An Unexpected Meeting
"I met him," said Doris as the nurse helped her into her daughter's car.
Linda was distracted. Spending time with her mother was one of her least favorite pastimes and today was no exception. "Life is hard enough," she thought. "Why do I have to waste time with someone who doesn't appreciate it?"
She grabbed her purse and started digging in it for a cigarette. When she was with anyone except her mother, she seldom lit up but, as soon as she was anywhere near Doris, her fingers started to twitch and the comfort of a lungful of smoke was all she could think about.
"Really," said Doris. She reached out and grabbed her daughter's wrist. "I saw him."
"What are you talking about?" said Linda. The exasperation in her voice was obvious. She felt a twinge of regret, but shrugged it off as a natural reaction to her mother's rude behavior.
"Him," said Doris. "You know," here the elderly woman looked around, as though they might be under surveillance, and whispered, "Death."
Now Linda had to look at her mother. Mom looked awestruck, as though she had met a celebrity.
"That's ridiculous," said Linda. Then she looked more closely, one eyebrow raised in question. "Did someone die last night?"
"Mrs. Jacobs," said Doris. She sat back in the seat and fumbled with her seat belt. "She was my best friend in all the world."
"Come on Ma, you just met her two months ago."
"Sometimes it doesn't take long," said Doris. "Can we go to Perkins?"
Linda started the car. As she pulled away from the nursing home's front door, she pushed in the cigarette lighter and tried to consider whether or not a quick lunch at Perkins would be enough. "Would Mom be satisfied with eggs and coffee?" she wondered.
"But don't you want to hear about Death?"
Linda took a long drag on her cigarette. She drew the smoke deeply into her lungs. As she exhaled, she said, "Death isn't a person. You can't meet death!"
"I beg to differ with you," said Doris calmly. "I mean, I didn't think I'd get to meet him until it was time for me to go, but I've been hearing him since you left me in that awful place."
Now Linda began to pay attention. "Hearing?"
"Exactly. From that first night, I heard him moving around. Heard the dry clicking of his bones, the whisper of his robe as he stalks the hallway." She followed her speech with a decisive nod of her head.
"Are you feeling all right?"
"As well as can be expected." She patted her daughter on the arm. "Don't worry, dear. He says it's not my time yet."
Linda tried logic again. "But Mom, death is a condition, not a person."
"Au contraire," replied her mother. "Death is very much a person. How do you think your spirit gets to the other side?"
Linda shook her head. "Mom always had weird ideas", she told herself. "And she's getting old. Why wouldn't she think about death?" She comforted herself with the thought that it was all in her mother's imagination. She took her mother's arm as they walked across the parking lot to the restaurant.
"We're super-busy today," said the hostess. "It will be about fifteen minutes before we can seat you."
Linda and Doris took a seat on the benches in the entryway to wait for a table to become available. The area was crowded with people standing around or sitting on other benches, but still Doris continued their conversation in a loud voice.
"You know, he isn't spooky at all in person."
Linda tried to change the subject. "I think we may have a buyer for your house."
"Who said I wanted to sell the house?" her mother asked. "I planned on leaving it to you. I would think you were tired of living in an apartment by now."
"Damn," thought Linda. "I should know better than to go there."
Linda searched her mind for something different that they could talk about. She couldn't talk about her divorce. Mom loved Allen and wouldn't be happy to hear that, like so much else in her life, Linda had screwed up again."
"Look!" her mother exclaimed. She pointed at something behind Linda. Linda instinctively swiveled her head around to look, but saw nothing but a lot of strangers.
"Someone you know?"
"Of course," replied her mother. "It's him."
"Him who—" Linda started to say, but then it hit her. "Mama, that is ridiculous. Remember when you told me I should tell you when you're losing it? Well, you're—"
Then the world around her faded. All she could think about was the sudden, crushing pain in her chest. It occurred to her that this shouldn't be happening, that women weren't supposed to have the same symptoms as a man.
As if from a million miles away, she heard her mother's voice say, "Wait, why are you here?"
When the fog cleared away, she saw her mother bent over a prone figure. She wondered why her mother was crying. "That's me," she thought.
Standing behind her mother was a figure in a dark cape and hood, such a stereotypical image of death that she nearly laughed. The emptiness of the hood turned towards her as though it had just realized she was there. He, somehow she knew it was a he, came towards her.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I like your mother and hate to make her sad, but it's your time and I can't break the rules."
She approached death, and he took her by the arm. Then he waved his sickle. The last thing she saw of her old life was her mother's tearful face as she bent over her daughter's lifeless body.