Our Mutual Friend

Featured fiction by writer David Menzies.

After work, I headed to the bus stop with the rare enclosure plastered by a not-so-rare ad. It had rained on and off all day, and the see-through plastic was covered in condensation. This did not bode well for the figure drawn between a pair at an eatery table—a pale, frizzy-haired woman and a clean-cut man. Etched in black, the figure was an older man in a jacket as crumpled as his face. While the couple smiled at each other over a few well-placed pieces of tech, the old man stared at a steaming cup of coffee on their table. The etches that made up the old man were dripping away.

I tapped the enclosure. “Poor guy would have stuck if they’d done it before it rained.”

I turned to find a small crowd had gathered under the enclosure. Speaking to myself seemed to clear space that I’d been vaguely aware of holding from a pushy ad-like couple.

I made my way out into the light rain, and saw Evelyn-from-work standing by the ‘bus stop’ sign. She had headphones on, and looked, as she usually did, like she was thinking about someplace a little better than Earth. I didn’t want to be the thing that took her from that place, so I moved to the curb and, watching the ripples the rain made in a nearby puddle, twiddled my fingers.

A minute or so later, when the whir of traffic was louder than the chattering at the enclosure, Evelyn called out to me.

“Harold! Harold, you dope.”

I turned and saw her approaching me just before the passing semi-truck sped past and splashed the puddle’s contents up at us. In an instant, our torsos were soaked, our faces patched with murk. Evelyn’s momentary grin was less flushed than my own, which subsided as oily water dripped from my chin.

Evelyn nodded. “It’s okay. I should have screamed louder. I saw it coming.”

“This is much more me than you—like fifty-one me, forty-nine you.”

Evelyn glanced over my shoulder. I got the message this time, and took a step back with her. The bus pulled into what was left of our puddle, and most of the crowd jockeyed for position in a line around us. “Forty-nine, huh? That’s the kind of math they’d like back at the agency.”

“Not at all. I tossed some decimals out in your favor.” I nodded, vaguely aware that some tall teenager in line was calling me stupid. “I’m a dope that way.”

“I’m sorry about that,” Evelyn said. “I just didn’t want you to get splashed.”

I moved into a position that had us as the last people in line for the bus. “Apologies no longer exist when you go through bus doors, so in a few seconds, you can forget about it.”

Smiling a little, Evelyn nodded more slowly this time. “I guess I won’t be forgetting, then. I was actually just waiting for a seat over there, though.” She motioned to the wooden bench in the enclosure.

The bus driver yelled at me. “Hey, guy. You coming or going?”

I needed to go; I had an apartment to look at. With one foot on the bus, I told Evelyn that I’d see her around. As the doors closed, I couldn’t recall any girl who professed to love me doing more than what she had done—getting splashed with dirty water for my sake. I watched Evelyn getting further away from me as the bus moved forward, and thought such was life.

***

When I got to the yellow house on Minear Street, a large man in a red Hawaiian shirt was standing by the stoop—a tenant who didn’t mind a little rain, I figured, as the man didn’t exude the sense of ownership that most loiterers did.

The man’s neck turned with a gaze that followed me until I stopped. “Hello.”

“Hey. Do you live here?”

“No,” the man said. “I tried, but I must not have done it the right way.”

“Ah, so you were looking at the apartment?”

“Yes, I believe it was suitable for living.”

“I hope so. I talked to the landlord’s niece on the phone, and, well . . . yeah, I guess I should head in there. No offense.”

“None taken,” the man said.

I rang a bell, and watched, as in the right panel of the three-tiered window, a woman appeared with eyes trained on the man in the Hawaiian shirt. Me, she glanced at. A few seconds later, I heard a door inside unlocking, though the woman remained in the window.

The door was answered by a man with red, yellow, and green rubber bands clumping off sections of his hair. “Come in,” he said with a nod. It sounded like he was giving an order, so I rang the bell for a moment, and felt him looking at me incredulously.

“Just wanted to make sure it works,” I said.

