Emily Powell is a Junior English major at Pacific Lutheran University, when she’s not muddling through writer’s block or scribbling incomprehensible notes to herself she enjoys horseback riding, drawing, and spending time with her St. Bernard Tobi.
Meeting Death For Coffee
People say Death comes for you. I now know better. Death is gifted you. She unwraps you with careful fingers, smiles and says; ‘Yes this one, they’re perfect, I do like them.’
Death is a woman. At least she is when you look at her straight on. Catch her out of the corner of your eye and she is something else entirely, she is a symphony crescendoing towards its climax. She is the expanse of the sky, the sea, and the earth all at once. She is nothing, the breath between notes when the entire music hall falls still, and she is everything brighter than the sun with wings made of pieces of void that stretch so high they touch the stars. She may sigh and stretch and with that stretch her fingertips will graze the center of the Earth.
I met Death in a coffee shop, introduced by what I thought was a mutual friend. I hadn’t known Isaiah for very long but I’d see them in the hospital sometimes. They seemed as quiet as I did and we were content to spend a few hours in each other’s company, listening to music on the opposite sides of the room.
Isaiah was nice enough, once you got over the fact that their speech was a little archaic. A bit overly formal and they paused in strange places as if struggling to find very simple words. I had asked them once if they’d learned English as a second language, then immediately felt bad about it for the rest of the week. They hadn’t seemed too put off however, merely laughed and waved me away.
I was too flustered to notice they never gave me an answer. But, my mishaps aside, a few months into the friendship I considered us to be rather close. I’d never been any good at making friends, and after everything I just hadn’t seen the point anymore, but Isaiah had managed to slip past those barriers. Then one day they’d mentioned offhandedly (in whatever way their strange style of speech could be considered offhanded) that they had a friend who would be perfect for me. There’d been no mention of a date, or time, or a ‘you should really get out more’ but I had assumed they were implied. That was the exact phrasing they’d used “I have a friend that is perfect for you.”
I don’t know why I accepted, I had accepted that romance was over for me. Instruments down, lights out, but I agreed.
There’d been something heavy in Isaiah’s eyes that day, they were usually so light, clear water on a spring day, now they seemed like storm clouds; foreboding and final.
I met Death in a coffee shop, she was sitting in a corner, perched awkwardly on a lumpy arm chair with fake leather upholstery that was peeling away from the cushion. Her pale hands cradled a coffee cup like it was something precious, the steam curling up in strange whorling patterns around her face. She turned towards the door as I walked in and for a moment I didn’t notice anything odd about her, just a beautiful woman fidgeting nervously in a corner.
I like to think she was nervous, I was nervous. Looking back on it maybe I suspected something, the jangle of the bell felt like the final note of a piece echoing through a silent music hall. And something in my bones felt heavier, I pretended it was just the nerves.
Death looked up then, and smiled. I think that’s when I began to notice it, when she smiled the lights in the cafe brightened around her as if the whole world was smiling with her. There was something in her shadow, I only caught it for a second, but it looked like two great wings unfurling but then I blinked and they were gone.
“Mara!” She called, her voice was soft, barely above a whisper but it carried through the entire room, up and over the low chatter of the crowd. She waved me over, a single strand of hair falling into her face so dark it almost seemed blue.
“Hello,” I tried for a smile, my hands shaking. I was suddenly, painfully aware of the way my collar bone had become more and more prominent over the past months. The way my hair had thinned, I’ve tried to hide it. Not well enough. She was so beautiful, and I was nearly skeletal in comparison. She was a concerto, I had been reduced to nothing but a set of scales played clumsily by a child who hadn’t yet learned their instrument.
It wasn’t fair.
Death pulled out my chair, her fingers brushing my shoulders for just the barest moment. They leave a phantom sense of warmth behind her. My favorite drink was in front of me, I had not ordered it. Earl Grey tea with cream and lavender syrup. I took a sip and it was perfect.
“Do you like it?” Her voice was still so soft, but it held none of the pity I’d come to expect from soft words. “I tried to remember your order, but I have so many – I do get them wrong sometimes.” She looked embarrassed, spots of color appearing on her cheeks. I couldn’t help but notice the color was wrong somehow, there were too many shades of blue in the pinkness of her cheeks and the effect nearly colored her face purple.
It didn’t look bad. It wasn’t like a bruise. It was just off, an inexperienced painter mixing their colors wrong.
“Perfect,” I admitted. “How did you know, did Isaiah tell you?” I had thought he must’ve, the meddling thing.
She’d looked at me curiously then. No, not at me. Through me, it was like she was seeing right into my heart. “Isaiah,” she hummed as if she couldn’t quite place the name, then her expression turned fond. “Oh, is that what they’re going by now? I’ll have to check in on them. But no, they didn’t tell me. Small comforts are good in times like these, yes?”
Times like these.
“Times like what?” I asked, voice dazed.
She shifted, uncomfortably. “Oh, you know…” A shake of her head, more of that blue-black hair falling into her face. “Tell me about yourself, what do you want?”
I had supposed that was a normal date question, but; times like these -it made me uneasy. And I hadn’t thought about what I wanted for such a long time. “A dog, I’ve always wanted a big dog, and to play my violin again. I used to play for a community orchestra before-”
“Before your illness?”
She’d raised an eyebrow at me and the shadows had danced behind her like black flames. “I can do dogs, I have many in my care -I’m sure we could find one you’d like.” She reached across the table to take my hand, her fingers were as cold as…
I met Death in a coffee shop and she offered me a dog.
I met Death in a coffee shop and she was kind.
I met Death in a coffee shop and this wasn’t fair.
I met Death in a coffee shop and I ran.
I’d spun on my heel, gritting my teeth against the heaviness in my bones and ignoring the way she called out after me, like I was breaking her heart. I spun towards where I knew the exit should be, just past the coffee bar.
Nothing. Nothing but that bell, still suspended in the ether, chiming merrily to announce the entrance of phantom customers. Nothing except, standing there in the churning swirls of mist and shadow there was a man. At least, I thought he was a man. Looking at him out of the corner of my eye he looked more like the sun than anything, so bright he burned.
I blinked to clear my vision, scrambling desperately towards this man -my imagined savior. He came into focus and there with his dark skin and bright eyes and that stupid white suit I’d always given him shit over was Isaiah.
“I take it you disapprove of my skills as a matchmaker?” He raised an eyebrow, he was making a joke. He had led me straight to Death and he was making a joke.
“Hello Life my dear,” It wasn’t my voice. Death was standing behind me, her hand on my shoulder. “Be nice.”
Life, life, life. Yes.
Isaiah looked at me. “You’re terribly frightened aren’t you?” He seemed confused.
“Yes, please.” It came out a pathetic whimper.
“Hm, I’d thought…you were in so much pain when you were in my care, are you sure you want to go back?”
I glanced over my shoulder at Death who gave me a very kind, very sad smile. “I get accused of being cruel but out of the two of us I’m the gentlest.”
Isaiah shrugged, one shouldered like he couldn’t care less about this conversation, this gamble for my life. “I’m not fair, I have never claimed to be dear. But I will give you a sporting chance if you want to come back.”
The bell continued to chime merrily, piercing the air between us.
Death seemed sweet and calm and gentle, I could stay with her and be safe. But Isaiah offered change and chances and music, that community orchestra- more than that. I had never thought of more.
I took Isaiah’s hand, it felt warm.
I met Death in a coffee shop, introduced by a mutual friend. And, years later, after a long battle with illness, and a longer, happier Life, I went back to that coffee shop and let Death buy me another drink and walk me home, the largest dog I’d ever seen trailing at her heel.