Winnower

by Jonah

That was the first time she saw Death.

At first all she glimpsed was a passing shadow, out of the corner of her eye; then she realized there was nothing to cast shade.  He was walking (gliding?) along the tiles down the 4th floor corridor toward the elevators.  What kind of security did this hospital have to let someone with a giant sickle just wander around the halls?

She saw him again a few times after that, usually coming from the Emergency Department, though once it looked like he was headed toward Maternity.  She understood pretty quickly that everyone around him couldn’t see him.

Everyone but her.

Then on Tuesday he entered her father’s room. She stood up from the bedside chair where she’d been reading out loud to the unconscious man in the bed. Death seemed to pause at the door.  She stepped between Death and her dad’s bed, defiantly standing between the two.

“No,” she said.  

The machines attached to her father continued their rhythmic beeping and whooshing sounds.

Death turned and seemed to peer behind himself.

“It isn’t his time,” she insisted, her hands gripped into fists.

Death turned back to her.  “Oh,” he spoke, his voice causing her spine to shiver involuntarily. “You can perceive me.  That happens sometimes.”

“You can’t take him,” her voice broke. “He just retired.”

Death propped his scythe against the door jamb and dragged back his hood.  She tried to suppress a gasp. And yet his eyes looked surprisingly soft, sorrowful.  

Death seemed to exhale, releasing an airless sigh. “Your father will be diagnosed with dementia next year. That is after he becomes lost on his way home from the hardware store and hits a child on a bicycle with his pickup… the old one he restored. You’ll move in to care for him, leaving the man who has loved you more than any other, except your own father. Your father’s mind will dissolve quickly, and the cheerful, kind, confident man you, and so many others, love will be replaced with someone perpetually confused, paranoid, and angry, though he will not know why. Every day will be a battle to bathe, clothe, and feed him. He will be miserable, as will you.  And yet his body will endure.

“This will go on for years.”

“It isn’t fair,” she managed to whisper.

“No,” said Death.  

“Death is never fair.”

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