The field is empty save for a lone weeping willow tree in the middle of it, surrounded by an endless sea of tall grass. The grass bends and bows with the wind, like the ebb and flow of the ocean pulled by the moon.
She stands alone. Something drives her to head toward the tree. The tall grass tickles her sides as she walks and she runs her hands over them, feeling them glide through her fingers like the time she tried desperately to hold on to.
As she nears the tree, she notices a figure sitting in the shade. The figure seems to be wearing a dark robe, the hood pulled over its head and casting a deep shadow across its face. She doesn’t see it nor know its gender, but she knows that it is Death.
“Hello,” she greets Death when she is closer.
“Hello,” Death greets her. It moves to put away its scythe so that she can sit down beside it.
“How are you?” she asks.
“More or less the same since we last met,” Death replies.
“Have we met?”
“Yes, we have,” Death says, “but you do not remember.”
She settles next to it and leans back against the bark of the tree. It is a rather nice day, wherever they are. She looks out into the distance and sees nothing in the horizon. “I’m sorry,” she says.
“It’s alright,” Death says. “It’s not your fault.”
“Will this be the last time I meet you?”
“I hope so,” Death says. “You give me quite the headache.”
“You can get headaches?”
“I know, right?” Death says, sounding rather amused. “I didn’t know I could get them until I met you.”
She laughs a merry sound that does not fit this painting at all. “You’re funny,” she says finally.
“I’ve been told.”
“By you,” Death says.
She rests her head against the tree trunk, a content smile forming on her face. The wind is like a gentle caress on her cheek, a mother’s comforting touch on her child’s weeping face.
“Am I dead?”
Death lets out a laugh. She didn’t think it was able to laugh, but perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that Death seems to be amused by her.
“Hardly,” Death says. It seems to be contemplating something. She wants to ask but feels as though it is not her place.
“You have always been one tough cookie,” Death continues. It takes out a piece of paper. It is written in a language she cannot read. “Seventeen near-death experiences,” Death reads out. “You’re somewhat of a legend.”
She smiles wickedly, all pearly whites. “What can I say? I don’t go down without a fight.”
“You clearly don’t,” Death says. “You pick all your fights, as well.”
“Damn right, I do,” she says. “No one messes with me.”
“No, but you mess with them.”
She ignores that. “Have I had one of those near-death experiences just now?”
“No,” it replies.
She turns to look at it but Death doesn’t seem to want to elaborate. It sits there, empty eye sockets focused on something in the distance. Maybe it’s something that she couldn’t see, or maybe it’s something that she’s not allowed to see. She lowers her gaze and decides to look at the dirt instead. There are no ants here, nor are there any other kinds of bugs.
“Where are we?” she asks Death.
“We are where you want to be,” Death replies.
She doesn’t remember this place but she takes its word for it.
“It’s nice here,” Death says,
“Yes,” she replies. “I like it here very much.”
“You should. You made it.”
“Yes, last time you were here, you asked if I could redecorate.”
“You must be terrible at interior design if I had to say it.”
“Yes,” Death says, “you said that as well.”
“So you let me redecorate?”
“That’s nice of you.”
“Is that surprising?”
“Considering your job? Yeah.”
“I see,” Death says. She feels like, if it had flesh on its face, it would be making a face.
“Is that offensive?” she asks.
“Well, I don’t think it should be,” it says. “I think I’m just not used to it.”
“Oh,” she says. “I didn’t know. Are you… new? To the job, I mean. Is that how Death works?”
“Sort of,” it says, perhaps a little reluctantly. “I’ve only been Death for three years.”
“Huh,” she huffs. “Intern.”
“What was that?”
“Nothing. Do you have a boss?”
“No,” Death says. “I’m the boss.”
“Kind of a high position for someone who’s only been on the job for three years.”
Death makes a huffing noise. It sounds like it’s sighing fondly through its nose if it had one. “I see you haven’t changed one bit,” it says.
She turns to look at it and wonders if she is supposed to know what that meant.
It still does not face her. All Death does is focus its gaze at the horizon.
She wonders why it does not face her. She leans closer to pressure it to formally address and acknowledge her but it does not seem to respond in a way she likes.
“What’s wrong with you?” she asks. “You’re being rather rude.”
“I’m sorry,” it says. “It’s just hard to do this. It doesn’t get easier.”
“What? Being Death? To reap the souls that must be reaped? You’re the reaper, sir, you must do your job.”
“No,” Death says. “You’re not dead. This is not the afterlife.”
“Then what are you here for?”
“A conversation, perhaps,” Death says after a while.
“Well, you’re not doing a very good job at that either. Maybe you should fulfill at least one of the things you’re supposed to do so that we can move on.” She shakes her head and mutters underneath her breath, “Who died and made you boss?”
Death shakes its head too. Somehow that reminds her of someone she knows.
“Bea,” Death says. “The fire you carry now warms you, but it will leave you shivering in your grave.”
Beatrice looks at Death and wonders what it could mean. A familiar feeling bubbles in her chest. It’s not the same feeling of anger she gets when someone irrelevant butts into her business, it’s something more warming – something that tells her she should listen to what it has to say.
She blinks and then she remembers what happened three years ago.
“I loved your passion, your fury, your flame,” Death says, “but it’s standing in your way now. It burns too brightly.”
“It’s because you died, Dee,” Beatrice says.
“It’s no one’s fault,” Dallas replies.
“It’s the world’s fault,” Bea says bitterly.
“Bea,” Death warns.
“Why are you here now?” Beatrice asks.
“To advise you,” Dallas says. “You should have died the first time.”
Beatrice scoffs and she knows. “Near-death experiences,” she scoffs. “Of course.”
“You can’t throw away your life like that. You have so much to live for.”
“That’s not for you to decide, Dallas,” Beatrice says. “The moment you died is the moment my life is over. There’s nothing to live for anymore when you’re not around.”
“I am around now,” Dallas says. “Don’t be so reckless, Bea, there’s more to life than just me.”
Beatrice realizes now why Death does not turn to look at her. She does not have the strength to look at Death either, knowing that when she gazes upon it, it will not hold the familiar face of Dallas, her love.
“Let it go, Bea,” Dallas says. “I took this job so that I can be with you when the time comes.”
Bea opens her mouth to say something but Death raises a hand to stop her. “There is a time,” Death says, “but the time is not now, neither was it the last seventeen times. You mustn’t push your limit, Bea. Let the time come as it is supposed to be. Let go of your hatred and let something else fuel you.”
She has nothing left to say. She feels as though her breath has been knocked straight out of her lungs and then she is falling backward. The wicked weeping willow is no more and she falls into the void where its trunk once was, deeper and deeper into the void.
The next time she opens her eyes, she is resting on her desk. She sits up rapidly, her head complaining and spinning, and she swipes the empty bottle of sleeping pills on to the ground.
“Let it go, Bea,” she hears Dallas’s voice swimming inside her head. She turns to look at a framed picture of the two of them on the desk, smiling so happily. She wishes Dallas was still here. “Let it go, Bea. Let it go.”
She lets it go.