After the landlord’s niece opened the window and told the man outside to leave or else, she paced back and forth in a room furnished only with a gray couch. “What is that guy still doing out there?” She posed this question to the pair on the couch—the man with the clumped hair, who was staring and nodding at me, and a woman in skinny jeans whose own hair was crimson-colored and inert. Eventually, the landlord’s niece glanced in my direction. “Do you know what that weirdo said when I asked him his name? After handing me an ID that said Douglass whatever, he told me that he didn’t have a name.” She turned to the woman on the couch, and shook her head. “I know that you think this neighborhood is up and coming, but there’s just way too many freaks for that.”

“Not all freaks are like that,” the woman on the couch said. “It’s not like I’ll be alone, anyway.”

The man with the clumped hair shook his head. “My man was lucky he was retarded or something.”

I doubted the veracity of that statement on two levels. As I was about to ask if the apartment was even available anymore, the landlord’s niece looked at me again. “So, obviously, I put some things out for walk-ins, but my uncle told me to keep you in mind ‘cause you worked with—no, for him, right? Anyway, he’d be good with giving you the place if you could find a roommate. The rent’s higher than he said it was, and he needs it soon. Lucky for you, though, I already found you help.”

“I think there’s been a mistake here. Your uncle said that taking on a roommate might be a good thing, but this isn’t really what I had in mind.”

“Well, what can I say? He didn’t want to give it to my friends, but I’m sure that if you agreed to split it, then everybody wins.”

The man on the couch sat up. “We’re cool, right, man?”

“Hell no, we’re not cool. I haven’t even gotten to look around yet.”

“Look,” the niece said. “Beggars can’t be choosers.”

I closed my eyes and smirked. “You know what? I’m going to leave and sort this out with your uncle on the phone. I’ll tell him that I’ll take the place as he described it to me, which means I’ll be finding a roommate on my own, thanks.”

The man with the clumped hair paced after me to the door. He stopped short in the doorway as I went out into the rain, which was heavier now. Outside, I found the man in the Hawaiian shirt standing in the middle of the sidewalk. Soaked, he asked “What was the ‘or else’?”

***

After a quick conversation on the phone at the shelter where I’d been staying, things were set. In the sleeping quarter, I pulled a suitcase out from under one of thirty cots. Next to me, the man in the Hawaiian shirt explained why it wouldn’t be accurate to call him ‘Douglass.” The best approximation that he could offer was what he pulled from the mind of his body, formerly belonging, he said, to Douglass Greene, who would have identified what he was as “Death.”

He sighed. “You hear that sound I just made? I can’t seem to think about the name ‘Death’ without doing that—without needing to let go of heaviness.”

“That’s a pretty common reaction.” I clipped down the latches on the suitcase. The old woman who gave it to me, Lily, was formerly a blues singer, among other things like a friend and resident here. After having a stroke two weeks ago, she fell into and remained in a coma, and thinking of it as a kind of limbo had diluted the idea of her dying to me. For the moment anyway, standing two feet from me and watching a football arch over our heads, “Death” was all right enough, even if he was delusional.

On the other side of the room, a short man jumped up and managed to catch the football before it hit a guy sleeping in bed.

“So this is a shelter,” Death said. “Douglass thought they would be noisier.”

“It varies. There’s a guy here who had a sport scholarship at some top-tier school, but he took a pretty bad hit—couldn’t hit the mark anymore—so they took it away from him. I don’t remember the loudest people here making much noise about that.”

Death blinked a few times. “As long as the mark wasn’t someone’s head, it’s good that he’s still trying to find one. Douglass got hit in the head once.”

“Lots of people have,” I said, standing and ready to go. Most of the residents were in their own worlds after dinnertime, which could easily be the peak of fullness in a day. No one here that I knew could come up with four hundred dollars soon enough, but Death happened to have a little more than that. And a month, he stated, was all he needed a place to live for. I felt I could take him at his word. One might have thought we went back out in the rain relatively unnoticed, but it just wasn’t easy—always looking at people’s backs.

