I would have written you a letter if I could. I’d write something along the lines of:
When will I see you again? How did this happen?
Then, I’d go blank. What else would I write to you? You don’t have hobbies, you don’t eat, you don’t deal with the problems of life, of people. Your world is the reverse of mine. Maybe I could’ve asked about the people you met? I know you meet a lot, unlike me. I’m sure you’d have many interesting stories that’ve been told to you, but that doesn’t tell me anything about you. Surely, since you have taken on a human form, your kind would grow their own personalities.
I still remember the fear that struck me the first time I saw you. You weren’t entirely what I imagined you would look like in my adolescent mind. Originally, I thought that you were simply another mourner, dressed in a suit with a flower in hand. How you knew my grandmother, I didn’t know. My curiosity led me to your side where I first noticed who you were. You had an aura unlike any I had ever seen. Misty grey with gold flecks. I still remember it clearly. You looked at me with eyes scratched and clouded like they had been around for centuries, mixed strangely with a face almost as young as mine. You weren’t sad, you shed no tears. You just smiled, looking at the empty space behind me. Your eyes glanced at mine and for a second, a hint of curiosity appeared in them. You handed me the flower and vanished. Panicked, I looked around, assuming others could see. I looked around, assuming others could see, but no one had noticed. As if to calm me, your voice came to my mind. A deep yet soothing tone said, ‘I guarantee we will meet again’.
When I mentioned you to my parents, you were just ‘the man’. Even though deep down I thought I knew who you were, my mind would deny it. My parents had no idea who you were. Months later I remember thinking to myself, were you really just there for my grandmother?
The second time I saw you was two years later, if I remember correctly. I was out drinking one night with friends, and one insisted she could drive home. And… well, you met her…I’m sure she told you the rest. While I was close to my grandmother, I’d had a lot of time to come to terms with the fact she would die. She’d been ill for a long time. This time, however, rattled me. A friend I’d known since middle school, someone my age, full of life, had disappeared. As the ceremony reached the end and my friends and I huddled together sobbing, you appeared at the door, standing as if you were linking arms with someone. You still looked like the same man I saw last time. My friends went ahead to join everyone else for drinks. I stayed behind looking at you. The same, calm look stayed on your face, yet instead of curiosity, there was a glint of sympathy.
‘Be calm. She will be happy,’ you said, and I knew the voice I’d heard was yours.
‘You told me we would meet again. Did you do this?’ I immediately asked you, eager to blame someone in my sad state. The curiosity jumped back to your eyes.
‘I’m the bridge, not the cause. I provide comfort and passage to a different world.’
‘You don’t influence what’s here?’ I asked. You shook your head. ‘So, why are you still here then?’ I motioned to the empty space beside you. ‘Shouldn’t you be taking her somewhere?’
‘Usually, yes. I guess humans just interest me.’ You looked away from me as if you were doing the wrong thing. This wasn’t the first time you had bent the rules.
‘Are you not allowed to talk to me?’
‘We are strongly advised against it.’ You smiled at me. I couldn’t tell if you were worried about breaking your guidelines or not. ‘You know, not many can see me,’ you told me, bemused with my perception. You pulled another flower from your jacket, the same as last, and tucked it into my bun. I didn’t understand the flowers for a long time. You always loved mysteries. Maybe I could have written to you about that?
After arranging the flower in my hair, you caressed my cheek, smiling at me warmly before vanishing again. ‘Wait, what do I call you?’ I called. About to leave, I was worried you wouldn’t respond. Your voice rang in my head once again, ‘You know who I am.’
Your voice sounded warm, as if you’d smiled. Were you not aware of the stigma you had?
I remember that stigma rang true the third time I saw you. You startled me, suddenly appearing in my kitchen as I made dinner in my apartment. You looked different, more…real. I feared I had lost another loved one. You shook your head as if you’d read my mind, and since I’ve chastised you countless times for it. I should tell you I laughed as I wrote this.
You looked curiously at the meal I was preparing. I hadn’t realised yet how little contact you’d had with the living. I offered some to you as I always prepared enough for lunch the next day. Your face transformed into an expression of concern. You knew I’d have to buy my lunch. I insisted and you joined me for dinner that night. No one would ever believe I had Death as a dinner guest. I will admit now how elated I was that you stayed. I found you just as intriguing as you did I.
I watched in delight as your face lit up each time you took a bite. I now know it was your first time experiencing food. Even then, I didn’t know the number of firsts I would experience with you.
‘Why don’t you eat?’ I asked as you finished. A grin played on your pale lips as if it was obvious.
‘I do not need to. I don’t use it for fuel’ you answered.
‘But you have a body’ I protested, touching your arm to prove my point. You simply shook your head.
‘This is just a vehicle, an identity I was given on my birth so that transference was easier for humans. If I’m human, I’m less foreign, more trustworthy. The people I aid can focus on transcending rather than trying to understand what I am in the process.’
