Mrs. McGrady was busy making tea when the knocking started.
She looked up from her kettle, frowning, and wondered aloud, "Now who could that be?" before slowly shuffling across the wooden floor to answer her door. She had to kick her fat old cat, Stubbons, out of the way. The cat looked up at her with that serious, angry look that cats always wear when they've been disturbed, then slowly turned and waddled off to find a more comfortable place to nap.
Mrs. McGrady finally reached the door and flung it open.
"Oh," she said, feigning surprise at the figure that stood on her front porch. "It's you." Her old, withered face twisted into something that resembled a sneer.
The cold, skeleton face beneath the black hood smiled back at her, but said nothing. He merely shrugged, his bony shoulders clacking as he did so.
Mrs. McGrady crossed her arms defensively across her chest. "I know why you're here." She shook an old, withered finger at him.
Death grinned. The old woman ran a hand through her frizzy rain cloud gray hair and sighed.
She looked over her bifocals and squinted, taking in the skeleton figure at her door. His bones were yellowed with age, though most were concealed beneath his black robe, which seemed to swirl and darken, as if woven from threads made of shadows. His bony fingers clasped around a twisted scythe with a blade that seemed to wink at her in the fading light of the evening.
"Well, it was only a matter of time," Mrs. McGrady sighed.
The reaper's smile appeared to grow wider. "Yes," he said, his voice low and oddly melodic. "It was."
The woman was a bit taken aback. She'd been expecting something…more sinister to match the image.
"Well," she huffed. "Come in then. Make yourself comfortable. It's not like I'm going to get rid of you very easily am I?" She turned to go back into her house and shuffled, almost angrily, toward the kitchen, muttering to herself.
Death followed her slowly, apparently not in any hurry at all, and casually took a seat at the table in the kitchen. He rested his scythe up against the wall.
"Would you like some tea?" Mrs. McGrady asked, not even bothering to look up from her kettle.
"No, thanks." Death reached for yesterday's newspaper, which sat opened on the table, and turned to the classifieds. "I'm on a diet," he added. When Mrs. McGrady failed to find the joke, he cleared his throat and said, "I'll have two, please."
Mrs. McGrady sniffed and handed him his cup of tea. "Looking for a job, are you?" She took a sip of her own tea. "Thinking of retiring?"
Death shook his head. "It's for a friend," he explained, glancing over the want ads.
"Got lots of friends, do you?"
Death shrugged. "I meet lots of people." He tapped a bony finger thoughtfully on the counter. "They aren't usually as inviting as you, though."
The old woman scoffed and took a seat, more than a bit reluctantly, across from the reaper. "Well, go on," she said after a moment of rather odd silence. "Get on with it."
Death looked up innocently from the paper. "Get on with what?"
Mrs. McGrady gestured toward his scythe. "That," she said.
"Can't we just talk a bit first?"
"Why?" The reaper set down the paper and stared right at her. "Are you in a hurry to go somewhere?" Mrs. McGrady averted her gaze, unable to stare back into those cold, dark sockets.
She suddenly found her tea cup very interesting and traced the rim delicately with a finger. "Well. Aren't you?"
Death rolled up the sleeve of his cloak and checked his watch. "Naw, I've got awhile before I actually need to be anywhere. Slow day, you know…" He leaned back in his chair, lacing his bony fingers behind his head. "It's nice to just relax sometimes, yeah?"
Mrs. McGrady shook her head. "Just do it," she said. "Just do it now." She'd never been a very patient woman, even in her youth, and she wasn't appreciating how Death seemed to take this whole thing so casually.
"You aren't going to offer me your life story or anything?" Death asked, sounding a bit disappointed. "Usually, that's what they do, you know. They tell me things. Regrets. Wishes. Memories. You don't want to do that?"
