“So, what will it be this time, love?”
I sigh. “This is a predicament.”
“You knew the whole time, love, somewhere inside you. If you think of it now, you know it’s true. It is all here for you. You chose to not look. You always do.”
My fingers rest on the edge of the tea cup in front of me as I stare out the window. I am absorbing what they just said, and it is taking me a minute.
I chose not to see, they said.
The sky has changed colour two hundred and sixty three times since I’ve been sitting here. I have been counting them without even thinking about it, a roll call of shades. Azure, fuchsia, eggplant, rose, coral, marigold, chartreuse, forest, deepening to an inky black before lightening back to a turquoise, garnet, slate, fire…
When did the sky start changing colours? I seemed to recall it only being variations of one shade, at one point in time.
There is a shift in the air that suggests a door opening or closing in the near vicinity, but I can’t take my eyes off the changing sky to see where the door is, or if anyone else has entered this place. I might lose count.
I get the sense that they are sitting with me, at this antique, gnarled-looking table. Every time I glance over to where the oversized chair is opposite me, competing in age with the table between us, they fade around the edges so I cannot quite make out their identifiable features so I know what I am looking at. I know there is someone there, though. It is like my eyes will not focus enough on them to really see them.
I can feel them, though. I can feel their breath on my hand, resting on the table next to the tea cup, where my other hand’s fingers play with the edges. I feel tiny prickles on my skin. It doesn’t hurt, it just feels mildly tingly. I want to move away from it, but also toward it. I can feel something graze me periodically, brushing my cheek, the back of my neck, the edge of my elbow, curl around my ankle, like a wisp of air that has lost it’s way from the rest of a wind.
How long have I been sitting here, sipping earl grey out of this beautiful china? The cup was large enough for a good sized cup of tea, but felt feathery fragile in my hands. It has a beautiful pattern on the sides of it that moves a little so the details are hard to focus on, kind of like them. It provoked me to touch the edges of it, making sure I was caring for it while holding it and drinking for it; showing it affection, even.
I don’t actually know if a minute has passed. It could have been an hour, or maybe a year. I could have been sitting here with my index finger tracing the edge of a china cup for a decade. Maybe it’s been millennia.
I chose not to see, they said.
The cushion on the matching chair under me is soft. My hips don’t hurt at all. Usually, if I’ve been sitting in the same position for a while, my right hip starts to protest a little. Now that I’m thinking about my physicality, I take note of the fact that my hip isn’t hurting. I uncross my legs, resetting my posture, and cross them the other way. My right foot curls around the back of my opposite calf, the muscles of my legs tightening against each other.
I remember reading somewhere that if you cross your legs too much, the veins on them struggle and become visible, creating spiderweb designs on thighs that a lot of women crinkle their noses at the prospects of having. I can’t remember not having those tiny visible blue lines here and there on my legs, or if they started appearing at a point, or if they’ve always been.
Maybe I’ve always been sitting here.
“If I chose to see, what would happen if I looked? How many times have there been, can you tell me that, at least?” I asked.
“You always choose blindness. You’re all the same, when it comes to that. You look away.”
“Well, not everyone. Most.”
“Okay. What now, then?”
“Now, you get to choose to look and never go back, or leave me.”
“But, I’m not done with living. I’m not ready.”
“I know, love. I didn’t expect this one, of them all, to change your mind.”
“It was pretty good, this time.”
“You say that every time, love.”
“This one seemed particularly good.”
“How do you know? Do you remember the others?”
I thought about this for another two hundred years, at least.
“No. I dream about them, though. I have seen glimpses of others in my dreams. Tiny vignettes into the rest, and the vignettes fade very quickly upon waking. They feel subliminal in my unconsciousness, like interlopers.”
“You can see them all if you look, but that means you will not go back again.”
Tears were standing in my eyes.
“You cry every time, too, love.”
“I just, I cannot imagine not going back. There’s too much to do, and see. Have you been there lately? It’s beautiful.”
“You do not have any idea how many times those words have passed over your perfect lips, love. I know. You tell me all about your time, every one.”
My hand suddenly tightens around the tea cup, crushing it. The cup was so delicate that it turned into dust in my palm.
“I have to go back.”
“I know you do, love. I’ll be here, waiting, when you’re done. We will see each other again, and you can decide that time if you are ready to look.”
“I’m sorry.” Why am I apologizing to Death? I feel remorse, suddenly, for abandoning them. “Will you be sad if I go?”
“Oh, no. I can wait. I have been waiting for you forever, and will continue to do so.”
“That’s sweet.” I squint at them, trying to see who I am speaking with. They are familiar, and alien, all at once. They look like no one, and every single being I have every laid eyes on. “You’ve been with me the whole time, yes? Thank you. I appreciate your patience with my leaving, and your being here when I come back.”
“How can you say that? You never remember the other times.”
“… I suppose that’s true. I will miss you.” I know this is an empty statement, because according to them, I don’t remember each time I am here. That must be infuriating, I thought for a moment, and then I remember that Death has to be the most patient, and can only keep me when I want to be kept.
“I appreciate the sentiment.”
“I feel compelled to go, though.”
“I know, love. Go. I can wait.”
I could not see the expression on Death’s face, but I want to say they were smiling.
“You have no idea.”