***

Death and I spent most of the night sorting the apartment out. The stuffing had been torn from the gray couch and strewn through the whole of the place. It was in the big bedroom, the smaller bedroom, the drain of the bathtub, and when Death opened up the mini-fridge in the kitchen, he informed me that it was in there, too, along with a moldy wheel of cheese.

“I’m sorry about all this, guys.” Burt Weller, the landlord, stood in the doorway as we used his brooms to clean up. Burt was still wearing the blue uniform from his failed urban landscaping business, only he was unable to close the shirt now. He was probably closing in on five hundred pounds. “Uh, Harold. Can I speak to you in the hall for a minute?”

“Sure.” I looked over at Death, who was sweeping oblivious to a beard of couch stuffing he’d somehow obtained.

Out in the hallway, Burt asked me if the man in the Hawaiian shirt was all right. “He’s not a hippie or anything like that, is he? My niece’s father was a hippy.”

“No,” I said through a yawn. “He’s okay.”

Burt rubbed his wooly hair and nodded. “Good. I’m glad things are working out for once, huh?” He looked up at the stairs to his apartment, and sighed. “Well, you guys are going to want to rest. But, hey, let me know if you want to go on the roof. I had a project going up there from back when . . .” He tapped the logo on his shirt, then laughed a little.

“It was a good dream, Burt. Good night.” I closed the door and walked sleepily back into the apartment, where I jumped on what was left of the couch. As it deflated under me, I told Death that he could have the bigger bedroom that was next to the bathroom. “If you’re only going to be here a month, you might as well enjoy it.”

I heard him step along a creaky piece of floor. “The dimensions of both were irrelevant, but thank you, Harold.”

What little sleep I got that night was ruined by a dream in which I walked into the bathroom and fell into a pitch-dark expanse. As I fell, I felt stretched and more stretched, until I was more like a signal than anything living or breathing. But then, there was a piece of darkness that felt like a spark compared to all the nothingness. I sped towards it, until I stumbled back into the living room and tripped over the deflated couch.

When the alarm-clock watch went off in my suitcase, I grabbed the handle and took it out with me. I was barely conscious of the act; I think I did it because I didn’t remember unlatching the thing at the shelter, and that’s where I still was in my head. On the way to the bus stop, a teen with bifocals tried to snatch the thing away from me. When he failed, another teen zoomed by him. “See! I told you, man. You should have brought it.”

As I watched them run up the sidewalk, all I could do was shake my head.

***

Work that day was a blur. ‘Blur,’ in fact, was supposed to be my speed on account of how important outgoing mail was at an ad agency. But with little sleep, I handled the mail-cart on automatic. I rode the service elevator up and down seven floors with no pretense of the importance of advertising. I didn’t sort the occasional piece of garbage from the mail bins like I usually did. A pair of sunshades was among what was left in my suitcase, and I wore them to cover up the red vines in my eyes, ready to explain that I had a late night because I moved into a new place. But nobody asked. I didn’t have a reason to make a sound at all until the service elevator doors closed on the seventh floor.

I was heading to the ground floor when someone in the elevator said, “Hello.” I clenched my chest. No one had been in the elevator with me (the other mail guy and I rarely synced up), but when I looked around, I saw the yellow flowers on Death’s red shirt as clear as day, even with sunshades. I’d barely noticed them before, but now they were bright and lively. Slipping the shades on and off, I looked up at the one-note pleasantness of his face.

“I scared you; I’m sorry about that. I’ve experienced the feeling often.”

“How are you doing that?” When I slipped the shades back on, I tried poking him, but my hand went right through him. “All right, I’m dreaming . . . in which case, I’m going to try real hard to get you out of here and, I don’t know . . . Evelyn! Evelyn should be in here, only ‘here’ should be different, too.”

“You’re not dreaming, and you weren’t dreaming last night, either. You walked into my room when this form was sleeping.”

“I guess that’s possible, but none of the rest of this is.”

“Harold, I didn’t get to tell you that when this form sleeps—like I’m doing now—the body becomes the center of gravity for my usual form, which is like . . . like another universe or dimension, just contained while I’m here.”

