Archive for death

HENRY AND THE ANGEL OF DEATH

Posted in writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 14, 2012 by kimmy

When he arrived at the office that morning, there was a customer waiting in his cubicle.  Unusual, considering it was only six-thirty and he had just unlocked the door, but he was used to routine and didn’t even question it.  Instead he apologized because the coffee wasn’t ready.

“I’m not here for coffee, Henry,” said the customer, who didn’t bother to look up when Henry entered and hastily shoved his briefcase and lunchbag under the desk.  “I’ve come to discuss another matter.”

Henry shuffled through the mounds of paper and retrieved his laptop.  He wished he had been better prepared for his first customer of the day, but when he typed in the password for his schedule, the entire day’s caseload was absent.

“You won’t find it,” said the customer.

“Find what?”  The question was cheerful, but mechanical, his usual response when caught off-guard and scrambling for answers.  “I’ll be with you in a jiffy, just as soon as I access your file.”

“I don’t have a file.”

Henry cursed silently.  It seemed his endless lot in life that the morons in the front office habitually assigned him new cases with missing paperwork.

“They didn’t.”

“Didn’t what?”  He wondered how long he could stall for time without appearing the complete idiot.  “I’m sure I have your name and intake forms, sir; I just need to click onto the right screen.”

“My name won’t appear there or anyplace designed by mortal hands.”

Henry looked up and took in his customer’s appearance with a glance before resuming his attempts to login.  Just his luck… a goth.  And probably one who had just left a nightclub, judging by the bags under his eyes.   He made a mental note to add a rider to the medical coverage.

“So, what type of life insurance were you interested in, whole or term?  We have competitive pricing for either,” said Henry.  He slid a few brochures across the table.

“I’m not interested in the preservation of life.  Only in its taking.”

All these emo goth kids were the same, thought Henry.  Always grieving their lives with their black clothes and pale faces.  At least this one didn’t have a nose ring.

“We take it, too, sir,” he said briskly, “our business, that is.  Very seriously.”

The customer slowly rose from his seat with a rustle of black crepe.  “Good.  Then it’s time for you to come with me.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but we need to process your application here in the office.    If you need something off-site, I can put in a request for a field agent.  They’ll be happy to accompany you.”

Henry picked up the phone and punched in a few numbers.   No answer.  Those layabouts in the field department rarely showed up before nine.

“That won’t be necessary, Henry.”

“Great!  Then if you don’t mind, please fill out these forms in triplicate and we’ll get started.”  Henry assembled a stack of papers before him, pushing the gilt framed picture of his wife and daughter to the side.  The photograph was missing.

“Make sure you note all your sources of income,” said Henry, already plotting his revenge against the pranksters in marketing.  Swiping his family portrait was really low and required immediate retaliation.

“I have no need of material wealth.”

Henry added a second stack.  “Then you’ll need to list your assets.”

“I have but one but it has separated many an owner from theirs.”  The black-robed customer drew a scythe from the folds of his cloak.

Henry wondered how he managed to smuggle it through security.  The metal detectors must be offline again.

“I’m sorry, sir, but we don’t insure farm equipment.  Have you tried Countrywide?”

“Aye, Henry.  It’s been tried both city and country-wide, but it stops here today.”

He eyed it carefully.  The metal gleamed like silver.  “Maybe we could pass it off as a piece of art.  Has it been appraised?”

“Only by those who stand in Judgment.”

“If they’re experts in the field, their opinion might lend some credibility.  Do you think they’d be willing to write up an appraisal?”

“Willing, perhaps, but now unable.”

“Understood,” said Henry, nodding sympathetically.  Maybe this goth wasn’t so bad.  It seemed he had as little cooperation from his staff as Henry, who was beginning to wonder if anyone from his team was going to show up.  Even the street traffic was strangely quiet for a weekday morning.

