Death spoke to me through the whiteness. First red, then white, then Death.
He didn’t wear a cape or wield a scythe when he came to reap the early crop. He didn’t hold an hourglass as the last grains of sand fell.
There was no tome before him, and he held no quill made from the feather of a swan or a crow, no indelible ink to record my deeds and my fate. He wasn’t a jackal-headed man, not an animal of any description.
There was no boat, and no river, and no need for the payment of a golden coin.
I did have a coin, though. It was golden, too – but not gold. I reached into my pocket and pulled it out, and then another. A dollar and twenty cents, one gold coin and one silver.
And Death spoke.
“You won’t be needing that.”
I ran my thumb along the edge of the silver coin. My other hand wandered to my throat, and I became aware of the wholeness of my body. I blinked.
“There was blood in my eyes,” I said.
Death said nothing.
“I don’t know what happened, exactly,” I said, “but I couldn’t talk. I tried to, but I couldn’t, even when they asked me.”
“They asked you your name,” said Death.
“Then tell me, now.”
I paused, and considered. “Including my middle name? I was never sure about that – I don’t use it.”
“What would you have told the paramedics?”
“Sam. Sam Oliver.”
“And what else,” Death continued, “did they ask you?”
“If I could hear them. And if I could hear them, they wanted me to squeeze my hand.” I clenched my hand into a fist, and was reminded of the coins I held.
Death was silent as I held up one, and then the other, so I could see them.
The gold coin, the one dollar, was minted in 1990. The twenty-cent, 2016. There was nothing commemorative about them apart from that. On the tails side were kangaroos, a platypus. Ordinary coins, my change from that morning’s latte. I liked it strong, and hot.
I turned the coins over, to see the face of the queen as she aged.
“Outlived me, in the end,” I said. “I thought at least I’d live to see King Charles.”
Death said nothing.
I ran my thumb over the coins once more, put them to my nose, inhaled the metallic odour, then dropped them back into the pocket of my jeans. My fingertips brushed something else in there.
“Neither will that be necessary,” said Death, as I regarded my keychain.
There were keys, of course, though far outnumbered by trinkets. A pendant with the word ‘love’ engraved on it. A string from a friend. Another keychain attached to the first. My blood type on a bauble.
“Useful, no?” I said. Before Death could say nothing again, I cut him off. “And how am I speaking and feeling? It seemed logical before I died that I would lose all that.”
“Do you find logic in your death?”
Death did not hurry to prompt me, so I thought some more.
“Maybe,” I said. “Maybe, if I could remember. It’s a cliché, but it really did go very fast. Quickly. I must have been in an accident on the bike. That’s what they said: ‘You’ve been in an accident.’ Truck, car, pedestrian, another bike. One of those. And it must be logical that I went that way; everybody else does, just about, if the cancer or the heart disease doesn’t get them first. Or the malaria… I did always like to think I’d go in my sleep, painlessly.”
I waited for Death to chime in, but he didn’t.
“It wasn’t so bad in the end,” I reflected. “The pain… well, anyway, I must have gone into shock. Or maybe lost too much blood. I felt myself losing consciousness, and all I could express was release.”
“Not fear?” said Death.
“Not then. Only release, then.”
“Yes,” said Death. “Release. But from what?”
“Everyone I loved and hated, everything that made me indifferent and ignorant.”
Death’s voice did not signify approval or disdain. In response, he only said:
“And did you not feel an injustice was done to you?”
I took a deep breath in. Blinked. Looked hard at the whiteness all around me for the first time.
“I had a lifetime. Whining about it won’t fix anything.”
And Death chuckled.
“So,” he said. “What happens next?”
I put my keys back in my pocket and cracked my knuckles. I said nothing.
The face of Death is not as you would imagine. Not because it is surprising, but because it is unimaginable. It is not the face of a man or a god, not kindly or stern, not ancient or innocent.
It is blank, coarse with suffering and softened in tranquillity. Looking into his face is the same as hearing his voice, which has no timbre or tone.
He is not a herdsman or a harvester, he carries no crook or set of scales. He does not weigh your heart against a feather. He accepts no gold for the ferry-ride.
And if there is a river, it is lost in the field of whiteness.