“But I never know when—” she began and was cut off by the phone. It was so very a like television writer’s cliché that you both jump and laugh at your fear. She glances down at the phone and says, “It’s in ten minutes. And it’s eleven miles away.”
So, without further conversation, you drive, well exceeding the speed limit. It isn’t a question of the insanity of the act—you wouldn’t be Dawn’s best friend if you were a fan of sanity—but that this was the only way to be helpful.
You arrive with seconds to spare, Dawn jumping out of the car, turning her head side to side. A car that cut you off swerves into a telephone pole, which begins to fall. Dawn searches for her appointment and you see in her ghoulish face that she is unaware of the disaster about to crush her. You honk the horn and fumble with the seatbelt, but the pole lands before you can come to the rescue.
You run from your car anyway, to assess the damage. You are shocked to see Dawn standing there, not merely unharmed but looking herself again.
“What?” is all you can say.
She nods her head toward the pole, where a shaggy haired man lies crushed.
“He pushed me out of the way. Because he heard your horn, he ran out of that shop.”
You ignore the danger of the live wires and try to push the pole off him, but Dawn puts a hand to your shoulder.
“Stop. I wouldn’t be here if he could be saved, would I?”
“But... he died because we rushed here.”
She slowly nods. “Yeah, he did.”
By now, the crowd is gathering, looking at you two.
“Hey, we should get out of here. I don’t need to attract attention, being involved with two fatal accidents, you know?”
She leads you back to your car but you can do no more than sit and process. “Either drive or give me the keys,” she says. You opt for the former.
“So you were right,” she says when you get her to the driveway of her apartment.
“And because I was right, we caused the death of some stranger.”
“You knew we would. I was unsubtle about what would happen. I cause death. Now I’m okay. Just like that.” She spreads her pale fingers before your face, the perfume of her skin echoing after. “Poof!”
“Are you okay with what happened?” you ask.
She pushes you, enough to cause impact but not pain. “I’m not a monster. Jeez, why would you ask me that?”
“You aren’t acting very upset.”
She shrugs and spins a ring—a present from you for her last birthday—around her finger. “I didn’t know him. I’m sure he was nice, but I guess it was his time.”
“Because we interfered.”
She looks up from her hands, scowling. “You didn’t have to.”
“I did. You were all sorts of jacked up.”
“You didn’t have to,” she reiterated, “but you did. So thank you.”
“Yeah, well, what was I supposed to do?”
“What you did.” She leans over and gives you a kiss on the cheek, exiting your car.
As far as you know, things return to some version of normal. If she has any more appointments, you don’t hear about them. You find articles about the man who died. He was in his twenties and, from what you could tell, he led a blameless life that should have lasted another sixty years. There was never any mention of Dawn or you, which did not slake your guilt.
You visit her to hang out, but you end up telling her about the man.
“I don’t want to know,” she says.
“I figured, since I helped—”
“Why are you so adamant about always being the one to help me?” she shouts.
“Maybe because you are always the one who needs help,” you reply before you can stop yourself.
The remark doesn’t register on her face. You know this means she is now running through stacked reasoning. You just have to play your part until she is satisfied enough to let it drop.
“You have to agree that your life would be a lot easier without the albatross of Dawnie dangling from your neck,” she says.
“I don’t want easier and you aren’t an albatross.” You see her open her mouth. “And yes, I get the reference.”
“You should want easier.”
You shake your head. “How about we work on easier once you finish being Death?”
“I don’t think—“
“I know,” you say.
The next day, she calls you for an appointment. You drive her to Breakneck Ridge hours early. She brings a picnic lunch, all the foods you love most and a bottle of good champagne. You can almost enjoy this for what it is without remembering how it has to end. You can watch the tide of the Hudson lap at the shore until the sunset dyes the water in pinks and oranges, and she rests her head against your chest, listening to your heart.
You check your watch and, seeing the time is nearly up, scan for Dawn’s target. No sooner have done this than you realize. That bond, that connection you’ve always shared with her, shows itself reciprocal now.
“I’m sorry, so sorry,” she says. You feel the breeze against the wet spot on your t-shirt. She looks at her hands, as she did the fetal pig she made you dissect in biology, disgusting work she couldn’t do. Is she waiting for you to do this for her too?
She looks away, to hide the tears, but they saturate her voice. “It’s always been you. Everyone I killed, I killed instead of you. I tried to stay away...”
She reaches her hand toward you and you don't move away.