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Every morning seems to be about coffee. My fingers dance along the rim of my own simmering cup, steaming with promises of rejuvenation. The air is a touch too cold to be comfortable and there is a ball of lint wedged within my toes. I watch water erupt from the park fountain in a setting like a opaque rainbow; all brown and gray and orange, but no touch of cyan or scarlet. A woman walks by, hands in gloves and clutching a yellow leash. Her dog pulls ahead with its nose pressed against the paved walkway.
A smile tugs at my lips, and with a sigh, I nestle deeper into my jacket. My cup nearly scalds my fingers, but I savor the warmth. The drink itself likely won’t get consumed - I’ve never really liked coffee without masking it in sugar. But in the silence of this autumn photograph, I am grateful to have something to warm my hands. My eyes settle closed like sails without wind.
Footsteps echo towards me, then continue past. I peep one eye open to watch the jogger run by, geared in skintight clothing of neon proportions. The poor man is already panting from the exertion; a new addition to the exercising regime.
A flicker to the left. Grip tightening around my cup, I open both eyes and trace the movement. Something shifts between the subtle swaying of the trees, lingering for only a moment.
I place the coffee on the empty bench beside me. When I realize that my hands are having an earthquake of their own, I almost laugh. Is it time already?
“Well,” I mutter to the falling leaves, “Suppose I stayed?”
They teeter in the breeze, twirling and dancing with each gust, before settling to the ground. Each one appears so satisfied with its journey even as it comes to a halt. I consider the myriad of colors they create across the browning grass, and wryly grasp the cup in my fingers. Movement shifts to my left again, closer this time, but I don’t bother to greet it. Eyes closing, I take a delicate sip of the scalding liquid.
I’ve never liked coffee without mountains of sugar, but in this moment, the drink satisfies my every need.
With a small sigh, I set down the cup again and reach for my cane. A figure is hovering behind me; I can feel their breath on my neck. The slope of the cane is smooth to the touch as I pull the item into my lap.
“Alright then,” I say, sitting quietly. “How’s this going to go? Do I just close my eyes, or are you planning something a little more grandiose?”
It wavers behind me, as though shifting its weight from foot to foot.
“Oh?” My brow lifts. “All is well that ends well, I suppose.”
I spread my fingers across my lap, smiling at every wrinkle and vein that bulges from their surface. Here it is: undeniable physical evidence that I am alive. A testimony to the life I have lived, my love and my loss, the daydreams that never came true and the spontaneous pockets of wonder that took me by the hand. Here is the proof of my time, carved into my very skin. The smile that had captivated my features slips.
“It doesn’t seem like enough.”
The figure shuffles again, almost uncomfortable. Chuckling, I lift the cane and dig its end into the soil. “Well?”
It glides across the grass, considering the empty spot on the bench beside me. I remove the coffee cup, and without any more prompting, Death takes a seat by my side. The creature’s face is faded and forlorn. I watch it with interest.
“Do you need more time?” It’s timbre couldn’t belong to a voice. The words are formed by the surrounding ambience more than the individual, and they startle me. A mother and child walk past without so much as a glance in our direction.
I look down into my lap, considering the cup and the cane that perch there so peacefully. The tremble of my hands offers equal juxtaposition. “More time? Whatever for?”
Death is silent.
“Oh, of course.” With a sigh, I retreat deeper within the confines of my coat. I’ve been many things over the years. A mother, a traitor, a lover, a child. An individual’s identity is as fluent as water. I know myself as well as I’m supposed to. My children have sprung into this world and made lives for themselves. The family I grew out of has all passed by now. And yet, each breath I take here and alive is the aloe to all my losses; the act of living is my satisfaction.
Death’s placid solemnity cracks into a frown, and I glance at it from the corner of my eye. “If I said yes, would you truly give it to me?”
The creature remains unchanged by the words. It simply watches as I dig the end of my cane into the dirt. The knuckles of my hands ache at the movement. Pausing, I look towards the fountain. A dog barks in the distance, and beyond the rabble of the park, I can make out the consistent grumble of the city I have known my entire life. I’ve travelled a little, but this place has been my home for as long as the word had any meaning.
“No, thank you.” The decision weighs lightly on my heart, and I lean back into the bench. My fingers tremble less as I let the cane fall to the ground. “I think I’ve had my share.”
Death blinks. I wait for the figure to do something, though I am uncertain what to expect. If I had expected anything, I would have been disappointed, for the creature merely rests and waits. I realize that it is watching the park, just as I had.
Comforted, I relax and cast my gazes across the surrounding. The gurgle of water fills the air, while wind fingers the canopy of an orderly alignment of trees. Another jogger runs across the sidewalk, gliding with ease across their makeshift track. “It’s beautiful, don’t you think?” I ask, smiling as the world stumbles along around me.
When I turn to face the figure, I am greeted by an empty bench. The air sighs softly, pain consumes me; and then I awake, cradled in the arms of Death. “Be gentle,” I whisper to its ear, feeling my strength fade like a drained pot of water. “It’s worth preserving.”