A Matter of Life and Death
by James Beamon
When Death asked Life to lunch, she should have known something grim was behind it. But the call of enjoying stolen moments with her husband was too strong to resist. And if all else failed, Death had her with his winning smile.
They sat in a corner bistro. It was trendy. Life loved it. Death wasn’t so much a fan of the decor, but the finger sandwiches were to die for. He had compromised for the occasion.
Life was talking about her day, the beautiful faces of babies that he should have been there to see. Death let her talk. His back was to the door but he heard the door chimes. She looked up and stumbled in mid-sentence. She looked away from the door, from the man that had entered, and refocused on her husband. It was enough to confirm his suspicions. His anger was cold.
He looked at her with hollow eyes. “Problem?”
“No… no, dear.”
“What were you saying? About the baby with the freckles?”
She continued her story, but it had lost its mirth. Now it dragged itself across the table, like a wounded animal, to some fuzzy finish line that even the story teller couldn’t place. Once it found that line, it would die and a new era of silence would usher in. Right now, it still dragged.
Death looked at the man while his wife talked of babies and freckles. He was the perfection Renaissance sculptors strived for in their marble. Breathing, smiling, ordering a venti white chocolate mochachino (no whip) life-imitating-art perfection. Death knew his name; it was Lars.
Life saw where Death’s gaze was and stopped talking about babies. “You planned for him to be here.”
“He loves you,” said Death.
“Everyone loves me,” said Life.
“Everyone knows you. And some tell themselves they love you. But no, he loves you.”
“You’re being jealous.”
“Am I?” He blew Lars a kiss.
Lars made the universal sign for choking. His chiseled face twisted in shock as an errant piece of biscotti lodged itself into his windpipe. He knocked over table and chair, the commotion his only voice to direct aid to his plight.
Life cut her eyes at her husband. “Why would you do this?”
Death shrugged. “He is no exception. Or did you think he would always be yours to enjoy and never mine to take?”
The manager rushed over, got behind Lars and started giving him Heimlich hugs. Death always thought that position was quite gay.
“And that, dear,” Death said, pointing to the marked man as the near-fatal biscotti erupted from his mouth. “Why would you do that?”
“He wasn’t done with me yet.”
“Is it him that’s not done?”
“He loves me.”
“Everyone loves you, remember? You won’t miss him.”
An armed robber burst through the door, fired off two rounds into Lars, grabbed the manager by the collar in the middle of his life saving celebration and pulled him over to the register.
Life had stopped paying heed to the robber while he filled his pockets with register cash. Her icy dagger looks were reserved for Death. They let him know this wasn’t the sweet Life he was used to. And Death was momentarily rueful of his actions. Momentarily… she was the one who made him act this way. Still, Death knew her well, and when she was like this Life was a bitch.
“You are really too much,” she said. “He has a zest for me. An appreciation for me that you’ve always lacked. I won’t let you make me feel bad because I like being appreciated.”
A cop burst in and called for EMS. He started doing expert life saving procedures and brought Lars to a weak but somehow stable condition.
Life’s ire rose with Lars’ pulse. “You don’t see me bringing up all the people you rattle. Or the ones you let linger by your door. Let me guess, you’re just enjoying your work?”
“This isn’t about me. No one’s consumed with me. I’ve seen the way he looks at you. And I’ve seen the way you favor him. Which makes him love you even more. I won’t stand for it.”
The town’s first earthquake on record hit with ferocity. None of the buildings were up to earthquake codes. Many roofs fell, but the one Life was most concerned with was the large chunk of roof that fell on both cop and Lars.
Death had put his hands over his cup. No dust had gotten in. However, his finger sandwiches had grit in them.
His nonchalance sent Life reeling. She threw her plate at him, which was mostly empty save the sliced lemon garnish. He dodged the plate but caught Life’s lemons square on the jaw.
“You won’t stand for it?” she asked. “No one’s consumed with you? I’ve seen people obsess over you. So don’t you sit there pretending to be all innocent.”
The chunk of collapsed roof split. Lars crawled out, panting, scraped up, white as a ghost from ceiling dust and effort.
“You can’t have him!” Life said with emphatic passion.
The building next door exploded due to a gas line ruptured by the earthquake. It set Lars on fire and blew him through a brick wall.
Meanwhile, Death was busy peeling her lemons from his face and dropping them into his glass of water.
“You. Can’t. Stop. Me.” Death stated with cold rigidity.
Lars stumbled through the brick wall. He was still breathing, still on fire.
Life glared at Death. Death stared back.
Lars stopped breathing. He kept on moving.
Neither Life nor Death would compromise.
Lars lived. Lars was quite dead. He retained his overwhelming taste for Life. Still, mind and body were doomed to rot to Death. In single-minded focus, he ambled off, hungry to spread his contagious taste to others.
The story behind the story: I don’t recall why I wrote it. And while I still believe the story is sellable to somebody somewhere, it’s reached the end of its life-cycle as far as I’m concerned. I’ve shopped it around to over a dozen places, and the few comments I’ve received on it are positive but not enough to make a payday. Character driven fiction is way more marketable, and this is more of an Idea and Event story than anything else. Life and Death as personifications don’t grow all that much… Lars doesn’t grow at all. One editor suggested I make Lars more three-dimensional, personable and human. I’m of the mind to think it’s better this way… he reads like an object because Lars, like all humans, is objectified by these two powerful, nonhuman aspects of existence. I couldn’t write Lars as human because neither Life nor Death can truly see humanity for what it is. At least that’s my take on it… my hope is that you all enjoy!