Death was beautiful that evening. Wearing a silk robe with white dragons swimming slowly over the fabric. Her collar and wrists were neatly covered with spider web thin embroidery. Her feet were bare, apart from one night-blooming jasmine attached to her right foot big toe. She wiggled this toe, as if to show me that there was no way for me to figure out just how it was attached. The petals of the flower moved slightly. In her hand she held a tall delicate crystal glass. Something sparkled in it.
“Soooo,” she said. Waiting for me to take a sip from my own glass, filled with not so sparkly cheap wine, and the glass itself not so elegant, bought at Family Dollar. (Though I did like the color of the glass, an ice blue verging on turquoise.) Death’s glass glimmered into an ice blue and then turned crystal clear again. She was teasing me. Nevertheless, she seemed to accept my state of being exhausted but not able to sleep. She simply gently nudged me on.
“Here we are,” she said casually, words dragging out at every syllable. “You, me, and the porch. Or, should it be the porch, you, and me?”
I knew I was impolite. Not that she cared. It was more a matter of honor. My personal expectation of how you treat anyone who visits your home, regardless how short or far they have traveled to spend time with you.
“I never travel far,” said Death, wiggling her night-blooming jasmine adorned toe once more.
A surge of sweet fragrance came floating my way. The scent brought me back to myself. The self who didn’t want to miss out on a moment.
“Let’s talk about love,” I said. Thinking this could be a curious subject to discuss with Death.
She nodded somberly, staring out into the nothingness, or perhaps into memories. If Death collected memories I did not know.
“Ah, yes, love,” she said. “A worthy subject indeed.” No hesitation, and – for her – an unusual emphasis.
“Can you love?” I asked, well aware I sounded like a child who asked about why the sun rose every morning, or why grandmothers seemed to have a thing for strange tasting candies, such as lemon drops. Death was still. Just for a moment. Then she replied,
“Oh yes, I can love. I do love indeed.”
Her cut-by-the-knuckles, off-white, intricately-embroidered gloves twisted softly around her hands, and she did the slightest movement with her ring fingers, as if she was pushing something away, or reeling it in. I could not tell which. She knew I noticed. And pretended not to have.
“Love,” she said, “surpasses me. Humbles me. Not a lot of things do.”
It was a simple statement. Void of pride.
“Will we make it then?” I asked. Ignoring the feeling of becoming younger and more ignorant by the second. “I mean,” I said, trying not to stammer. “Humans, Earth, society, us …”
She turned to me, her face growing younger, until she appeared no older than a fourteen-year-old girl. Then, for the first time, she winked at me. I did not know that Death had it in her repertoire to wink and was somewhat startled. It was like seeing a shooting star in her closing eye, just to have it opened again and seeing the deep night sky. She smiled her typical corner-of-the-mouth smile.
“Honey, sweetheart, heart-of-mine,” she said, mimicking my very own love’s half-joking pet names that he used for me. Then she added,
“Don’t you know? You already have.”
By Sofia Karin Axelsson - first published in the November edition of The Echo World 2020