“Uh huh. The question I have to ask myself is – why would I dream that I was so tired, though? I’m never tired in dreams; that’s the whole point.” I closed my eyes, which I knew wasn’t a part of dreaming either. “Okay,” I said as the elevator doors opened. “I’m awake.” When I opened my eyes, Death was gone.

A window-washer got on the elevator with a smirk. “Don’t worry, buddy. I spend a lot of time by myself, too.”

***

Later, I waited at the curb for the bus, which I would ride until I figured out how to deal with the presence of Death—or at least until the bus stopped running. The thing of it was that I never really thought about death all that much. Sometimes the prospect of just how disenchanting life could be seemed like it could stretch on forever. Now, Death may have been at home, waiting for me.

Someone with a deep voice tapped me on the shoulder. “Excuse me, sir, but your epidermis is showing. You might want to take care of that.”

For the second time that day, I shook my head—only it was for the lighter side of a stranger’s dignity. I turned and found no one, but Evelyn popped up over at my other shoulder. “Okay, so I know that guy, and the interesting thing about him is that he doesn’t know what epidermis means. He thinks it means—uh—this is so embarrassing, so . . . ” She motioned for me to move my ear closer to her, which I did. “Sadness.”

“Evelyn, I’ve got a pair of sunshades; some girl at work asked me if my suitcase was vintage—and I have one-half of an apartment. These are not things that sad people have.”

She put her hands in the pockets of her hoodie. “It would be understandable, if you were, you know. Your friend’s still in a coma.”

“Yeah, but that’s not as bad as dying on the floor somewhere. I mean, she’s not dead, right?”

Evelyn slowly shook her head.

“I brought her to the attention of that magazine the agency does ads for. They found her old record—helped get funds that have her on life-support.”

“For a while,” Evelyn interjected.

“Yeah, but in the future, her blues will console a bunch of people who would have never given her the time of day pre-coma. Maybe she’ll wake up, and . . . well, I don’t know.”

“See, we could have talked about this at lunch. I mean, we don’t always have to talk around everything, Harold.”

“I didn’t think you’d mind—about lunch. I only see you for the last five minutes of your break, and the first five minutes of mine.”

“Yeah, well, don’t think not seeing you for five minutes has anything to do with me taking the bus today.”

“I’ll have to try pretty hard not to now.” So much for avoiding death—and even Death. Evelyn talked me into visiting Lily for the second time at the hospital, and after watching her fidget for a while in her seat on the bus, I glanced out the window and saw Death walking down the street with grocery bag in hand. As the bus passed him, he turned and seemed to look right at me. Then he waved like I was the only friend he had in the world.

***

In the hospital room, I stared at the breathing tube that looked like it formed a stopper for Lily’s nostrils. Evelyn, meanwhile, picked up a magazine from the bedside table—the one with the image of Lily’s first and only album cover: a mid-twenty-something version of her sitting in a poorly lit recording studio’s isolation room. Their scenery, our blues.

Evelyn solemnly put the magazine back on the table. “What was it you and she used to talk about?”

“She’d sit on this crate away from the smokers that were local to where we were, and whenever I came around, we’d start off talking about the weather, probably because there always seemed to be more smoke when the weather was good—and anyway, she’d usually end up talking about her past relationships.”

“Was she ever married?”

“No, not unless you count the blues, which helped her cope somehow. I never got that entirely.” I looked at Lily’s face, which had a slightly sunken quality. “She told me once that she wished she got to sing to an audience with people who lived in the blues, and didn’t just like being associated with them. I told her she should sing right on the spot, but she just laughed and said her voice wasn’t what it used to be.”

When I looked up at Evelyn, I saw that she’d moved closer to me. We stood there silently until my stomach growled.

“I’m sorry that your friend is dying,” Evelyn said.

“Yeah. Me, too.”

***

Evelyn and I were crisscrossing through a full parking lot when she said, “Hey, would your roommate mind if I brought something to eat there?”

“My roommate?” I stopped walking. “I’d love for you to come. But my roommate, he, uh—well, he thinks that he’s Death, so you can see how that might be a problem.”

“Wow, I’ve honestly never heard that one before.”

