I was driving my cab on the coldest day of the year when I had the most unexpected fare. I was sitting at Third and Broadway waiting for a fare. Business had been slow and when the call came in, I was ready to break with boredom. The address was just a few blocks away from where I sat, so I thought ‘why not?’ Pulling away from the curb, I headed toward the address given. As I drove, I made mental notes.
Pulling up, I immediately realized that this was not going to be your average fare. I don’t know whether it was the black robe, skeletal figure, oversized scythe, black mist, or the sudden sense of dread that tipped me off…but I knew instantly that I was in for the ride of my life. nervously, I watched as my fare slid into position in the back seat. I tried not to stare.
“Where to, Mack?” I inquired.
“Oh, nowhere special,” came the surprising sound of a female voice, “I have some time to kill. And the name is G.R.”
“Nice joke, G.R.,” I continued nervously, “So you just wanna ride around?” How long?”
“Yes,” she replied, sweetly, “For about an hour.”
“Wanna hit the park for a while?” I suggested, since the park was about ten minutes away and one can easily waste an hour there.
“Sure,” She replied.
I headed the taxi for the park and tried to keep my eyes on the road. But, that proved impossible. Especially when I looked up and watched her remove the hood of the cloak. Expecting to see her face remain skull-like in appearance, I was mildly surprised as her head became very human when the hood fell away. Once the hood was down, she became very stunningly beautiful.
She noticed me having a hard time not staring and smiled. “What’s the matter?”
“I thought–” I couldn’t get the full thought to form.
“You thought that Death was always forced to be bony and, well, dead in appearance?” she smiled.
“Well, yeah,” I replied, “and I thought Death was always, well, male.”
“Death is whoever Death chooses to be,” she replied, looking out the window, “or whoever kills Death, cheats Death, lies to Death , and even decides to date Death, as I did.”
I glanced back at her. “Which one?”
She looked back at me. “Which one what?”
I shrugged. “Which did you do?”
She let loose with a nearly maniacal laughter. “Which one. Well, I actually did them all. but not in the order I gave you. I began dating Death when I was in my teens. He was tall, dark and handsome without the hood. Oh, I knew it could never last. After all, he was immortal. Sort of.”
I looked up. “Sort of?”
She smiled. “Ok, not really. only when the cloak was on. But I didn’t know this at first. But that won’t be until later. At first, it was the novelty of the whole affair. Me and Death. I was a Goth girl, loved the whole negative thing. Black hair, black eye shadow, black clothing–hell. I even had a black bedroom with black bedding.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Really. Interesting.”
She seemed to be unfazed by my comments. “He came for me when I was sixteen. I had taken a few too many sleeping pills and he was there to collect. Only thing was, I really had not intended to do so–take too many pills, I mean–and so I begged him not to take me. In the process, I knocked the hood of the cloak off his head and bang! There, standing before me was the most handsome man I had ever met.
“The age difference didn’t matter to me. Not at first, anyway. I mean, I didn’t care that he was over two hundred years old. Hell! I thought I had bagged myself my own personal vampire! Never mind that he was Death. I just thought he was in that same league.
“Boy was I wrong. Death is not a vampire. Not by a long shot. We are simply Death.
“Anyway, we dated for a few years until I came of age. Then, we began getting more serious. Or so I thought.”
I shook my head. “Wait a minute. are you saying–?”
She nodded. “On my twentieth birthday, We had sex for the first time. It was then that I began to wonder where the relationship was headed. I mean, he was horrible in bed. Almost dead.” She snickered. “I mean, in a couple hundred years you would have thought that he would have learned how to please a woman, but no. Anyway, to make a long story a bit shorter, I began cheating on him.”
I was still shaking my head. “Ok. So let me get this straight. So far, you have cheated Death and also dated and slept with Death. And now you are cheating on him?”
She was still snickering. “Well, yes. But things are just getting good. Anyway. He began hearing rumors that I was sleeping around on him, so he came home one day and confronted me about it. And I lied to him and told him that I hadn’t been. I, then, accused him of the same thing.
“He smiled and actually admitted that he had been seeing another woman. Well, this made me mad. So mad!”
I had started chuckling at her absurd story. “Mad enough to kill, I suppose?”
She stopped giggling. “Why, yes! And I ripped his cloak off and put it on myself. He was now in mortal form and, well, naked. And suddenly aging rapidly. And I just stood there staring at him.
“‘Well, now you have done it,’ he said. ‘done what?’ I asked. ‘You have taken all my power,’ he replied, now kindly give them back.’ I shook my head. ‘No.’ He rushed at me, intent on getting his cloak back.
“Let me pause here for a small reflection on this cloak. Once someone steals Death’s cloak, it becomes theirs. The person who had been death either simply dies or becomes human again. In this instance, I was watching the original-can I call him that?-Death age rapidly from a mild thirty-five-ish to over a hundred. All within a few minutes.
“‘Dear mother of God!’ He exclaimed, “what have you done?’ I simply looked at him with cold indifference and grinned maliciously. ‘And, yes. I did cheat on you. I mean, sex with you was so boring. I thought you would have learned something in the three hundred years you have been alive on how to please a woman.’
“His mouth fell open. ‘I broke the rules when I began dating you. Death is a solitary life. We are never supposed to have relationships, since we are immortal until the robe is removed. And we aren’t really supposed to remove the robe either.’ I watched him as he breathed his last, his final words left to haunt me from that point on. I had killed Death.
“No matter what I do, now, I can never remove this cloak completely. I am cursed to wear it until another takes its burden from me.”
I glanced back at her. “Can you give it to someone else? Someone of your choosing? Maybe one of those you are sent to take?”
She smiled sadly. “Perhaps. But who is worthy of this cloak? I mean, it would have to be someone who would not kill those whose time has not yet come. They would have to be honorable and wise. Most of all, they would not want to die at the time it was given.
“So many of my charges want to die. they are in so much pain, or so old, or so tired of life that they desire the sleep of death.”
I looked back at her. Worry and weariness eroded her features. I could tell that she hated her job. “Who is it today?”
She looked at me startled. “Who is what?’
I smiled sadly. “Your charge.”
She furled her brow. “A brilliant young man with cancer. So bright. So positive. So full of life.”
“So right for the role of Death,” I interjected. “Why not pass the job onto him?”
Her head came up, the reality dawning in her eyes. “And vanish? Return to a normal life? But what is normal? I mean, I have been considered dead for nearly ten years. I have no money, no home, no life to go back to, no job, nothing.”
I shrugged. “But you could start over. Build a new life wherever you wanted. Be something or someone you have always wanted to be. The possibilities are endless.”
She smiled, her face lighting up. “Could you use someone in your life?”
I was startled. “You mean like a girlfriend or something?”
She nodded. “Yes.”
I was beside myself. “Well, I hadn’t thought much about it, but now that you mention it. Sure. I mean, if you are offering. I never thought I was much to look at, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Right?”
She nodded. “Then it is decided?”
I smiled. “Sure.”
The odd thing is we never reached the park. I simply drove for an hour, listening to her story. At the end of the hour, we returned to the hospital where I had picked her up at. She paid me double the trip and asked me to wait. I did.
She returned an hour later dressed in a doctor’s frock instead of the cloak. I am officially retired as Death. Shall we?”
I looked back at her in the mirror. “So what do I call you now?”
She smiled. “Penelope.”
I smiled back at her. “Where to, Penelope?”
She smiled back at me. “Home, James.”
I chuckled. “You got it.”