One night, Death visits my mother. She opens the backdoor and lets him into the kitchen. It’s raining outside, and lightning strikes just as he takes off his long, black cloak and gives it to her. He’s white as bones and skinny. With long, thin fingers, he fills a cup with water and then sits down at the table. Mother sits next to him and starts mending his cloak as she had done many times before.
I watch from behind the doorframe as they whisper to each other. Sometimes, Mother cries, a hand over her mouth. I want to step into the kitchen and console her, but the tall figure near her is too frightening. The spot he occupies is dark as if a storm cloud had followed him in.
Death doesn’t come often, but I always know when he’s nearby. The house feels colder. Mother becomes distant. She forgets I’m even in the same room, looking at the window with vacant eyes. As he approaches, always after sunset, she tells me to go back to my room and not come out until she says so.
When I was little, I would hide in the corner, knees pressed against my chest, and wait. I’m bigger now and not so stupid. I know Death doesn’t visit other kid’s homes. We’re different. Our family is different. I’m reminded of that every day at school as I walk by, and everyone steps away, whispering between fingers. Unlike them, I have no father. Unlike them, I never met him.
A shadow looms over me. I raise my head and find Mother looking down, her eyebrows raised. “Go back to your room, Bonnie. Now.”
She grabs my arm and yanks me upstairs. Outside, branches hit the window of my bedroom as the wind blows.
“You stay there and stay quiet.” Her voice is thick with an emotion I don’t recognize.
“Who is he?” I ask, heart racing for an answer.
For a second, she hesitates. For a second, I think I’ll finally know for sure. Then she slams the door, and I’m left alone. A few seconds later, I hear their voices. Death is still inside the house. Did he take my father away? He must have. He’s the reason Mother cries almost every day. He’s why people look at us with suspicion when we go to the grocery store.
The voices die out. I wait until I hear footsteps going toward her bedroom before sneaking out to the hallway and tiptoeing my way down the stairs. The kitchen lights are out. Death’s cloak still hangs on the back of a chair. With trembling hands, I reach for it. It smells like bleach and burnt hair. My fingers trace dark round holes Mother hasn’t fixed yet. The fabric feels rough and beaten. Most of all, it feels real.
The distant sound of police sirens attracts my attention, but I freeze when heavy footsteps come from behind me.
A white, bony hand snatches the cloak from my grasp. I turn around to see a pair of black pants. I look up only to find the nostrils of his long nose. He’s way taller than Mother.
“Sorry,” I squeal.
He looks down with pity in his eyes and places a single finger against his thin lips.
I nod fast, stepping away from his dark form.
He puts on the cloak and marches to the door, but before he leaves, I find my bravery.
“Did you kill my father?” I whisper. “Did you?”
His fingers stay around the door knob as he glances back. The sirens grow louder and louder as I wait for him to punish me for being disrespectful. Instead he sighs, stares at the floor, then steps out, slamming the door shut behind him.
Weeks, then months pass and Death doesn’t come back. Mother doesn’t talk about it, and neither do I, but the memory of his last visit lingers between us. I picture his long nose and fingers, his sad eyes and pale, sickly skin over and over in my mind. I don’t want to forget the creature responsible for our misery.
Yet as I grow older, and Mother finds joy again, I begin to let go. We spend more time together, building affection where once there was only silence. Eventually, the memory of those rainy nights fades even as I catch a glimpse of his long nose and lanky form in the mirror.
It takes years before Death visits me again.
He stands on the front porch, carrying a suitcase and wearing a Homburg hat that hides most of his gray hair. He nods. I nod.
“Come in,” I say with an emotion I can’t quite understand in my throat. “She’s waiting.”
# # #
Priscila Santa Rosa has written four novels in English and Portuguese and left her home country of Brazil to study creative writing in Orlando, FL. When not writing, she enjoys going to the movies and playing with her cat. You can follow her on Twitter at @priscilassr.