This image was done by a Terry Pratchett fan on DeviantArt. The famed author died in recent years, taking final stroll with my personal all-time favorite character: Death. In Pratchett's Discworld series, Death is honest and kind, he is a he, evolved into a complete personality from raw human emotions, struggles with the existential questions --we all do, and has a soft spot for new experiences. As such, the following scene was written through tears with the permission of my partner. It features her mother, Clair, on the day she never woke up. On the day our lives swiveled off course. On the day I learned how strong her daughter is, and what the sound of a heart breaking sounds like from the outside. The past year has been interesting for the world, an unfortunate byproduct of globalization. But in this tiny corner of the internet, I give you the reduced version of a part of myself, Rock Rat, a part of my partner who trusted me to write something that her mother would enjoy. I wrote this for you, Clair, because it heals me. Because you loved me so immediately and so deeply. Because you trusted me with the heart of your only daughter. Because you thought my writing was a true talent to be nursed and fostered. When you moved from this plane to the next, I like to imagine it went something like this.
Death at Coffee
“Honey, hey, Honey, you can go to bed, now,” Denny spoke the words softly, just enough to wake her at 4am. It was the second Friday in November. Clair was already in a bed, but it wasn’t their bed, the bed she and Denny had saved for months to afford. The one specially designed for arthritis, entirely made in natural fibers of sheep’s wool, organic cotton, and plant-based materials. It was the most comfortable bed of her life. Clair or Denny would alternate leaving it in the wee morning hours, or just after falling sleep, so that their snoring wouldn’t keep the other awake.
They both snored fiercely and had for almost a decade. Clair and Denny didn’t mind much. When they found the other already rolled tightly into their perfectly therapeutic bed, the other would simply ball up in the hand-stitched quilts of the adjacent spare room. The kids hadn’t used that, or any other room, since the youngest had moved off to graduate school in Washington State.
She moved back, though.
Clair enjoyed the minute reminders of this Big Move Back Home in the way she and Denny kept the spare room tidy for Megan and her girlfriend, Tori, to use whenever. Fiancé, Clair corrected her half-woken mind. They had been engaged for over a year now, and last time they had stayed here, she had dressed Tori in a series of suit jackets to determine their marital outfits for the Big Day. This morning was like every other November morning and would soon become unlike the rest that had come before.
Clair groaned as she stirred. Not in pain or really for any reason other than to let her sweetheart know that she would be getting up and move back to the bed in their bedroom. Denny was already dressed for work at New Flyer as they passed in the narrow hallway to the kitchen. Almost unconsciously, Clair’s hand found his and they shared a squeeze. Almost. Clair notoriously sustained her habit of pinching Denny’s bum at any given hour of the day regardless of who was present. One of those things that kept them young. A subtle shared reminder that in a few years more they would both be able to retire. Spend lazy days fishing and playing 500 with family somewhere sunny and lakeside, with a view of the bird feeders Clair would affix to a nice, shady spot under a tree.
Scuttling along to the right side of the bed, Clair mindfully noted that when it was time to rise again, she would stay in motion to reduce the stiff ache in her joints as she warmed to the new day. Clair settled into the warmth of her place beside where Dennis had slept, keeping their little love nest warm for her. With a resolute sigh she lowered her heavy lids and fell into the soothing scent of stale perfume and winter warmth in one of her favorite places on earth.
“Clair,” said a deeply resonate -though, not unpleasant- voice. Clair opened her eyes and sat up. Rubbing her wrists, she shuffled her feet over the side her the bed and heard kitchen objects moving under Denny’s hands. She moved to the clothes she had laid at the foot of Denny’s side of the bed before going back to sleep an hour earlier. Clair flexed her knees and opened and closed her hands reflexively but noticed with pristine pleasure that she felt incredibly not in pain this morning. She dressed smartly, today was no different. Sliding the heirloom dresser drawer shut, the sound of familiar wood knocking just as her right hand lifted from the handle, Clair noticed the eight-foot-tall skeleton in her room.
