A Conversation With Death

David Chambers lay in his bed in the nursing home, as the aides chatted away, unaware he could hear them. One was his favorite, Amelia. Jamaican by birth, just hearing her accent could cheer him up. She was also the most encouraging of them all, able to get him out of bed when no one else could. But she hadn’t been able to work her magic in more than a week and he had just lay here. Death was right around the corner and he knew it. Amelia and her co-worker, Isabella, did too.

“I don’t think it will be long, now,” Amelia says, a touch of sadness in her voice. “He’s not eating or drinking and I don’t remember the last time he was up and out of that bed.”

“I know,” replies Isabella. “I haven’t heard him say two words.” She pauses for a moment. “I never thought I’d say this, but I miss those corny jokes of his.”

“Oh my god,” Amelia laughs. “Those awful jokes.” He thinks he hears her voice catch as she says, “I’m going to miss him.”

“You girls know I can hear you, right?” he says, then thinks That can’t be my voice, I sound terrible. Of course, I am dying, so it makes sense.

“Oh, Mr. David!” Amelia says, rushing over to him. “We’re so sorry. We didn’t know you were awake.”

“Oh, it’s okay,” he says. “It’s not like you were saying anything I didn’t already know.”

“Maybe,” she replies. The lilt in her voice lifts his spirits a little. “But, we still should be more careful.” She pats his hand. “Is there anything you need?”

“Some water would be nice. I’m so thirsty.”

“Of course.” After a few seconds, he feels the straw against his lips. “Here you go,” she says. He sips a bit.

“Oh, that’s good,” he says, looking up at her. “Not as good as a shot of whiskey, but still…” Both women laugh dutifully at his pathetic joke. “I don’t suppose you could do anything about that, could you?”

“Now, Mr. David,” she says, smiling, “You know better than that.”

“Yeah, but you can’t blame a fellow for trying.”

She fluffs his pillow. “Do you need anything else?” she asks.

“No, I’m good.”

“All right,” she says. She places the call button in his hand. “If you need me, you know what to do.”

“I do,” he says and watches both aides walk through the door.

Who Knew Death Was So Dapper?

He lays there, slipping in and out of consciousness for what he thinks is an hour when he hears someone tapping on his door. He looks over and sees a tall, well-dressed gentleman standing there. “Mind if I come in?” he asks.

Normally, he doesn’t talk to strangers, but it’s been so long since he’s had a visitor he thinks, why not? “Sure,” he says, “Come on in and make yourself comfortable.”

The man enters and stands beside his bed. “Well, Mr. Chambers, how are you doing?”

“I’m dying, that’s how I’m doing.” He knows he’s coming off as rude, but sarcasm is his first language. And, at this stage of the game, he doesn’t care.

The stranger laughs. “That’s what I’ve always loved about you, sir. Your candor is always refreshing.”

Confused, he looks the man up and down. “Do I know you?” he says.

“Everyone knows me,” the man replies. “Although, they seldom want to admit it.” He smiles. “I’m Death,” he says, “And, I’ve come to see if you’re ready to go.”

Stunned, it takes Chambers a moment to respond. “That’s not funny, asshole,” he says.

“It wasn’t meant to be a joke,” the man replies. “Just a simple question.”

“Well,” Chambers says, “I have to commend you for sticking to the bit, even if it is a shitty one.” He takes another look at the stranger standing by his bed. He is wearing an impeccably tailored black suit, a black shirt with French cuffs poking out of the sleeves (the barely visible cuff links look to be silver scythes), and a solid black paisley tie. His hair and beard are coiffed and trimmed to perfection and his cologne makes Chambers think of his boyhood days on the farm, smelling of tobacco, damp soil, and hay drying in the sun. Whatever this guy’s con is, he thinks, it must be lucrative because this get-up isn’t cheap. “What if I said, yeah, I’m ready to go?” he asks.

“Then, we’d go,” the stranger responds.

“Just like that?”

“Just like that.”

“That easy, huh?” Chambers says.

“Yep,” replies the stranger. “It’s just that easy.

Seeing Is Believing

“Why don’t we go for a walk,” the man says, “And, I’ll explain how it works.”

Chambers laughs. “I’m a little past the point where that’s possible.” He looks askance at this strange person who’s shown up in his room unannounced. “I’d think that’s something Death would know.”

“Oh, I know,” says Death. “But my position affords me certain… let’s say, ‘abilities’.”

“Okay, I’m calling bullshit,” Chambers says. “I mean, this has got to be a scam or something.”

“Come on,” says Death. “Wouldn’t you like to feel the sun on your face again? Maybe get some fresh air.” He wrinkles his nose. “I guess we could chat here, but the smell…”

“So, Death doesn’t like the smell of dying people,” the older man cackles. “That’s rich.”

The stranger laughs. “What, there weren’t parts of your job you didn’t care for?”

“Okay, you’ve got a point there,” Chambers grudgingly admits.

“So, come on,” Death says, holding out his hand.

Chambers looks at it for a moment and thinks that whatever happens can’t be worse than lying here wasting away. “What the hell,” he says with a shrug.

Taking a Walk With Death

He takes the hand and immediately feels stronger than he has in a very long time. Amazed, he swings his legs over the side of the bed and stands without the dizziness that usually accompanies the act. “Okay,” he says, “Didn’t expect that.”

The stranger laughs. “Come on,” he says, motioning with his head and they walk out into the hallway. “So, do you believe me now?”

The old man shakes his head. “I mean, this is impressive,” he says gesturing toward his legs, “But believing you’re actually Death? That’s a big ask, my friend.”

