The Reaper Makes a House Call

Five years ago I wrote an article that was deleted from the archives. At the time, I lived in the Midwest, and was the picture of perfect health. Since moving to the Southwest a year and a half ago, little annoying things have been happening to (indestructible) me: sporadic pains in the back and hip, a dislocated knee, “slow” eyes, thinning hair—incidents I never had to deal with before. I remain active athletically, but my performance is definitely off. With that in mind, here is that essay from…

June 13, 2012…

About a month or so ago, I retired to my basement bar, a bar as welcoming as most downtown taverns with respect to ambiance and selection. I happened to be in a rather depressed state of mind, which is quite unusual for me. The mood demanded a strong adult beverage, some light classical music (Bizet), and poetry. I wrote an article about what happened that day entitled, “A Conversation with the Devil” (www.amazines.com articleid=4561450). As you’ll recall the unexpected visitor from Hades looked nothing like I expected. He congratulated me on my (bad) conduct, and encouraged me to keep it up. Since then, I’ve been trying mightily to change my behavior to discourage another such visit. Unfortunately, my short attention span often gets the best of me, and I lapse back into old habits.

Today, after a run, a long bicycle ride, and a martini stop at Woody’s, I returned to the “scene” to reflect on the day; tried to remember if there was something I forgot to do, and fixed a nice refreshing beverage to relax. On the aforementioned fateful day, the libation was vodka tonic, which was the precursor of the appearance of my unwelcomed visitor. Just for that I changed it up, and mixed a Margarita from scratch, put on June Christy, and opened “The Prague Cemetery” by Umberto Eco. I glanced at the wing chair to my right—the one where Martin Luther’s old bitter foe sat—and was relieved to find it empty. As I read, I got a kick out of the antics of the Italian and French governments and church nobles during the latter 19th Century. Eco’s descriptions were masterful. The “blame game”, typical of humans especially in politics, was in high gear. Everything wrong with civilization was attributed to Freemasons, Jesuits (“Masons who dress like women”), and Jews.

As usual, the smoky voice of June Christy combined with alcohol and reading caused me to start nodding off. Just before I did, a pleasant voice, neither loud nor intrusive, snapped me wide awake. I didn’t see anyone or anything. Did I imagine the voice?

“Hey, mortal man, over here.” The voice was behind me.

Sitting on a barstool was a young person of indeterminate sex. He/she was wearing a light-colored jump suit, and an Ernest Hemmingway style fishing cap with some kind of symbol. I felt quite comfortable in his (I’ll use a masculine reference) presence, and he smelled like freshly baked apple pie.

“That’s a relief,” I said, “I was afraid you were the guy I met last time, but you have the advantage. I’m afraid I don’t know you.”

“Well, let’s get acquainted then, shall we? Your drink looks good. Do you suppose I could have one?” The voice was clear and pleasant. It sounded male, but maybe that was because that’s the way I wanted to hear it.

“Of course. Please excuse my manners, but you can’t blame me for being startled what with unexpected visitors popping in at will.” I rose, walked behind the bar, and began filling a cocktail shaker with the ingredients—tequila, lime juice, and Triple Sec. I strained the drink into a salt-rimmed martini glass, and sat it before him. He took a small sip, smiled, and nodded his appreciation.

‘Excellent. Nobody makes a REAL Margarita anymore—only those fake production line restaurant versions.”

“I know. I suppose fresh lime juice quality is too variable for the mass quantities required in a regular tavern. But me? I’m a purist when it comes to mixology.” I paused, and he kept smiling back, offering nothing. “And you are..?”

His smile was engaging. “Put it this way: I’m the last image you’ll see before departing and entering another dimension. I was there when your father passed on. Do you recall?”

I looked at him sideways and nodded slowly. “Dad went with a grin; asked someone to hug him. That was you?”

He nodded. “Another was near me as well—your mother. The lesson I hope you learned is that the unavoidable biological event is joyous, not melancholy.”

I took a swig of my cocktail, looked past him, and thought for a moment. “You know, I watched a Science Channel program where they talked about near death experiences—those unusual times when a person dies clinically then returns. Turns out, they’re never afraid again. But, my Margarita-drinking hallucination, it turns out when the brain is deprived of oxygen it releases memories and something like a white light appears. The brain is merely shutting down giving us a feeling of euphoria, but it’s an illusion. Remember when three those Soviet cosmonauts returned dead because they lost oxygen? Each had a serene look on his face.”

“I assure you I am real enough. I may not carry a scythe and wear a black-hooded robe, but I am THE END. Jim Morrison sang about me; called me an old friend.” He finished his drink, and pointed at his empty glass. I made another batch. “But I can tell you fear me. Is that why you exercise so frequently, and watch your diet? Do you think that will help you live longer?”

I sat the drinks before us. “Well, that’s a possible—no, probable—outcome, but that’s not my sole purpose. I do it for how I feel in the present, which is basically the same as forty years ago. Only thing is when I nick something—get an injury—it takes a lot longer to bounce back.”

reaper

He nodded thoughtfully. “Think of it this way; good health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die, barring unexpected events. However, you never know what’s percolating away on the inside.” He took a big gulp of his Margarita. “Damn, that’s good.”

“That’s true…” I didn’t tell him every time I get an unexpected pain or ache I start conjuring up the worst. “But I like to take good care of my things—I’m a good steward—and that includes my body.”

He looked me in the eye and nodded. “And that’s noble, but consider this: you health nuts are going to feel a bit disappointed someday lying on your backs, with loved ones crying in the corner, and you dying of nothing.” He laughed like the thought stuck him as funny.

“Except it won’t be nothing. It’ll be the result of a chain reaction of falling dominoes—to complete the metaphor.”

“Exactly! There’s always something. All living things complete a cycle. The moment of your birth, you were spanked into death; your inevitable appointment with me.”

“Well, I have a different plan.” I gave him a look to convey I wasn’t serious. “See, I plan to live forever. So far, so good.”

He winked at me. “You can, you know.”

“Live forever?”

“Right, it’s simply a question of faith.”

I avoided his eyes. “Yeah, but I don’t know if I want to walk around in a robe; and I don’t like singing in a choir.” I heard the tink of an empty glass being set on the bar, and I turned to mix another batch of Margaritas. “You know, the Mormons claim there are three levels of heaven, and in Islam they say there are seven; hence the term seventh heaven.”

There was a period of silence, maybe five seconds, while I shook the drinks then he said quietly, “I’ll be seeing you.”

“When?” I was afraid to hear his answer. When I turned to face him, there was only an empty glass.

Copyright 2012 by Gene Myers

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