I was sitting in my usual booth at the GHOP (Gentleman’s House of Pancakes). On the table before me was a plate full of untouched ones (pancakes). I was pushing them around with a fork. To the best of my knowledge, Dick Hercules was not around.
“May I join you?”
I looked up. It was not Mr.Hercules. Worse, it was this fellow…
I didn’t quite know what to say.
“Is it time?” I said.
He sat down across from me in the booth and leaned his scythe against the table. It slid down and clattered on the floor.
“Shit,” he said.
He picked it up and positioned it awkwardly between his legs.
“Must be cumbersome,” I said.
“I hate it,” he said. He glanced around. People were cutting pancakes with the edge of their forks. Drinking orange juice. It was an exciting time.
Now, I say he glanced around, but I couldn’t see his eyes. Under his hood was a shadow. So I said again. “Is it time?”
He pulled his hood around until the shadow was pointed more or less towards me. “No, Walt. Not yet,” came his voice. No mouth. Just the voice. “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” he said.
Did I say this chap and I had never met? All of this was a bit disconcerting. I didn’t know what to say. So I said nothing.
The hum of conversation. Silverware clacking against plates.
“Walt,” he said.
“Walt,” he said again.
“I’m right here,” I said. “You don’t have to say my name every time.”
“Walt,” he said again. (That one almost put me over the edge.) “You’re not dead yet.”
“I know. I’m eating a pancake.”
“You haven’t touched it.”
“I’ll get to it.”
“You’ve a ways to go.”
“It’s a big pancake.”
“Not talking about the pancake.”
“Ah. Well, I ought to, I hope.”
“Do I what?”
“Do I hope?”
“Do you have any? Do you even want to be alive? Because you seem quite dead to me.”
“I’m not,” I said. I shook my head and adjusted my monocle. I cut into my pancake with the side of my fork. “I’m not,” I said, shoving the fork into my mouth.
The old fellow just tilted his head. His hooded, enshadowed head. He seemed to be waiting for something.
“What?” I said, chewing my pancake. “Can I help you?”
“You seem awfully defensive, Walt,” he said.
The waiter came. Good timing. He refilled my coffee, and left without acknowledging Mr. Gloomy Face-In-Shadow.
“Am I the only one can see you?” I said to the old fellow.
He leaned forward, put his elbows on the table, and said, “Listen.” His scythe fell forward and clattered against the table. “Dammit,” he said. “Sorry. Listen, Walt. You need to get it together.”
“Don’t tell me to get it together,” I said, shaking my head. “Don’t tell me.” I put a piece of bacon in my mouth and wiped my fingers on the napkin. “I’m together.”
The old fellow just stared at me. He wasn’t buying it.
“I am,” I said. “It’s just – “
I sighed. I crumpled up the napkin and wiped my hands.
“I do feel a bit dead,” I admitted.
He nodded, I think. Hard to tell.
I put down my fork. Rubbed my eyes.
“Am I dead? Is this for real? Was I hit by a garbage truck or some such?”
Elbows on his knees, Death tossed his scythe from hand to hand.
“Yes and no, Walt.” He shook his head. “Yes and no.”
I shook my head and raised my coffee to my mouth. I put it down without drinking. I said, “Mister, you don’t have to tell me I’m dead. I know it.”
“Now we’re getting somewhere,” he said.
“I’ve never felt so dead,” I said.
“That’s good,” he said.
“You know what I mean,” he said.
I did, I have to admit. But I didn’t like how it sounded.
“So what will you do about it?” he said.
“I should do something, shouldn’t I?”
He nodded. “It’s not your time.”
“It’s coming, though.”
“Hell yes it’s coming.”
I sighed. “Every day is the same,” I said. “I dread getting up in the morning because I don’t want to start it all over again. And I don’t want to go to bed because I have to get up in the morning.”
With a snap of his wrist, he pushed my coffee across the table and into my lap. It burned. I leapt up, jolting the table. He reached over and slapped me in the face, whipped the end of his scythe around and smacked me in the neck with the long end. He jammed the flat upper side of the blade under my jaw and raised me to my toes.
“Live,” he said.
I couldn’t breathe.
“Now,” he added.
I tried to push the blade away but couldn’t.
He thrust it up harder. I feared my head might come off.
He jammed it up into my jaw once more, as if for emphasis. Then he released it, and looked me up and down. He spun round to go and walked off, calling over his shoulder: “Live while you can.” His heels clomped across the floor. “I’ll be back.”
I rubbed under my jaw where the top edge of the blade had caught me. The scythe of Death kind of hurts, I can tell you.
I straightened my shirt and coat and sat down to finish my pancakes.
The waiter returned. “Did you save room for dessert?” he said with a smile.
“It’s nine o’clock in the morning,” I said.
“But the key lime pie is to die for,” he said.