9th September

Death in the Café

Death was enjoying a cup of tea and a bacon roll in a self-service café one morning, minding his own business. In order not to draw attention to himself he had left his scythe in a secure place nearby, and had pulled his hood back from his head. Nevertheless he was aware that he was getting some odd looks and that, although the café was busy, people were avoiding his table.

He stared out of the window at the passing traffic and pedestrians. Cyclists dodged in and out of lorries and buses. Kids failed to look both ways as they crossed the street. Old dears, no doubt with brittle bones and chest infections, crept along the slippery pavement. Sometimes his presence hardly seemed necessary. But that was the old conundrum: if Death wasn’t around, would death be around?

He realised that someone had sat down opposite him: a man with a cup of tea and a bacon roll. Death looked at him. The man looked back. He didn’t seem wary as the other customers were.

‘All right?’ the man said.

‘Fine, thanks,’ Death replied.

‘Best bacon rolls in town,’ the man said, and took a bite. He chewed and swallowed, took a mouthful of tea. ‘I know your face,’ he said.

‘I don’t think so.’

‘You don’t work up at the hospital, do you?’


‘I’m not long out. Big operation. Wasn’t expected to pull through. Surprised them all.’ He took another bite of his roll, another swig of tea. ‘That’s it. That’s who you look like.’


‘My surgeon. Brilliant man, if a bit gloomy. Saw me before the op, saw me afterwards. Admitted he’d thought my chances were slim. But he went ahead and did it and here I am. Just shows you, eh? And you’re his double. Your eyes. I remember just before I went under, him and the anaesthetist leaning over me. Your eyes and his eyes: identical. You haven’t got a twin brother who’s a surgeon, have you?’

Death got up to go. ‘As a matter of fact, I have,’ he said. He smiled at this man taking such pleasure in his breakfast. ‘But we are not on speaking terms.’

Reader: Tam Dean Burn
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Harmonium: Kit Downes
Subscribe here for more stories & music