Robed, the fabric of which was coiling smoothly around neatly stacked bone feet, the skeleton sat passively in a recently reupholstered cushioned chair by the other dresser. A bland but inconceivably sharp sickle resting on its knees. The skeleton had no eyes but appeared to be taking in the room through a twin pair of bluish sparks set far back in its eye sockets, which were shaded by a hood from the outside street light peeking through the bedroom window. The hooded robe was dull and liquid black. The whole stature of the other occupant outsized any human Clair had ever met by at least one third greater size. Presently, the robed skeleton reclined and looked as if a person would in a doctor’s waiting area.
“Hello there,” Clair’s accent hugging the o’s, “Are you waiting for something?”
“No,” said the skeleton, rising to its full height as if slightly embarrassed that she’d seen it sitting. “I am not waiting, but thank you,” it said in rolling tones of midnight and deep-sea current. A beam of streetlight caught the edge of the now-upright sickle. Clair turned to her and Denny’s bed. Slowly. There she was, still cuddled up in homemade comforters. She only looked for a second, that was all it took for comprehension to seize her, before addressing the skeleton. Her other hand falling away from where it secured her second matching earring.
“I suppose you’re Death then?” She spoke the words in kindness, but it was not a question. “Or, well, what should I call you?” Clair asked, politely.
Death looked down as if he -it was definitely a he- was unaccustomed to being asked about himself. Death said, “Death is just fine, thank you, Clair Ann Schindler,” Death inclined his head in a serene expression of skeletal compassion. Her name flowed like spring water from behind Death’s enormous white grin. Clair fisted and unfisted her hands some more, smiled at the recognition that the arthritis was forever lifted. Kitchen sounds piled up from the kitchen at the end of the hall, the light clink of mugs being taken down, a quiet swoosh of coffee filling them.
Clair looked into Death’s glimmering bluish eyes, said “It’s too soon. I thought I would have more time.”
Death replied, “Yes.”
“Can I visit them?”
“As often as you like,” then Death added, “although, you are not due to become a ghost.”
“No,” she smiled to herself with a slight shake of her head, “they don’t need any more ghosts. Can I say good-bye?”
“Of course.” Death opened his non-sickle bearing arm in a graceful gesture of freedom for Clair to move about the house as she would. “I would advise not to stay too long.” The tall skeleton made no motion toward the form on bed, but Clair heard the implication in his words.
She nodded understanding, “I’ll only be a minute.”
Clair exited the bedroom and crossed the short hallway in three strides, touching her childrens’ faces as she passed them. Fingers tenderly grazing the framed portraits as the tears came, torrential and soundless. She was going to miss Megan’s wedding. Chris and his home improvements.
Clair stood at the mouth of the kitchen she’d built and shared with Denny for three decades. A steaming mug sat silently before her place at the counter. Denny had just called to her from the sink where he was rinsing his own mug. For an instant, Clair tucked herself against the love of her life. Since waking she hadn’t actually felt anything with her physical senses, but now a permeating warmth emanated from their proximity. She always knew their love was a tangible force, now she could even see the color of the corona with which they painted the universe around them. Clair fit one hand over Denny’s like a gentle shell, gave his hand a sturdy squeeze, stroked his cheek, whispered into his ear. Words of promise and profound secrecy, from one half to their other.
Then she was back down the hall, into the bedroom. She interrupted the stream of tears with the heel of her left hand and stopped before the robed figure. “Ok then, what’s next?”
Death bowed respectfully, intoning, “There are some who have been waiting for you.”
Images erupted of a lively young mother clothed in soft light, Theresa!, and a shaggy boy child, Randy!, growing older and younger in excitement at experiencing all the ages he missed in life. Somewhere far off, Denny called Clair’s name again, questioning her absence from the kitchen.
With a sob and a smile, Clair said, “Ok, I’m ready.” The two shimmered with iridescence and vanished.