I wake with the dream still more real than reality.
There were three of us – me, Christina, and Death – sitting around a table. Death wasn’t in his stereotypical guise, with the hooded cloak and scythe. Instead, he wore a baseball cap, a T-shirt with something rolled up in its sleeve, and jeans. But I knew who he was. He seemed like a nice enough guy, except for his eyes. They weren’t tombstones or Xs or anything cartoonish like that. They weren’t rheumy or bloodshot, they were exceptionally clear. Too clear. Painfully clear. So clear that they looked not just through me but through time. His eyes were clearer than anything I’d ever seen – glass and mirror at the same time. I could look right through them and still come face-to-face with my reflection.
We sat together around a table and Death held both our hands. Christina and I also held each other’s hands so that we sat in a linked circle, as if we were attending a séance. Death’s hands weren’t cold and clammy like I expected. They were warm, and soft, and comforting.
“Don’t be afraid,” Death said to Christina whose teeth were chattering. Maybe his hand felt cold to her. Or maybe mine did. “When your time comes, I will be ready for you. That time is not now.”
“But you,” he said, turning to me with a welcoming smile, “you’re ready, aren’t you?”
I couldn’t answer.
“Don’t be mad at me, baby,” I said to Christina.
“I’m not mad,” she said the way women do when they’re so mad they can’t even admit it to themselves.
“You should probably get out of here,” Death said to Christina, “while you still can. The boys are going to play a little game.” He unrolled a deck of cards from the sleeve of his T-shirt and shuffled them.
“What’s the game?” I said.
Christina got up from the table and looked at me. She needed me to say something, and I knew what she needed to hear, but for a reason that I don’t understand, I couldn’t say the words. She walked away. When I looked back at the cards on the table they were all the same: The face and back of the cards were blank, as clear as mirrors reflecting the snowfall. I saw into and through the reflections of a long, empty life without Christina.
Death held a card in front of my face. It reflected the sun and it also let the natural light of the sun through, into my eyes. “You love her?” he asked.
I don’t know how to answer that. How do you measure love?
“You lose,” Death said. He picked up one of the cards and flipped it rhythmically across his long slender fingers.
“I can’t lose,” I said. “How can I lose? I’m playing against myself. If I lose I have to win too.”
Death smiled. It was Christina’s smile, but twisted. His teeth were mirrors and glass, reflecting her perfect smile, but backwards and conscientiously empty of all the joy in hers. I saw through his smile, at the sun, fighting a losing battle against the early afternoon clouds that hunched menacingly over the snow-dusted Catskill peaks. The end of the daylight comes too quickly to the valley.
* * *
I wake up but stay in bed for a long time – hours, at least – staring at the sky, and the falling snow, sweating and shivering and watching the steam of my breath, thinking about my dream, before I reach the sickening conclusion that my love for Christina isn’t the thing I came here to kill.