An old lady unexpectedly dropped in for a visit. Sporting blue rinse hair and dressed in a matching blue twinset pants outfit, complete with matched shoe’s, she sat down in the chair on the opposite side of the bed to Mrs. Trout. A long-nosed, black and white, small to medium-sized dog seated itself beside her left foot. Unable to turn her head, Maggie swiveled her eyes to see who had entered, all she was able to see was the top of the ladies head, from the tops of the ears up. An odd sense of familiarity began to nag at the back of Maggie’s mind.
“Hello dears.” said Death brightly.
“Ah, hello there.” Maggie replied uncertainly, still unable to put a finger on the identity of the unseen visitor.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t believe we have met. Mrs. Margaret Trout.” said Maggie’s vaguely perplexed mother, slightly standing, and extending her hand across the bed. She wondered how on earth the old dear had managed to get a fox terrier into the hospital, and onto the ward.
“Of course, please call me ‘Dee’. My friend at my foot is Mr.Darcy, and this must be Maggie.” said Death in soothing tones as she shook Mrs. Trouts hand. Turning, she moved closer to Maggie and smiled down at her, knowing that the broken lass in bed could finally see her face properly. Maggie gasped.
“Well you most certainly have been in the wars, haven’t you my dear.” began Death. “How are you feeling?”
“Pretty ordinary.” replied Maggie bluntly.
“And how are the nightmares?”
“I’m terribly sorry to interrupt Dee.” said a not sorry at all Mrs. Trout. “But, and please don’t be offended by this, beyond introductions we neither know you, nor do we know the nature of your visit. Would you mind moving back a step or two, and filling Maggie and I in on those specifics before any more questions are asked please.”
“Goodness, and rightly so.” was Death’s faux embarrassed reply as she turned back to Mrs. Trout. “I am here at the behest of a couple of close family, and mutual, friends of yours from Williams. Mr. and Mrs. Nathaniel and Beryl Chapman. More precisely, as the Chapman’s have been unable to make it to Perth to visit Maggie, the tyranny of farming being the visit related preclusive force that it is. They asked me to drop in if I was passing, and to relay their combined regards, plus apologies, for not sitting where Mr. Darcy and I are now. I am terribly sorry for barging in, and neglecting to pass on the nature of my visit. Beryl had mentioned she was going to phone, but my guess is that it slipped her mind. Poor brilliant dear that she is. Busy as always, is our Mrs. Chapman.”
“Thank you Dee, I will ring them this evening, and pass on our thanks. My apologies for interrupting you.” smiled Mrs. Trout self-consciously.
“No apologies required.” said Death, making a mental note to contact the Chapman’s later.
“Now, back to Maggie.” continued Death, putting on her best Grandmotherly smile. Standing once more, she leaned over Maggie, so the vision of her face was all Maggie could see.
“Beryl mentioned you were having great trouble sleeping? Nightmares and the likes from what I understand?”
“Yes, I have. They are straight up horrible.” said Maggie trying to look anywhere but at Death. The nagging image of the old lady in her dreams, now standing above her, coming back to her with the force of an angered Norse God. A tear appeared and trickled into her ear as she took in and studied the prune like face above her. She saw too, that there really were flames in the backs of her eyes.
“I am so sorry to hear that, dear. The reward for life, to be revisited by the horrors of death, are paradoxical at the best of times.” said Death with a sigh. “Over my extended years, I have lived to walk amongst carnage and death. From personal experience, and whilst it worked for me, it may not work for you, I found that focussing on my awareness to be of immense benefit to me. I believe it is the same awareness Mrs. Chapman broadly referred to, that you had been working on with your clinical psychologist.”
“Yes, Anton and I have worked at ‘awareness’ a bit. He asked Mum to read to me, and it worked initially, and then failed me dismally. In two or three stories, it was as if I was living in the moment within the story. The last one, however, the same did not occur, and it crushed me. Since then I have been avoiding it.” said Maggie, completely unable to drag her gaze away from the fires in Death’s eyes. For some reason she felt as though there was nothing she could hide from the elderly lady. It was as if the kindly looking old girl was staring straight into her soul. She had not mentioned her ‘living’ within the story to her mother, or anyone else.
Chills began to run over Maggie, and the false sensations coming from a foot that was no longer attached to her body, pained her more than it had done prior.
“So I see.” Death continued. “A trick that gave me some release was to focus my awareness on all things specific to life, although taken individually initially, that show me that I am alive. That I am breathing, and feeling and tasting every breath. The sounds of life around me and in me. The warmth or coolness of the room I may be in. Those things. But, then there is the existential. Taking in the sensations that come from another source. An example would be focussing on the stories that your mother read to you. Feeling what the main character feels, sensing what they sense, enjoying their happiness, or wallowing in their sorrows, but, washing yourself in the life that can be found when related by another. Living in the story as you described it. Most importantly though, focussing on the awareness that you, Maggie Trout, are very much alive, when you could easily have not been. Life is a gift, for better or worse, but a gift nonetheless. It is what you do with it that makes it so. My advice Maggie, is to live, and to enjoy your gift, a gift that can so easily be taken away from you.”
The fires blazed in Death’s eyes with an intensity that Maggie found hard to look at. It was in that moment that she fully understood the message Death had given her.
Oddly, while Death remained staring down at her, she heard Deaths voice, even though, Maggie realised frightfully, Death had stopped speaking aloud.
‘Maggie, when someone dies in their dreams, they truly die in life. When someone dies in the moment, when you are living in and looking out through the eyes of another, in the same way that you felt the pain of the man gored by a kangaroo, you die. I granted you life, because my girl, I am Death, and your life is mine to do what I choose with, and I chose for you to live, and I choose not to see you again until you expire in old age. But, should you squander it, I will take it without so much as a blink. Now, I grant you sleep.’
“Thank you Dee.” said Mrs. Trout, who was not thankful at all for the way the old bag had spoken to her daughter. “Maggie looks like she could use a bit of a rest.”
“Indeed she does Margaret. So, as it is sleep she needs, Mr. Darcy and I will bid you and Maggie adieu. Get well soon Maggie, and do pass my regards to the Chapman’s next time you speak with them.” said Death, giving Maggie a peck on the cheek.
Death and Deaths Hound left as silently as they came.
Maggie began to snore. Just for once, her dreams and nightmares escaped her, and she had the first decent unaided sleep since the accident.
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