“It’s not a ‘that one,’ Evelyn. That really is the case. I don’t have much money to spare this month, but I’ll throw it all into us going somewhere else, if you want.”

“I couldn’t let you do that. I’d invite you to my house, but my roommates are just short of unbearable. Loud and stupid: they always seem to go together, don’t they?”

I nodded, thinking about Death, who was a far cry from unbearable. More than anything else, he struck me as some alien on a sightseeing trip. And since he could speak the local language, maybe I could even talk to him about bouncing Lily back from the brim of nothingness

“All right,” I told Evelyn. “If you want to come to my place, you can. But I need to go and make sure it’s livable first.”

Evelyn smiled. “Okay, then. Don’t clean up too much. I don’t mind a mess.”

***

At the apartment, I found Death reading a dictionary at a newly furnished kitchen table. On the table, there was an assortment of fruit and junk food. Anything in a wrapper had been opened, and everything else looked like it had a bite taken out of it.

“Death, I like your style, but I wish you would have saved something for me.”

Death looked up from the dictionary. “That was my intention. The bulk of the food has been left untouched.”

“I can see that, but I have a friend who’s bringing some food here, and I probably shouldn’t fill up.”

Death’s face lit up. He closed the dictionary. “Our first guest?”

“That’s something I wanted to talk about. She’s kind of my first guest, until . . . well, I kind of need to know why you’re here. I just think I’d like the world a little better if my only two friends didn’t die, you see.”

Death nodded. “Evelyn Vega and Lily Sanders.”

“It’s not even remotely comforting that you know that.”

“Listen, Harold. Through some of Douglass’ memories, I’m aware of some of the presumptions you may have about me, but I don’t go around with a list, and except for orange, I like colors.

“I do know when people are fading, because I’m what they pass through. I’ve seen glimpses of Burt, here and there, unfortunately. He’s okay for now, but sometimes he stops breathing when sleeps, and those durations are getting longer. Your own trip in my head last night is why I know about your friends.”

I noticed another chair at the table and sat down. “Okay . . . so, with Lily, is there anything you can do?”

The faintest version of Death’s one-note smile subsided. “I know you never got a chance to say goodbye, but no, I’m afraid not.”

I sank a little in the chair. “Okay . . . you said people pass through you, so does that mean there’s someplace people pass through to?”

“I’ve wondered that, but if there is, it’s beyond me. I can tell you that are other dimensions, though. More than I’ve peeked into—more than there are people on this planet, though most of them are not as lively.”

“Is that why you’re here?”

Death nodded. “Yes, mostly. I hope this hasn’t let you down, Harold.”

I shook my head. “Not really. Nobody I’ve ever liked really had any power, so why should a cosmic being? Or whatever you are. Besides, Evelyn’s coming over, and yeah . . .” I nodded, got up, and knocked on the wooden table. “Thanks for getting this thing.”

“No problem.”

I wasn’t sure, but as I left the room, I thought I heard Death sigh like he did back in the shelter.

***

A half-hour before Evelyn arrived, Death told me that he was going to take a nap in his room.

“I hope you two enjoy dinner,” he said. “If it’s not too much trouble, save me a little if she brings any Spam. It always brought Douglass comfort.”

Maybe Death was aware that his presence could be a downer. After I guaranteed him that he would get my portion of whatever Spam Evelyn brought, he smiled and closed the door to his room behind him.

When the bell rang, I found Evelyn at the door with a large backpack and a big smile. In her hands, she carried a Tupperware bowl with something brothy. “I hope you like mystery soup.”

“I do. Plus there’s some stuff in the kitchen we can throw in there, too.” As she made her way inside, I grabbed the bowl, and pointed to what was left of the couch as a place for her to put her bag. I held the Tupperware bowl up to the light; there actually might have been Spam in it, after all.

Evelyn rooted through her backpack as she looked around. “Where’s your roommate?”

“Sleeping, I think.” I thought about Death hiding in his room on my account, and felt a little like I imagined Spam would feel if it were a person.