I felt as if this information didn’t usually reach human ears…or wasn’t meant to. On cue you told me not to worry, ‘They don’t watch everything I do. We have a… trust system.’
Then once again, as if a timer had gone off you put your hand in mine. ‘I will visit you again.’ Then you disappeared, your cold yet loving touch lingering on my hand.
I felt a new feeling had been created inside me that day but, wondered if this feeling should be given autonomy. Would it blossom into something beautiful, or wilt into something tragic? Well…I guess we both know which. A man of death and a woman of life, what a love story.
Maybe your perception of death is something I should’ve asked you more about. An occupational hazard, you didn’t see death the same as I. Even as I’ve now embraced it, I still don’t grasp the same perception.
It’d been quite a while since the last time I saw you. Three years in fact. What were you doing? You never visited, yet I felt as if you were still so close. Was I right? I will never know, will I? This was now the fourth time you visited me. You visited me in my university library to avoid James, didn’t you? What you’d done to see me that day… When I found out, it took me a while to forgive you for it. The amount of pain I thought that man would suffer, I thought I would never forgive you. I keep forgetting your view on death is different. Now, I must selfishly thank you, for I know the suffering I would’ve lived if it weren’t for you. I’ve thanked you many times, but I must say now, I truly mean it.
I’ve wanted to ask but never did, what did you do with James once it was his time? It still unsettles me, to think of the pain he would’ve caused me in years to come. I thought he was going to be the person I grew old with. For someone so different you seemed so familiar the day you warned me. Your voice was so worried, but your eyes knew exactly what would happen to him.
Funnily enough, his death was the fifth time you visited me. You sat next to me in the pew, enclosing my hand in yours. I pitied James’s future. Did you know what happened before his death? Did you know what he did to the young girl before she pushed? You must have, otherwise, you wouldn’t have come to me.
This time I was glad you had time to come home with me although I knew then that you wouldn’t come again for a long time. You had pulled too many strings, as you liked to say. Because of this, I was determined to enjoy the time I had with you. I enjoyed our conversation that afternoon. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as much in my life as I did then. Your take on life is one of a kind.
I remember that night so clearly, even to this day. You felt so warm, so real. You were just like any other man. I felt so safe and happy with you, even though I knew it would be short-lived. Bigger forces controlled you and I was a conflict of interest.
You couldn’t stay for long the next morning. I pretended to be okay when you dissipated in my kitchen, but I wasn’t. Although, you probably knew that didn’t you? You always knew everything about me, even before I did. After a while, you didn’t need to read my mind to know what I was thinking.
When you left that morning, a piece of me went with you. I spent a lot of time trying to get it back but it only came in fragments that I would frantically tape together, trying to make them stay. Many years passed before you started visiting again. A few lovers, a few deaths, but not even a whisper. When my mother died, another hole was ripped in me. But there you were, ready to stitch yours up, or so I thought at the time. I now know that we would never be given that time again. You stood with me at the back, with no comments on how differently we saw death. You just stood with one arm around me, and your eyes pointed straight ahead. You gave me the strength I needed.
After that, you came in torturous wisps as I tried to build my life around your visits. I hated watching you leave, but I hated it even more when you appeared again. I felt that no matter how hard I reached out, I could never quite grasp you; you were never wholly there. I married, had kids, travelled, and built my career as you wished for me. You promised happy transitions for the good people in my life and protected me from the bad, but you were never there long enough to be a part of my life anymore. You wouldn’t answer my questions, you wouldn’t meet my kids even though you protected them as well. It killed me every time I saw you, and your smile told me you were happy I was living. Did they stop you, or did you stop yourself?
As more time passed, and my children grew up, you appeared less and less. I’d like to say I missed you every day, and maybe deep down I did, but life had caught up with me. I was so busy I barely noticed your presence, and you became just thoughts in my mind, a sound that, wasn’t my own. So much time passed like that and only when my husband died did I stop and see you.
Without fail, you were my strength again as I spread his ashes in the ocean. I may have still had my mind then, but I could barely walk. I never told you, but I knew when I looked into your eyes, it would be my time. I was eternally grateful for you over the next few months. You walked with me in the gardens, you helped me bathe and cook, but I didn’t want to waste your time with some old lady that once resembled me.
Now I lay here, knowing that any minute you will appear beside me, and I now know what I would have asked you in my letter. Will you visit me again?
Chayse has been making stories since she could talk. Writing all through school, she dropped the craft to pursue teaching for a while. Finding she often sought comfort and delight in writing in her spare time, she finally took the plunge to study writing at university and eventually become a published author.
Steph Blinco is a third year Bachelor of Fine Arts student. A local Brisbane emerging artist, her practice makes statements about everyday life through collaged imagery. Intertwining psychedelic patterns to create collisions of colour and era, Steph draws influences from autobiographical contexts, ranging from her childhood to her experiences now as a young adult. You can find her on Instagram @stephblincoart.