
He was about my size and I had
more clothes than I needed. My closet bulged.
I put a towel around him,
once he was spick and span.
Took him to my closet and gave him his choice.
I have to say. He cleaned up nice.
Looked better than I ever had
in the clothes he selected.
I’ve often thought the processes of dying
must be marvelous. Separating oneself
from the cares of the world, the pains of the body,
and the torments of the mind. What fun.
Just to relax and slide out of it.
And with a handsome helper?
What could be better.
He agreed to give it a try.
I thought of taking him to Disneyland
for a day, just so he could get the gist of it.
Not necessary. He got it.
After all the scrubbing and dressing
and inculcating the new program into him,
we went out and found the old woman
still leaning on the tree. He touched
her shoulder, and as she began to smile,
she shed her worn out body and began
to appear as she had in her youth:
fresh, innocent, attractive.
She perished in his arms,
at rest, charmed, loving every second.
As she slipped to the ground,
the phone I gave him pinged.
A text message. On to the next.
I told him I would wait with the body
until the ambulance came.
We saluted each other.
He was on his way
and didn’t look back.