When death stands in your doorway, you must show no weakness. If he points at his watch, answer “in five minutes.” If he insists, murmur “just a minute.” When he bridles, whisper “half a minute,” “a second,” “half a sec,” “one moment.”
You mustn’t look him in the eye. But don’t avert your gaze. Glance decisively at the bridge of the nose or the moist place right below the lips.
If he unfolds a map, please don’t express a preference for the seashore or the mountains. Betray no longing or anxiety. You might tap the margin nonchalantly, if there is a margin.
There’s an old superstition that death is a healer, he brings peace, escape from corruption. On the contrary: he is not a person, an animal, an insect, not even a pebble. Not even a name. Not an event. Not a whiff of night air.
So why, ask yourself, does he fidget there, with that peevish “can’t we meet each other halfway” expression, in those absurd Goodwill clothes, baggy corduroy suit, pants and jacket the same color but different wales, so often folded the seams are white as chalk lines, fat two-tone white-and-beige golf shoes with cleats, nylon argyle socks, like someone’s idea of an encyclopedia salesman from the nineteen thirties?
And why is the street behind him so fascinating, empty as a stage set, a few vans double-parked, a cat hiding under one, sometimes the flicker of the tip of a tail, sometimes the glint of the eye itself, voracious, ecstatic?