They had fought before. All they did lately was fight. It had become commonplace, part of the daily routine. But that fight was glorious–the coup de grace, if you will. It rained for four days afterwards. Twenty hours after the storm’s end, she’ll get a call. Three days later the first shovel of earth will fall. Sometime in the near future a young boy will run away from home. But none of that is as important as the fight, one that belongs in the annals of history.
“I don’t care about your work,” a woman shouted, “you’re never home anymore! Bobby needs his father, and I need my husband. You just stroll in after we’ve both gone to bed, and leave before we wake up. You’re insensitive, Sam! Are you cheating on me or something?!”
“That’s ridiculous! I would never do such a thing!” the man shouted back. “I love you Sally, I always have. Work has just been crazy lately.”
“Something’s got to give then Sam, I’m tired of this life. I didn’t sign up for a life of loneliness.”
“I’m doing the best I can, Sally. The bills aren’t going to pay for themselves. You’re acting just like your mother!”
The woman reached for the nearest object and tossed a lamp at the man. It sailed past the man’s right ear, shattering on the front door. “You’re an asshole! I don’t know why I married you!”
I contained a chuckle as I watched the man flinch, jaw agape. “You threw a lamp?!” he shouted back, “screw you, I’m out of here!”
“I wish you were dead!” The woman spat.
“Careful what you wish for,” the man snarled.
I smiled. No one noticed.
Children wishing death upon a parent is laughable, an attempt at rebellion from an immature soul. Asking for death to come to the sick or elderly can sometimes be a prayer, a wish of kindness for a tired soul. When that phrase is uttered between lovers, though, that’s when Fate steps in, and I’m always ready for a challenge. It takes a lot to get to the point of wishing Death on someone. It changes you inside. It’s my job to hang around and try to force an internal change and prevent a regrettable future. Most times, the cursed life has already been snuffed out by the Guy with the sickle, but a whole lot of problems in the future can be avoided with a single realization. Uttering those five little words ‘seals Fate,’ if you will, but per an agreement made before the Earth was fully formed, I have to try to rectify the internal consequences of cursing the life of your lover.
The man grabbed his keys and stormed out the door. A perfectly timed crack of thunder synchronized with the sound of the door pounding against the frame. She watched from the window as he grabbed his door handle. Tears streamed from the corner of her eye. Outside, the skies opened up, spilling its contents on the earth below. The man drove off in the sudden thunderstorm, his dark blue coupe blurring into obscurity the farther it got from its home. In an hour, the man would get tired of driving in circles, waiting off his anger, and pull into a relatively empty lot to sleep for the night. But for now, the woman standing by the window swiped her hands past moist cheekbones. I watched her jaw suddenly harden, and cracked my knuckles: she was going to be tough. The night ended in a spectacular light show as an emotion-filled deluge continued to fall outside of her four walls.
Morning seemed to come quickly to the iron statue of a woman. I took a chance hanging out this early in the day as there really aren’t any dark corners to conceal myself in, but I had invested a millennia setting this up, there was no way I was going to miss out. Outside, it was still raining, even though no tears fell from the woman, her jaw set hard in place, cheekbones clenched.
I found a nice place to camp out in the foyer as the woman headed for a shower. A small boy ran past, running from room to room as if he had lost someone. The word, “Daddy?” faintly trembled from his lips as he briefly paused at each entryway.
Eight hours ago, the same face, partially concealed by railing spindles, spied a vicious exchange. Ghostly features illuminated by a faint night light sunk as the door slammed. A lightning strike revealed a little red nose and wet cheeks. Now that face had a body, and the child as a whole looked deflated. It truly is a shame when children are involved, their innocence is a blessing, a veil covering their fragile eyes from the ugliness around them, but I had a job to do, and the kid would just have to come along for the ride. The child slumped into a chair and buried his head in his arms.
“Yeah, that prick just left!” The woman spoke into a mobile device while coming down the stairs. “I’m tired of always being last priority! I don’t care if he’s swamped at work, Phyllis, we’re his family! We should come first!” She froze in place upon entering the kitchen. “I’ll have to call you back, I need to get Bobby ready for school.”
Awkward Breakfast ensued. I watched the woman try to balance the emotions of hatred towards her husband and sympathy towards her child. She burned the toast and dropped a plastic cup on the floor. All in all, she held it together pretty well. The child seemed to be her best path to curse retraction, but only time would tell. I made my way to the garage and got a front row seat for the upcoming car ride. I wish I was capable of eating popcorn–this was sure to be an amazing start to a perfect plan.
