28th October

Death Hesitates

Death thought, I can’t do it. I can’t take that boy, he’s hardly begun to live. I can’t take that woman when she’s happy for the first time. I can’t wipe that entire family out on the motorway.

Such thoughts came, usually, early in the morning and late at night. They came, as it were, with the job. How could they not? He wasn’t some cruel monster. He took no pleasure in what he did. Pride, yes, but that’s different.

Everybody has doubts like this. What’s it all about? What am I doing here? Why me? And mostly get over them, or through them. You carry on because what is the alternative?

There was that other voice in the background. Death’s own Nemesis: If you don’t do it, somebody else will have to. Nobody’s forcing you but what are you going to do, resign? You know what will happen if you do.

On you go, the voice insisted, a mythological Mrs Danvers. You’ve done your time. Fair enough. You’re tired. So, retire if you want. But remember what happens to retired folk. They age, they diminish, they die.

No more death from you, Death, but then it will be coming for you. Is that what you want? To rage against the dying of the light? Rage all you like, it will still die. You’ll still die.

She was a persuasive bitch, Nemesis.

He remembered listening in to a conversation between a father and a daughter. The father was only thirty, a very ill man. The daughter was six, so full of energy it seemed unfair: she was bursting with it, he was leaking it like a sieve. He was trying to explain to her why he might not be around much longer.

Death had loitered, preparing for the take.

The daughter said, ‘You go if you want. I’m going to live for ever.’

Then the sick father had done that thing humans sometimes do at critical moments: laughed and cried simultaneously.

Death had taken the father anyway. In time he’d take the daughter. Nemesis, he thought now, you can fuck right off. I just do what I do. I’m not superstitious.

But he was, really.

Reader: Yolanda Mitchell
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Piano: Kit Downes
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