“That’s too bad for him,” Evelyn said, “because I happen to have a copy of what in my opinion is the best movie John Cusack ever made: One Crazy Summer! And a not-at-all bad respite from the blues.”

“We don’t have anything that would play it, but you know what? I’ll see if I can’t get my roommate up so he can be disappointed, too.”

On my way to Death’s room, the brightest light I’d ever seen beamed through the crevices around his door. Suddenly, I was unable to look at anything without blinking. “Did you just see that?”

“I’m having a hard time seeing anything right now, Harold. What—what was that? Is your roommate okay?”

While I was blinking my way to Death, Evelyn moved past me to his door. She was already twisting the knob when I called out to her, and she held on as Death’s door slowly opened up to a barren, icy expanse. At the horizon, a deep-blue color tinted some kind of atmosphere.

Evelyn let go of the doorknob. “You said your roommate thinks he’s Death, huh?”

I moved next to her. “Thinks because he kinda is, as far as I can tell.”

She put her hand into the doorway, and looked at me with wide eyes. “We’re still breathing, right?”

“Right,” I said.

“So what are we waiting for? Let’s go.”

***

Inside Death’s room, Evelyn and I took a few tenuous steps out onto the ice-like surface. Ten paces in, I tapped it with my foot. “It looks like ice, but I don’t think it’s made of water . . . Some kind of frozen energy maybe.”

Evelyn touched my arm, and as my heart raced a little, she pointed back at the doorway, which looked like a wooden frame with a view back to the living room. She shook her head. “This is . . .” She smiled. “This is great, but we should get back before that door closes, ‘cause there’s no reason I can think of that it shouldn’t.”

I felt something behind me, and when I looked up, I just barely made out the edge of the bright light from moments earlier, which had a hazy lightning-shaped form this time. By the gust of air that came our way, it felt like it was coming straight at us. I grabbed Evelyn and dropped to the ground. As the light plastered the back of my eyelids, I couldn’t get a word through it. When I could see the lightest hint of blue, I opened my eyes and saw Death standing there, looking at the sky and shaking his head. The living flowers were there again on his shirt.

“I’m sorry about that,” he said.

Next to me, Evelyn opened one eye, and loosened the grip she had on my hand.

“Evelyn. This is my roommate.”

“Hello,” Death said. “I’m sorry. I think you’d call the source of that passing light a white dwarf. This is somewhere I’ve visited before, and we’re sort of old friends. When it saw you two appear here in this sphere, it got a little curious. If its light had gotten any closer, I’m not sure this dimensional sphere would have held out.”

Her chest heaving up and down, Evelyn sat up and nodded. She stared at the bright white light in the distance.

“It’s okay,” Death said. “I told it that your species is fragile. Believe it or not, it’s waving—at both of you.”

Evelyn waved back. “Um . . . Please tell it I said that it was nice meeting it, and that we’re only a little fragile.” She took a breath and looked at Death. “It’s nice to meet you, too, by the way. I like the flowers.” She turned towards me. “Um, do you think we could all continue this over soup?”

***

After the three of us had Evelyn’s mystery soup, we sat around the table for a while and talked. Mostly we listened to Death’s attempt at telling a humorous story about the white dwarf. Evelyn and I were both sleepy, but where I approximated the dwarf’s behavior into human terms and smiled, Evelyn found the energy to laugh out loud. Eventually, we couldn’t put off sleep any longer.

“Good night, my friends,” Death said.

“Night.” As we walked into the living room, I told Evelyn that she could have the mattress in my smaller bedroom, which I’d yet to use.

“All right,” she said, and she followed me to the couch, where it turns out there was enough room for her to lie next to me. “Harold?”

“Yeah?”

“I hoped this was going to be a really good night, and it was. I’m just not sure if I’m dreaming or not.”

“If this were a dream,” I said, “that soup might have tasted a little bet—Ow!”

“How dare you? It took me minutes to throw all that stuff into some chicken broth—minutes that pass like hours back at my place.”

Grinning, I laughed a little. “You see? Not a dream.”