Driving through the dreary downpour of a day made visibility difficult for the poor woman, and her wipers worked overtime to keep up. You would think that after all of this time, I would have no connections to the people I’m left to handle, but it’s tough to not connect with all of the emotion, even for an immortal. I’m not saying I feel bad, but loss of life is kind of a waste.
“Mom, is Daddy coming home after work today?” the trembling child’s face asked as we neared ‘the prick’s’ place of employment.
“I don’t know Bobby, Daddy has been pretty buried at work. The factory just landed some pretty big accounts. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Off to the right side of the car stood two figures draped in yellow, an attempt to stay dry during their task outside. Ten minutes ago, the sign between them read:
SAFETY IS OUR BUSINESS
DAYS SINCE LAST ACCIDENT:
The woman glanced past me at the men resembling two oversized ducks and watched as they affixed a zero in place of the previous number. I watched her eyebrows lift as if triggering a thought, and then her eyes opened wide but quickly settled back into noncompliance. She’s difficult, but I’m experienced.. Good thing her phone would ring in seven minutes.
We arrived at the boy’s educational facility in six. After a throat clearing from the woman and a contemptuous sigh from the child, he launched a quick peck at his mother, landing it squarely on her cheek, leaving a wet spot in a place that had been dry for hours. He lunged for the car door and popped open an umbrella painted to look like an automobile.
“I love you Bobby,” said the woman. “I’ll see you after school.”
The boy stepped out of the car and his umbrella was surprised by the sheer force of falling rain. He recovered the toppling car quickly, however. When he had arrived safely at the door of the school, a tune rang out from the woman’s purse. I was unfamiliar with the ditty. After hundreds of years, all of this music tends to sound the same.
The mobile device was quickly moved from purse to ear. I leaned in as far as I could as to avoid the sudden burst of chills mortal skin tends to get when in close proximity to my being. I tend to be felt, even if I can not be seen. I could only make out the words ‘accident’ and ‘hospital.’ I knew what was coming, Hell, I had planned it, but I can’t say I didn’t want to hear how the news was worded.
“I don’t have time for this, Bill. I have to get to work.” The woman’s shoulders sank and her lips parted, bottom lip trembling.. “I’m on my way.”
Pedal hit metal and in nine minutes we screeched into a parking space at Wellpoint General. I took up a position outside room 310 as to not miss a thing.
“Sally, oh no, I’m so sorry. I called you right back after we talked. Didn’t you get my voicemail?” A large man moved quickly to intercept my plaything.
“No, my phone didn’t ring!” Yeah, I did that, but don’t tell. Raindrops on a metal roof can cause quite a sound disturbance, add in the fact that modern technology and I kind of clash, in an energy sense, and you have one non-ringing cellular device. The woman continued. “What happened, is he ok?”
“Sally, it’s not him. Sam never clocked in today. A press snapped at his station and fell, crushing the man who filled in for him. In the confusion, we figured it was Sam and called you. But it wasn’t him, Sally. It wasn’t Sam.”
The woman’s cheek glistened from an angry tear, but her gaze burned intensely. “No one thought to check for ID on the way to the hospital, Bill?! I thought Sam was dead!” She slapped the misinformed messenger, hard. Her jaw once again locked into its statue pose and she turned to stomp her way back to the elevator. “That was a horrible thing to do, Bill. I can’t believe your company didn’t have a better procedure than this. I’ll never forgive you!”
With her mobile device once again attached to her drying cheek she shouted through the hospital corridor. “Oh, go figure you don’t answer my call! And don’t think I don’t know you’re not at work. You know that the sucker who had to fill in for you was crushed today? Do you even care?! Oh, and just because you walked out, it doesn’t mean we don’t still have bills to pay! What did I do to deserve this, Sam? You up and leave and don’t think once to call me and tell me where you’re at? You better call me back and tell me where you’ve been or all of your stuff will be in the front lawn by this afternoon! You hear me Sam?!”
In six hours, a man who lives in an alley will have a new wardrobe. In this moment, however, the woman had missed her first chance at moral reconciliation. It’s too bad, too, it would have made a good headline:
MAN CRUSHED BY THE WEIGHT OF THE WORLD AROUND HIM
It was too simple though. It had no flair. When I do something, I do it right. I had to give her the perfect setup, the perfect chance to reconcile.
Nothing exciting happened for fifty-one hours. I gave her sufficient time to play around with all the emotions rattling around in her head. These situations don’t unfold as quickly as you may think. Per the rules, I’m obligated to give plenty of time for the subject to make some kind of a turn-around. Which, honestly, rarely happens until it’s too late. But by no choice of my own, and drawing the shortest straw, metaphorically of course, I have to play this game. Protect the fragile human souls, protect the souls around them, reconcile. It’s exhausting.