Mrs. McGrady shook her head again. "What's done is done. I can't change that. No use reliving it." She stared down into her tea cup and sighed. "There were some nice times. But I don't like to look back, if I can help it. Many people are too concerned with the past or the future, but rarely do they take time to live in the present." She glanced up at Death, who appeared to be looking at her rather intently. She couldn't be too sure, though, as he didn't have any eyes to actually read—just those dark, empty sockets.
"That's very…interesting." Death smiled.
"Just is." The reaper turned his attention back to the newspaper, and the two quickly stumbled into an uncomfortable silence. The only sound in the kitchen was the soft rumble of a distant train and the constant tick-tick-tick of the clock that sat above the stove.
Mrs. McGrady took a sip of her tea. "I always…" she began, hesitantly.
Death looked up from the newspaper and leaned forward a bit, as if encouraging her.
The old woman sighed. "I always wanted children."
She shrugged. "Three. Maybe four. We--Humphrey and I--we both wanted them." Mrs. McGrady cradled her tea cup in her hands, a hint of a smile playing on her old, chapped lips. "We settled for Stubbons, eventually. After…" Her voice trailed off.
Mrs. McGrady frowned and her lip raised slightly. "You of all people should know what happened," she spat.
"No, no." Death waved away the accusation. "I mean after that. Why didn't you try again? You had plenty of years left--" He leaned forward. "--and you know what they say…"
Mrs. McGrady raised an eyebrow. "Live like you were dying?"
"No." Death laughed. "Third time's a charm."
The old woman smiled, though it was far from happy. "You aren't one for tact, are you, Mr. Reaper?"
Death drummed his fingers on the table top, his head tilted at a perfectly awkward ninety-degree angle. "I can't feel what you feel," he said after a moment. It sounded like it should've been some kind of confession, but he'd said it too freely. As simply and casually as if he were commenting on the weather.
Mrs. McGrady took a sip of her tea and forced herself to look at him. "Did you ever?"
Death shrugged. "I don't remember."
The woman's brow wrinkled. "What do you remember?"
"Things. Many things." A strange grin came over Death's face. The smile seemed to stretch across the very bone itself, and Mrs. McGrady felt a chill creep up her spine. "But I'm not one to live in the past," Death added.
Mrs. McGrady huffed, setting her tea down rather violently, a small bit spilling over the side. "There's no need to mock me." With a frustrated sigh, she set about cleaning up the mess with a napkin, when suddenly, in one fluid movement, Death reached across the table and cupped her chin carefully with one of his cold, bony hands. The old woman reluctantly raised her eyes to look straight at him--right into the grinning face of Death.
"You and I," the reaper said, that soft, melodic voice suddenly taking on a harsh edge. "We're a lot alike."
"I don't believe that," Mrs. McGrady said, hoping she sounded much more confident than she felt. "You can't feel what I feel." The old woman's vision began to blur. "You can't feel what I felt." She squeezed her eyes shut and tried not to cry.
Death let out a half-hearted laugh. "I'm Death," he said. "I'm Pain. I'm Sorrow. I'm Regret. I am what you feel." His hand fell away from her face, and Mrs. McGrady watched with a heavy heart as he reached for his scythe.
Mrs. McGrady slowly opened her eyes and sighed. "Well," she said, crossing her arms. "Go on. Go ahead and do it. You've wasted enough time already."
"Yes," Death agreed. "I have."
She watched him stalk across the kitchen, where Stubbons was curled up at the foot of the stove, sleeping happily. Death tossed her an odd, sad sort of look, and then lowered his scythe quickly, so fast that Mrs. McGrady almost didn't see it. A small, wispy spirit leapt out of the cat and into Death's arms. A ghost kitten.
Mrs. McGrady could do nothing but stare, her mouth hanging half-open.
"Goodbye, Ellen," Death said, walking towards the door, rubbing the cat's ears fondly. The ghost in his arms purred softly. The reaper grinned and called over his shoulder, "I'll be seeing you later."
And then he left her, still staring, at the dead cat on the floor.