“Fair enough,” the man says. He looks around and sees a bird of paradise plant that’s in full bloom. “How about this,” he says and directs them toward it. As they approach, he reaches out and brushes a leaf with his fingers. It immediately withers and dies. He looks at Chambers with a raised eyebrow and says, “Eh?”

The old man looks at the plant and then at his new acquaintance. It slowly begins to dawn on him who this man truly is. And, it unnerves him.

Fresh Air and Sunshine

They step through the doors and into the facility’s courtyard. “This is very nice,” the stranger says, waving at the well-manicured plaza. “I’m guessing it’s not cheap.”

“What?” Chambers says. Then, “Oh, yeah. No, it’s kind of pricey. But, I did pretty well in life and I’ve got no heirs.” He smiles ruefully.

“Never had the time?” the man asks.

“No, we tried. Oh god, how we tried,” the old man says, shaking his head. “I guess it just wasn’t in the cards for us.” He pauses, then says, “It wasn’t easy for me, but my wife? Janey took it hard.” He shakes his head. “She went to her grave thinking she was a failure as a wife.”

“I’m sorry,” the stranger says.

“What, my life so sad that Death is sorry for me? That can’t be good.”

Death laughs. “So, you believe me now?”

Chambers considers the question for a moment, then says, “Yeah, I guess I do.” He sighs. “If I’m being honest, I probably believed it all along, I just couldn’t bring myself to accept it.”

“I get that,” says Death. “It is a lot to take in.”

“So, what happens now?” Chambers asks.

“What do you want to happen now?”

“I don’t know,” Chambers says. “I didn’t realize I had any choices in this thing.”

They settle onto a bench in the garden and Death smiles. It’s not like Chambers would’ve thought before meeting the herald of his demise. It’s warm and thoughtful, like that of an old friend. “No, you have a choice,” he responds.

“Really?”

“Really,” Death says. “There was a time when I took a person’s soul whether they were ready to go or not. And, while there are occasions where that’s still necessary, I try not to do it anymore. Things go better when the departed buys into all this,” he says with a wave of his hand.

“Oh,” says Chambers. “So, we can just sit here and chat for a while?”

“Of course, David. And, if you’ve got questions, I’ll try to answer them.”

Chambers nods. “Okay, yeah. I do have some questions.

“Fair enough,” says Death. “Fire away.”

A Q & A Session With Death

Chambers pauses for a moment, ordering his thoughts. “What’s it like, dying?” he asks.

Death shrugs and says “It’s really different for everyone, so that’s kind of hard to answer.”

“What do you mean,” the old man replies.

“Well, it can be traumatic if you’re not ready,” Death says. “Like, if you’re hit by a bus or something? You know, one minute you’re here and everything’s fine and the next you’re talking to me. That can mess with your head.”

“Yeah, I can see that,” Chambers says. “I’m guessing in that situation, they don’t get to choose.”

“No,” says Death in a melancholy tone. “When the body is that torn up, there’s not a lot that can be done.”

Chambers nods. “Yeah, that makes sense.” He thinks for a second, then asks, “Is there an afterlife?”

“Possibly?” says Death. “I can’t say for sure. I just collect the souls. What happens after that is outside my purview.”

Chambers nods and says, “Gotcha.” Then, he says, “If there is an afterlife, you think I’ll see my wife again?”

“Maybe,” Death says with a shrug. “I don’t know. Like I said, I’m just the collector.” After a moment, he says, “Sorry. I know I’m coming off as vague.”

“No, no,” says Chambers. “I totally get it. And, I appreciate the honesty. I mean, you could just tell me some BS to make me feel good.” He looks around at all the plants surrounding them and considers his next question. “Will it hurt?” he asks.

“Not the way you’re going,” says Death.

┬áChambers is confused. “What do you mean, ‘the way I’m going’?” he says.

“Well,” says Death, “Dying is the cessation of life, and in and of itself, it’s neither painful nor pleasurable. Those things tend to be connected to the circumstances of your death. For example, being crushed under a car is going to hurt. But, passing away after a long, protracted illness like you? I’ve had people tell me that it’s kind of nice. Or, a relief at the very least.”

Chambers nods and says, “Good to know.”

Passing Over

“Anything else you want to know?” says Death.

The old man ruminates for a moment, staring at nothing in particular. “No, I think that’s it.”

“So,” says Death, lightly smacking palms on his thighs, “What do you think? Are you ready or do you want to hang around for a bit longer?”

Chambers looks around. While he is enjoying the fresh air and the feel of the sun on his skin, he knows this can’t go on forever. But, he thinks, am I really ready to give all this up? After a moment’s more consideration, he makes up his mind. “Nah, I think I’ve done all I can do here. I’m interested to see what’s next.”

Death smiles. “Good choice, my friend.”

“So, what do I do?”

Death points to a door, saying, “Just walk through that door.” Chambers, however, has never noticed that a door was there before. It’s not surprising as it’s entirely normal looking that it could certainly have been there all along, blending into the background. But the old man could swear that section of the nursing home’s wall had always been solid brick.

“Okay,” he says, getting up and walking over to it. As he reaches out for the handle, he looks back over his shoulder and says, “You sure about this?”

“I am,” says Death and smiles as the old man passes through the portal.

The End? Or a New Beginning?

Back in Chambers’ room, the aides have returned to check on him again. Amelia grasps his wrist to check his pulse. It’s weak and thready. As she lays his arm down, she hears him whisper, “Lovely.” Then, he exhales slowly one last time and is gone.