He shivered a bit and returned to task.  “Okay, if you’ll just fill these out, Mr…. uh, I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch your name.”

“Nor will you.  It’s known only to the Most High.”

“Did I mention there’s a mandatory drug screening?”

Henry had had enough.  So much for the goth junkie wasting his time.  He shoved the paperwork into an oversized envelope and rattled off mailing instructions.  “… or you can use our website and submit the applications online.  Thanks so much for stopping in, Mister… uh, do stop in again if we can be of service.”  He rose from the desk.  “Allow me to see you out.”

The black-clad figure glided silently at his side and waited patiently when Henry tripped and fell over the corpse near the door.  Samantha, the part-time receptionist was dead.  Her blue eyes were cloudy and unfocused.

“What the…?”  Henry recoiled from the body and scrambled to his feet only to fall again, this time over the bodies of the girls from marketing.  They were heaped like trash in the corridor.

He staggered down the hall, stepping over one lifeless body after another.  Some were draped over cubicle walls.  Others slumped in chairs.  Bodies were strewn down the staircase and into the street.   They were in cars, buses, babystrollers and café tables.  All dead.

Sudden comprehension hit him as quickly as the nausea and he dropped to his knees, retching up his breakfast and gut terror for his family.

“They’re dead, too, Henry, as dead as those you see.  I’ve collected all but you.”

His eyes snapped up, waiting for the blade, but then turned slowly downward.  Tears mingled with the bile on his cheek and he wiped them with a sleeve.  His little girl… did he remember to kiss her goodbye that morning?  His wife, friends, family… all gone.  What was the point in living anymore?

“Strike me down, Reaper, or whatever you are,” said Henry quietly.  “I’m ready.”

“Ah, that I won’t do.”

“What do you mean no?  You said I’m the last to go, so take me!”

“I cannot.”

“You’re just going to leave me here?

“So it seems.”

To be left alone with this horror was worse than death.  Henry snatched up the scythe and plunged its sharp end into his belly, waiting for the blood and pain to sweep him away.

Nothing happened.

He looked down at his shirt, but it was pristine, as crisp as when he took it from the closet.  The scythe lay at his feet, the blade clean and shining.

“As I said, it will not be done.”   The dark one picked up his weapon and slipped it into his robe.  “That which has never lived cannot be killed.”

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ALONE, YET NOT

Posted in writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 28, 2012 by kimmy

A dear friend lost her husband unexpectedly yesterday.  I got the message late last night and when I returned the call, I discovered that sympathy and compassion were not the only emotions to come to the fore.

As travel plans were discussed, some weighed and other forcibly abandoned for work obligations, I felt stymied.  Frustrated that I couldn’t be with my friend and irritated that professional demands have taken the place of flesh and blood relationships.  Why couldn’t I just put everything on hold and fly across the country to be at her side?  Wouldn’t my clients, employers and colleagues understand and grant me the wide berth that death requires?  Haven’t they all experienced the crunch that time imposes upon the meandering of emotion?  Who has ever successfully reined it in?

After the call, I showered and got ready for bed.  That’s when the serious fretting began.  As the water pounded my back, I knew that something or someone would invariably suffer, no matter what my decision.  Work, if I chose my friend and my friend, if I chose work.

Suddenly, a surge of anger passed over me.  Are these the days when peers are slowly lost?  Why must all our meetings be in funeral parlors instead of sunny beaches where we laugh over old memories?  Do we care so little for each other that we can’t make time to share what time we have left?

I imagined what it would be like to have the old gang together, older but still good-humored, sipping cocktails around a roaring fire at the Dunes, laughing in the carefree way we espoused in youth and hang onto today in defiance.  I couldn’t help but smile to myself, seeing their faces in my mind’s eye, and I felt buoyant.  Irritation washed down the drain with the rest of the suds and I realized why we meet in sorrow:  Joy is easy; it gives one wings, but grief is hard to bear alone. 