I rejoined the woman at her place of residence. It had been two and a half days since the fight. The house looked different. Pictures were missing, boxes littered the kitchen, piles of men’s clothes sat by the front door. If it was possible, it seemed her features had hardened even more, maybe permanently. She moved around like a human with a purpose. The television prepared for the twelve o’clock news. Thankfully the volume had been adjusted to compensate for the continuing downpour. I kept an eye on her face as the news person spoke.
“…flooding all across Wellpoint, but first breaking news. A mugging occurred today in a parking lot at the corner of Elm and Birch which ended in Wellpoint’s first homicide in two years. The victim, Samuel Jennings was pronounced dead on the scene from a gunshot wound inflicted by…”
The woman froze, momentarily. “Oh God.”
Nope, he’s not on this job.
For a moment she looked disturbed, but again, all too suddenly that look was replaced with the hard-set jaw I was growing fond of. “It serves you right, Sam. Walking around in a thunderstorm when you have a perfectly good car! If you would have just admitted you were wrong and come home…”
“…word from the booth, that the previously stated name was incorrect. The victim’s name is Stanley Jenkins, a sixty-eight year old man from Wellpoint, who was…”
The woman’s eyebrows tightened in the middle, and she shouted at the television “See there, Sam, you can’t even die right!” I had a hard time believing that Sam was listening.
A telephone rang from a nearby wall. “Hello..? No mom it wasn’t Sam, they made a mistake. It couldn’t have been Sam, he’s too lazy to walk and he’s too stubborn to save me the trouble of putting up with him for the rest of my life. What’s that? No, mom, I can’t talk about it now, I have to go…”
MAN ROBBED OF HIS LIFE AS HE WAS FINALLY RETURNING HOME
That’s a little closer, but not perfect. I already knew the outcome, in fact, the deed was already done, but the ending had to be perfect. It never ceases to amaze me how dense some people can be. I’m often told that I invest an unnecessary amount of time giving people too many chances to realize what they’ve done, but I’d have Hell to pay if I ended up letting more lives end than were supposed to when they aren’t really mine to give, and Hell’s not cheap.
It’s a common misconception that I’m tempted by the likes of bungee jumpers, sky divers, day traders, or all around thrill seekers, but that’s Luck’s job. All she has to do is loosen a strap or let a wire fray. That’s child’s play. The guy crushed fifty-three hours ago was Luck’s doing, it just so happened she owed me a favor. Hey, those machines are dangerous.
Also, I don’t mess with anyone who happens to be on the Almighty’s list of ‘Those whose time hath ended’, that’s for the guy who wields the oversized farming tool. His claims are way too hands-on. Child with cancer? Poof, Swipe, Dead. Woman who eats more bacon in one sitting than a dining room full of restaurant patrons? Second verse, same as the first. Now, the guy who died for a measly seventeen dollars in his wallet. Well, the woman was right, he shouldn’t have been out in the storm, but the guy had a brain tumor. Death took him at the perfect moment for my plan. Consider it ‘buying coffee’ between immortals.
My job takes centuries of planning, sometimes even calling in some unpaid debts. I create moral poetry. I finish with an epilogue fit for dramatic interpretations. If your ‘life’ is in my hands, you wouldn’t even be able to fathom what I have in store…
Twenty-three hours later, the woman and child decided to go out for lunch. She told him it was a reward for being such an amazing son. In twelve years, a familiar child face on an adolescent body lists this meal as one of the reasons he loathes his mother. A woman makes a note of it on her legal pad as she nods her head in understanding
I settled in for the ride next to the boy’s car umbrella. The rain would stop soon, his automobile would stay dry today, but at least he was prepared. Four minutes into the trip they passed a lake which used to be a safe parking space for neighborhood cars. Now dotting the landscape were multicolored turtle shells with see-through sides. I focused on a blue one and held my breath.
“Mommy, that looks like Daddy’s car. But it’s underwater. Did he leave it there?”
The woman never turned her head. Through tightened neck muscles she responded, “No honey, that’s not Daddy’s car. I told you he went on a business trip. His car is at the airport.”
“Oh, ok mom…”
The rain stopped as they ate lunch. In twenty two hours, the woman would decide to move on with her life, that she was better off. For now, lunch was served and both mother and child escaped from the mess life had washed upon their laps. Tonight they would both sleep in the same bed, safely under dry covers. Seventeen hours after the end of Nature’s tears, the waters will subside. Three hours later, she’ll get the call. Soon after, a body will be identified. Three days later the boy, dressed in a suit, will pound fists against his mother’s chest.
“I hate you! I wish you were dead!”
MAN DROWNED FROM A CONFLUENCE OF CURRENTS:
BODY FOUND DAYS LATER.