***

I woke up twice the next morning. Once when Evelyn kissed me on the forehead, and, half-asleep, I got up and watched her putting on her backpack. She told me that she thought she could make it to her place before work; and that she’d see me later; and to tell Death she said bye.

“Sure thing,” I said.

The second time, Death got me up. I waved him away, but he kept shaking my shoulder until I looked at his face. “Harold, this is serious. It’s about Evelyn.”

I sat up and ran my hand over my face. “What? What is it?”

Death’s sigh felt heavier than either of his sighs before. I felt this one creeping into my gut. “No.” I shook my head.

“She was heading to the bus stop when some kids tried to grab her bag. She didn’t let go, and one of them took out a gun, and it went off.”

I stood up and paced back and forth. I heard an ambulance in the distance.

“She’s losing a lot of blood—fading faster than I think she can be pulled back.”

I ran outside, thinking I could quickly make it to the spot where those teens tried to grab my suitcase. As I got near the curb, an ambulance came ripping down the street. When I asked myself why I hadn’t thought to get up and go with her, a heavy pain clenched itself to my chest, and I collapsed.

At some point, Death joined me out on the curb—a hazy figure in my peripheral vision. My eyes felt like they were burning; I was trying to stifle tears with the hate I felt for those stupid kids. When he shook his head, Death’s eyes looked hazier than the rest of him. Maybe he was crying, too.

“I know it doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “I came here because there’s so many of you, so many who fade into me without any sense of closure—with no sense that they made order out of the chaos here. I liked Evelyn a lot, and I like you. Not a lot of people would have taken me on the way you did. I haven’t had much luck before. That’s why I hope you’ll keep going, Harold.” Death looked at me. “What I can do for the both of you is go to sleep.”

***

Through Death’s door, I walked out into a rooftop garden with a view of Minear Street and all the concrete that surrounded it—the project that Burt-the-landlord had mentioned, though I figured I was in his dream version. Burt, a hundred pounds lighter than he was when I’d last seen him, stopped pruning a tree to pat me on the shoulder as I stepped inside. There were other people, too. People from the hospital who were in a coma, Death had said. I saw him over by the small stage where the roof fell off and the sun was rising at the horizon. With a stoic face, he seemed torn between the sunrise and Lily, looking the way she looked on her album cover as she sung an Ella Fitzgerald song.

I’m a sentimental sap. That’s all.

What’s the use in trying not to fall?”

Lily waved at me, and though time felt like it was running out with Evelyn, I had to stop and wave goodbye to my friend.

There was a small table in the center of the roof. Evelyn sat there, listening to Lily sing. I ran to the table and tried to hold her hand, but I couldn’t. All I could do was motion at the space between us. “I’m so sorry that I didn’t do this sooner, Evelyn. I just—after I had my heart broken that first time, it took years—I mean, I honestly didn’t think I could use it again.”

“Yeah,” she said. In the light from the sunrise, her eyes glowed. “Me, too. Oh, God, Harold.” She closed her eyes and shook her head. “This is a nice song. I can see how the blues helped your friend cope. Just . . . you know, this is more than most people get, but I don’t know what to say. Um, keep me in your head, okay? I know it’s hard, but—”

I was there for Lily’s entire rendition of the Fitzgerald song, but Evelyn was not. Death came over and waited with me until Lily finished the song and everyone went with it except for us—and Burt, who faded in and out with his tree and the rest of the scenery. I knew I should try to talk to Burt outside of Death’s door, but not when I felt why it was so easy to be five hundred pounds. It was getting as dark as it had been the first time that I stepped into Death’s room, and I felt too heavy to leave. The rooftop disappeared beneath my feet, and swallowed by complete darkness, I felt like nothing more than a signal again. More and more, I could not think of anything outside Death’s room worth transmitting to.

“Harold, do you want to know what Evelyn was feeling when she faded away from your world?”

“Scared?”

“Yes, but she also wanted desperately to stay on this planet where you are.”

And then Death flung me back into the living room.

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About David Menzies

David Menzies has had fiction appear in Red Line Blues and at http://vendable.net. He blogs at http://davidmzs.wordpress.com.