BRING OUT YOUR DEAD

Posted in personal, reminisce, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 27, 2010 by kimmy

It had the earmarkings of a truly life-changing week.  And it did change me… but in ways I didn’t anticipate.

I was on retreat in Kansas City, trying to make sense of a life which had become incomprehensible.  The grounds were beautiful and I walked them everyday, sharing my despair with the trees.   They must have heard my pleas because not long after, my walk was accompanied by an enormous bird.  She had an eight-foot wing span and kept pace with me, always twenty yards ahead. 

It never occured to me to wonder why she was out of her normal habitat, or if she considered me prey.  Instead I followed her, listening to the heavy whoosh of her wings as she lighted from branch to branch, hoping that she would reveal her secrets.

She did, of course, a few days later when I realized that my marriage had died.    Why hadn’t I seen the vultures circling earlier?  I knew that it had to be buried, but the pain of this knowledge was so profound that it paralyzed me. 

And there was more to come.  I left the retreat the next day and rode to the airport like a zombie.  The highway was just a blur; the voices on the radio, a jumble of noise.   I paid no attention and just stared out the window, watching the fine Missouri homes pass by in streaks of color.

“… he died in a helicopter crash at Alpine Valley.”

The location roused some recognition in me, and I turned up the volume.  Stevie Ray Vaughan was dead on a hillside in Wisconsin.

It felt like a knife in my heart.

I couldn’t stop weeping.  And couldn’t understand why I was weeping for a man I had never met.  The dj’s were hushed, reverent as they recapped his life and played songs from his repertoire, but I didn’t hear them.  I only mourned the loss of, what felt like, a brother.

There was no respite when I returned to Chicago.  I walked into my apartment and dialed the phone.  I had to speak with Kathleen.

There was no answer.  Oh, why was I gallivanting around the country trying to find myself when she was in such frail health?  She had been good friend for ten years, but all I could recall in that moment were her lips stained with morphine.

“When I go, I’d like it to be of heroin overdose.” 

She couldn’t have meant it, so many years ago, laughing with the recollections of youth.  But her words were prophetic, and she had died in my absence, after a long battle with cancer.

What more would my winged messenger bring?  At the wake, I saw more than Kathleen’s body lying in the coffin.  Domestic fantasies, idealistic visions and adolescent dreams were nestled next to her, waiting to be interred forever into the cold ground.

DELUSIONS OF GRANDEUR

Posted in musings, social commentary, writing with tags , , , , on December 28, 2008 by kimmy

After observing a few high-profile individuals as well as some friends succumbing to the temptations of regression, I began to wonder what prompts a reasonable person with goals and ambition to start looking backward?  Do they come to a crossroads and the assessment sends them into a tailspin?  Is it a form of mid-life crisis?  What is it about the future that makes one so squeamish?

It could be our over-reliance upon youth.  None of us really think we’ll get any older; it’s just a distant notion that seems unrelated.  Sure, we have elderly family members and neighbors, but who among us actually consider that age, and all that it conjures, is our lot as well?  It’s usually just dismissed, like a disease that can be prevented with exercise and nutrition.  However, despite your best efforts to stave it off, it always shows up.

Maybe we’re just afraid of death.  We see the landmarks along the way and delude ourselves by thinking that removing or altering them will cheat the outcome waiting at journey’s end.  How many people have you seen suddenly reverting to high school behavior, oblivious to its effect?  Maybe we laugh at the balding guy in the red convertible, but to him, he’s actually re-living the thrill of adolescence.   And so is the nip-and-tucked matron running around with her young boyfriend.  As long as their minds are occupied with pleasant distractions, they don’t have to face the inevitable.

It will come nonetheless.   You can go gracefully or kicking and screaming, but go you must.   Even the most stubborn middle-aged toddler eventually realizes this.  The tantrums and willfulness only work when the parent can be manipulated.   I don’t think the Reaper is that easily persuaded.