Death Comes to Tea
by Sascha Fink
Death had a job to do, and it was a job that had to be done. To Death, there was no difference among adult and child and animal. Many people called Death cold and calculated, and this was true. Death had no heart, and he had no conscience. Neither was needed for Death’s mission, so neither was given to him when he came into being. Death existed for only one purpose, and as terrible as his existence was, it was a very necessary purpose.
Death had no checklist, and he had no time table. All that was required for him to perform his job was a specific smell that only Death could detect. It was his smell, the Smell of Death. Ever since man recognized that Death existed, he tried to trick Death into passing him by. He tried herbs, incense, prayer, and medicine. But none of it worked, even if man thought it did. Man didn’t understand Death. Death was never fooled. Death came when it was time: no sooner, no later. The doctors, medicine men, and religious leaders thought their “successful” acts staved off Death. Mankind didn’t understand the nature of Death. Death came to all when it was time. Healing was an illusion. It just wasn’t time yet.
Death would touch the nearly dead on the forehead with his wretched, rotting finger, rip the souls from their bodies and place his mouth on theirs, sucking away the final spark of life. Once removed from their bodies, the souls drifted away and their bodies would no longer be animated. Death neither cared where the souls went, nor wondered. It was not his concern.
And as with all days, Death encountered a house in a small town that reeked of his perfume. Several homes required his visit, but he was drawn to the one that smelled the strongest. Death swept around the perimeter of the house, inhaling deeply to identify the room in which his smell was the most intense. On the second floor of the house, the odor was unmistakable. The sickness seeped through the cracks of the closed window. Before entering the room, Death stole a glance though a slit in the pink café curtains.
Death could see only an overstuffed bed with a heavy white lace quilt and two large pillows against the white wicker headboard. In the center of the bed was a depression that appeared as though someone had thrown a stone down into the middle of the fluff. But Death knew what was there. He passed through the wall into the room. It was the room of a girl child, and his smell was heavy and pungent.
Death hovered above the bed and looked down into the indentation. There, amidst the white lace coverlet and the white silk sheets, lay what could be mistaken for a child’s toy. The little girl was no more than seven years old and displayed the face of a bisque doll, though her skin was more yellow than creamy white. It was the sickness that discolored her. The child’s eyes were closed, and Death could see that they were sunken in. Lying below her sunken eyes appeared what looked to be two caterpillars stretched over her cheeks. But Death recognized that the caterpillars were merely the child’s eyelashes, the same color as her dark hair which was lifeless and dull even though it was carefully plaited and finished with pink ribbons.
When Death touched down to the floor, the caterpillars fluttered and the child’s eyes opened. Set deep inside her sick face, the only life that was left in the child was in her eyes. She tilted her head and looked at Death unafraid. Children were not frightened of Death; they hadn’t learned to be frightened. The elderly welcomed him and walked willingly into Death’s embrace. Those that lived between childhood and old age were the most afraid. Adults knew he was coming, and they were afraid of what may lie beyond. Both the children and the elderly saw Death as the doorway to a new adventure, so Death expected this child to be calm and accepting.
“Are you here to play with me?” she asked, her voice barely a whisper. Death shook his head.
“OK,” she said, her voice a little stronger, “But before you put another needle in me, could you play anyway?” Death stood motionless. He did not answer. He could see her body through the delicate silk nightgown she wore. The little girl’s arms were riddled with bruises and puncture marks that were no longer healing…because her body had given up.
The little girl rose to a sitting position, ignoring the fact that Death had not agreed to play with her. Death could tell the purposeful movement exhausted her. If she continued to use what energy was left in her small body, Death’s task would take little time. And she continued. The little girl swung her legs over the side of the bed and slid down toward the floor, but her weak legs could not hold her weight, and she fell to her knees, unable to get up.
In spite of himself, Death held out his hand. The little girl grasped it and pulled herself up to a standing position, and did not let go. She tugged Death toward the opposite side of the room where a small table with a tiny porcelain tea service sat ready for guests.
“Please sit down, sir,” she said, though it seemed to Death as though it was an order despite the “please.” The little girl sat on one side of the table and pointed to the three remaining chairs in which she wanted Death to sit, and he sat down as instructed.
“My name is Charlotte,” she said, picking up Death’s tea cup and pouring pretend tea. “What is your name?” she asked, placing a pretend scone on his plate. Death said nothing.
“If you don’t have a name, we’ll give you one,” she said, placing her hand on the head of a teddy bear seated in one of the two remaining chairs. But before she could name Death, Charlotte began to cough violently. To dab the blood tinged spittle that gathered in the corners of her mouth, Death handed Charlotte a tea napkin from the table. When her lungs were clear and her face wiped, Charlotte resumed her role as hostess as if nothing had happened.
“I think your name should be Rupert Sillybottom.” Death picked up his cup and pretended to drink. When he finished, he set the tea cup down onto the saucer, and handed them to Charlotte to refill. Charlotte reached her hand toward Death and suddenly fell into another coughing fit, the spasms so deep and disturbing that she was unable to catch her breath. It was at this moment that Death knew it was time. But he didn’t touch Charlotte on the forehead.
No one had ever been kind to Death. Living beings had been either indifferent or afraid. This child muddled his entire sense of being. She was neither afraid nor indifferent. Upon him, Charlotte bestowed a name, a gift. Death knew a name was a gift. He had attended the death of newborns and the mothers and fathers always said the name was the only gift they could bestow on these tiny children. No one had ever given Death a gift. Charlotte wanted Death’s company for no other reason than she needed a friend. And Death obliged her.
After the child crumbled to the floor, Death picked up the small body and set her back in bed. He put his horrific face near Charlotte’s beautiful face and began to inhale deeply. He inhaled and inhaled and inhaled until his smell began to seep from the child’s pores into what appeared to be an opening where a nose should have been. Once his smell was gone, Death began to puff his breath into her face, giving Charlotte all the bits of remaining life he had taken from other people. Death exhaled into her until she was filled up with life. Charlotte’s hollow cheeks and sunken eyes filled, and the yellow color of sickness rose above her and dispersed into a wispy cloud that only Death could see.
When she wakened, the sickness would be gone, as would the smell of Death. He saw to it that Charlotte would never have his smell on her again. Death would no longer be blindly drawn to Charlotte. He would wait until she wanted him to come, when she called for him; when she was old and tired of life, and ready to meet her old childhood friend again. He would come to Charlotte and she would embrace him. And Death would embrace her, and hold her for a moment and kiss her before he touched her forehead and drained the last of Charlotte’s life away.
Death hoped that the next time they met Charlotte would have tea ready for them.
Last Updated: 4/8/13