To all of you Valentines… I wrote and shared this short-short story back in 2006. The basic idea had kicked around in my brain for two years, but I couldn’t make it come together. Then came Valentine’s Day. I had moved across the country and wished I had some kind of Valentine to send to all my friends. Immediately the full story began to flow. So I’m sorry that I’m sharing it with some of you twice, but here is my Valentine to all of you. Teagan
Chocolate with Death
Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
It’s funny, isn’t it, how things that at first seem quite strange – things that are quite strange can come to feel natural, even ordinary. Yet as I look back, I am amazed that I even answered my door that night so long ago.
The only thing about Spumante that I don’t like is getting the cork wriggled out of the bottle. I refused to let it get the better of me and kept trying. This was my holiday celebration, the standard ritual I used for every holiday of the year – a bottle of spumante and an old movie. (It’s not so bad, really, celebrating alone. It simplifies things enormously.)
Finally the Spumante gave up its cork with a loud pop. I placed cheese and crackers on my plate, admiring the arrangement. Then thinking better of it, I added extra cheese for Mrs. Dickens, who would certainly demand to share my snack.
This “event” was Valentines Day, so I even put on my red Betty Boop pajamas and the fuzzy slippers that had long floppy rabbit ears. Fizzing glass in hand, I went to the living room to start the movie. Then, out pounced the cat to attack the rabbit slippers.
“Mrs. Dickens! You won’t get more cheese by tripping me,” I scolded my cat as I stumbled to the sofa.
With the touch of a button I started the movie that Mrs. Dickens and I had seen many times before, and snuggled down contentedly to watch, handing the begging cat frequent bites of cheese. Then I thought I heard something. I touched the pause button. Had there been a soft knock? It came a second time before I was sure I had really heard anything at all.
I stood and tied on my robe. Normally I would never open my door to the night. Even as I walked toward it, I knew that I should not answer the door. However, compulsion was stronger than reason and I put my hand to the door. I stretched to see out the peephole and found only blackness. I had half turned to go back to my movie when I heard the soft knocking again.
If ever there was a perfect looking man, it was the one I saw when I opened the door. I guessed that he was about thirty, tall and perfectly proportioned. Perfectly groomed. Perfectly dressed. From his finely tailored wool blazer (complete with a crest on the breast pocket) to the expensive shoes, to the cultured voice, to the perfect hair, he was just — perfect. Far too young for me, but he was perfect none the less.
At once I was seized by the notion that I knew him, even though I couldn’t say how or from where. Then I noticed he held a box of the fine dark Italian chocolate that I love so dearly. Did I mention he was perfect?
I let him come into the house. I continued to ponder from where I might know him. Was he the son of a friend? Had we worked for the same company at some time? I couldn’t for the life of me think where, but I strongly felt that we were acquainted.
He took a piece of the Italian chocolate, and clearly enjoyed it as much as do I. After enjoying a luscious bite of it myself, I had to admit that I could not place him. He gave me the same shy smile that he’d worn when I answered the door.
“I can’t say that we’ve actually been friends, but we’ve had many mutual friends and acquaintances,” he said.
As I’ve told you, it seemed strange that I should allow him into my home, and perhaps something beyond the ordinary was happening to make me feel relaxed with him. Yet we companionably spent the evening chatting over bubbly spumante and darkest Italian chocolate.
He emptied the last drops of the wine into our glasses with an expression of disappointment on his face. Then he exclaimed as if he’d forgotten something and reaching behind him produced another bottle of the fizzy drink. I might add that the cork willingly left the bottle for him.
Yes, I thought it was odd that I hadn’t noticed the wine bottle when he entered the house. It just didn’t seem to matter. As he poured, the crest on his jacket caught my attention. There was something strange about the embroidered design. The shield looked misshapen, and I realized that it was actually an hourglass. The crest also had a crow and a weapon. I didn’t even try to hide the fact that I leaned closer to better inspect the crest.
His kind smile faltered, but he didn’t prevent me from looking. I saw that the weapon was in fact a scythe. I gazed at him with a stupid blank look on my face and commented, “Interesting… those things are… death.” Then comprehension awakened with my goose bumps and I said, “Not just death, but Death.”
“You have named me,” he sadly admitted.
I jumped up; fists clinched. Me in my silly pajamas and bunny slippers, I fiercely told him, “Fine then! So you’re Death. Not quite what I would have expected, but you’re Death. I get it! But I’m not afraid of you. I’ve seen death many times. I’m no stranger to it. I don’t fear Death.”
If I was startled by the pain in his eyes, which clearly spoke of endless solitude and loneliness, then I was truly astonished by his reply.
“Well yes, that was sort of the entire point when I chose to visit you,” he said. “We are not strangers. Why do you think you felt that you knew me?”
I flopped back into my chair, confused and overwhelmed. One of my bunny slippers had come off and Death examined it curiously, and then began to refill the glasses with spumante.
“I only came to visit you – I didn’t come for you,” he said. “I wanted companionship – it’s Valentines Day, for Heaven’s sake.”
“What?” I said in perplexed disbelief. Leaning forward I took my bunny slipper away from him and continued, “Companionship? Honey, you’re drop dead gorgeous… no pun intended. Do you really mean to tell me that you couldn’t get a date for Valentines Day?”
“Of course I couldn’t,” Death defended himself. “How many people would willingly spend Valentines Day – or any other holiday with Death? I know that sometimes you call me your ‘old friend’ saying that one day we’ll have our true meeting, so I hoped you would understand.”
I drank the Spumante in a hiccupping gulp. I remembered saying exactly those words. Death seemed to be waiting for a reply. I realized that I really did understand. I refilled the glasses and lifted mine up in a toast.
“To us, my old friend,” I told him and he smiled.
It has been many years since that night, and on many holidays I have companionably shared fine dark Italian chocolate and Spumante with my old friend. It was quickly apparent that he loved the chocolate as much as do I. If I desired his company, I found that all I needed to do was put out a box of that particular chocolate and soon he would drop by.
Now I am a very, very old woman, and one day Death will surely come for me rather than come to visit me – but then again… if I died… with whom would he spend holidays, or share darkest Italian chocolate and Spumante?