Death Says Hello (Flash Fiction)

It’s just another Tuesday afternoon on the I-5 south when he decides to drop by. Nothing fancy. No dramatic entrance. He slips in calm and easy like a sleepy breeze and settles in next to me. And though I can feel a shift in mortality inside of my car, a sudden awareness if you will, somehow I know he’s not come for me.

So when the semi in front of me suddenly shifts lanes and sends me into the loose gravel of the shoulder at 79 mph, I don’t panic. I don’t overreact as the car swirls and wiggles itself into a manageable fishtail. And though my ears tell my brain that knuckle-sized rocks are pelting the underside of my car, in my mind I hear something else entirely.

“How goes it?” Death casually asks. “How ya been?”

“Good,” I say as the steering wheel tries to rid itself of my hands. “Pretty damn great, honestly.” I almost bite at the words, as if trying to force them back into my mouth. I’d hate to qualify for selection via statements of feeling too satisfied with my life.

“Glad to hear it,” Death says as he watches the semi’s trailer inch toward my front end. On the opposing shoulder, we pass the disabled truck resting far too close to the white line. Glancing in my rear view, I see dust pluming and cars slowing. Those behind me hold little faith in my ability to keep a straight line in a sea of dirt.

“This isn’t it, right?” I ask, already knowing the answer. “This isn’t the time?” There’s something about this exchange. The vibe just isn’t right. It’s about then that the manageable fishtail takes a long carve to the left. It isn’t the slide I’m worried about.

“Well,” Death says.

It’s the over-correction that’s probably coming.

“Not quite,” Death continues, his words walking hand in hand with my actions. “Think of it as a pop quiz. A go, no-go kind of thing.”

I can feel the rear-end pulling far to the left now, my low-profile tires giving way to the camber of the loose shoulder.

“That heart thing you had cleared up, right?” Death asks. “Lookin’ good to go there?”

“The doctor thinks it was stress,” I say as my fingers resist the urge to over-steer the slide. “Ya know, holidays and the possibility of pregnancy and working nights.”

“And the alcohol,” he inserts, painfully easy.

I don’t respond. Instead, I make a calculated attempt to guide my right wheels back onto pavement.

“I’m glad you got your health back,” Death says. “That’s important, and I know how much it got you thinking.”

The car straightens.

“Just keep an eye on what matters,” Death continues, watching the massive semi return to its lane on the right side of the freeway. “Don’t lose sight.”

With a wiggle of sudden traction, rubber tires return to black tarmac.

“Nice job,” Death says. And for the life of me, I can’t tell if he’s impressed or disappointed. “I had nothing to do with that, by the way,” Death says. “The pregnancy scare. Not my department, obviously. I’ve never found that joke funny, personally.” He glances out the window and sends a longing gaze to the foothills, hills green and lush and satiated by record rains.

My vehicle finds its way back between the lines. The dust cloud I’ve been creating fades away. Thick gravel ceases its assault on my undercarriage. With apprehension, traffic returns to its normal break-neck pace.

And Death just drifts away.

And that Tuesday goes back to being any another Tuesday.

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