13th December

Death, the Shapeshifter

I don’t know beforehand how I will appear to anyone. This time, next time, sometime, never. He or she? Giver or taker? The English say, ‘He took his own life.’ The French say, ‘He gave himself death.’ It’s a grey area, the English Channel.

That famous encounter in Baghdad, I was a she, according to common tradition. Or was I in drag? I don’t, honestly, remember.

Sometimes I feel as if I am going about a big country house, its outbuildings and gardens, snuffing out candles. As fast as I snuff, some other character is off lighting new ones. I look up from a lawn covered in tea-lights and see the silhouette at a window on the upper floor, illuminating an entire corridor with new flames. It isn’t a race, it’s a balancing act, something I often think the lighter of candles fails to appreciate. In this game one should not get ahead of oneself. We have never met.

I dance a little giddily across the dewy grass, applying my snuffer here and there. Tea-lights flicker. Some recover, others succumb to the draught of my gown. To anyone watching from the house my dance probably appears haphazard. It isn’t. To choreograph randomness takes aeons of practice.

I am a peck on the cheek, a mild cough. Three ducks on the wall over the fireplace: one falls off, for no apparent reason, and shatters on the hearth. Bullets, blades, gas, bombs, yes, yes, I’ve used all those methods of collection. It’s the details that fade.

I am a painting by Brueghel, a casual remark by Hume, an unfinished symphony, an unread novel.

Here’s one I do remember. I am a postman. I have a parcel too big to go through this particular letter box. I ring the bell and half a minute later a woman of about seventy opens it. I hand her the parcel. There’s a clear view down the corridor to the kitchen. Her husband is sitting over his porridge.

As soon as I see him I know it’s for him I have come.

By the time she gets back he’s away.

The parcel was for her. I’ve no idea what was in it.

Reader: Tam Dean Burn
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Harmonium: Kit Downes
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