Dawn rose after noon the day she died. You’ve known her since kindergarten, when she stole your fire truck during recess and you socked her in the arm. You’d been inseparable since, once she contented herself to take no more than much of your time and the only pain you caused her involved pointed questions.
You watched as she side-stepped the homeless woman begging change on the corner. From across the street, you saw the truck hit her, your arm caught in mid-wave. You rushed to her, but the damage was too severe, too unquestionably fatal. You’ve heard that quick deaths are supposed to be a comfort because the deceased didn't suffer.
Dawn disagrees. Once you were home again, after answering the questions from the police, once you were back in your apartment with the tension and fear leaking from your eyes, your phone rang. Dawn asked you to swing by the hospital and pick her up. She hung up and didn’t answer when you called back. So you went to pick her up because what else were you to do?
She told you that it had been a mistake. The truck just shocked her heart, but she’d revived thanks to adrenaline. Could you not mention this to anyone else, she asked, almost embarrassed. You were so grateful that you acceded, as strange as you found it. You’d been there. You’d been certain she died. You’d seen the broken bones, the blood, the injuries that no longer existed when she hopped into the passenger’s seat of your car.
She wouldn’t talk about it on the way back to her home, said it felt like sleep. She woke up to doctors calling it a miracle and was discharged. You just joked that she must be a superhero, then amended this to “zombie.”
She went to work the next day, selling music at a tiny store on Main Street. She greeted you with a kiss on the cheek—her frustrating custom—
when you came in to check on her. Her dark hair smelled of lilacs and ashes and her green eyes were crisp as apples. In retrospect, you have tried to remember if her lips were cold that day, if there was any indication.
Dawn had a way of confusing the subject. You’d try to talk about one thing, tried to pin down definitions, but found yourself in a conversation about the minutia of books without knowing how. She thought it was charming, but you held it as one of the reasons you could never date her. Not for very long, at least.
You asked her to meet you for dinner, tried to confirm a where and when. You caught the quick look downward before she declined, as she felt for something in her pocket, but couldn’t register its meaning. “I have another appointment,” she said.
“I’ll come,” you replied. “I’ll drive you and then we’ll get a bite to eat.”
“No, I need to go alone. It’s a lady issues problem,” she replied, the force of her denial startling you.
“I can deal with lady issues,” you begin to say, having known this as her stock excuse, but then came to the real issue. “You scared the hell out of me yesterday. I don’t want you to be alone.”
“I want to be alone. You’re around me too much.”
Maybe it was that look in her eyes, the hard pleading, but you listened.
Though you called her daily, it is a week before you see her again, hobbling down the street, when you were on your way to confront her.
“What’s wrong with you?” you begin, the question all accusation, but you catch sight of her face under her hoodie. You repeat the question with sincerity.
“Nothing.” she croaks. Her eyes are glassy and stare through you. Her face is blanched and her lips, blue. When you were ten, you walked in on your grandfather dying, his heart giving up the fight. He looked better than Dawn.
“You need to get to the hospital,” you insist, pulling on her arm. You feel something sharp underneath the fabric of her shirt. It is only much later that you will realize it was one of her bones, shattered.
“No, they can’t help. I screwed up.” She gets into your car, but you don’t turn the key. The story pours out of her. It didn’t take a chess game for her to best death. Dawn woke on the floor of the morgue to her phone buzzing in her pocket. She answered and a voice like an apiary asked if she would rather be dead. Of course she wouldn’t, she answered. So it was settled and she found her body amongst the drawers of corpses, falling back into it and reviving. But there were conditions.
“Are you saying you kill people?” you say, realizing your proximity in an enclosed space to the undead.
“Ye—no,” she corrects. “People die. I happen to be there. I make sure they do. They are supposed to die. I think.” She looks at her hands, the blueness of the veins showing through her bloodless skin.
“How do you know they are supposed to? How do you know what to do? How do you know where to be?” you continue, too loudly. You want to poke holes in her story, to make it any less true, but looking at her convinces you that the impossible may be the easiest answer.
In lieu of answering, she fishes her beat-up phone from her pocket and flips it open, pushing a few buttons. A text message pops up from an unlisted number, giving a location just outside of town, yesterday’s date, and a time. When you reach out for the phone, she jerks it away and hides it in her pocket.
“What happened there?” you ask.
“I don’t know. I wasn’t there.”
“So you don’t have to be a part of this, then.’
“I wasn’t there and now I look like this. I don’t know if they died yesterday, but I died again last night. I can feel myself rotting right now. I’m being punished.”
“How can we make this better?”
“Only you,” she says back, then coughs in a way that rattles in her. “Only you could be concerned about how to make death better.”
“You aren’t dead,” you argue.
“No. I am Death.”
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