Death tucked her hair back into her hairnet. For this occasion, she had decided a matronly form was the most appropriate. Her reflection in the mirror showed her a pleasant woman in a tidy nursing uniform, including an upside-down watch face attached by a brooch, and a pair of severe, sensible shoes.
Then, she took herself to the deathbed: it was a hospital room just like any other, smelling of illness and disinfectant, stale water and rotting flowers. On the bed was a very old man, hooked up to a dozen different tubes and electronic sensors. They were all quietly humming, dinging and beeping the tunes of a fading life. Beside the man sat a tiny, frail old lady, holding his hand and muttering endearments to him.
The old lady took one look at Death and gasped. She jumped to her feet and moved her own body between her husband and Death. In her hand was a walking stick, and she held it like a club.
“You stay away from him,” said the old lady. Her expression spoke of her resolution.
“Don’t be silly,” said Death.
“I mean it. If you come any closer, I’ll knock your block off.”
Death sighed. “How did you even know who I was, Veronica?”
“I’ve been keeping an eye out for you for the past three days,” said the old lady.
“Yes. I know. You’ve never left Jasper’s side. You haven’t eaten or slept.”
“And I wasn’t completely sure until now,” said Veronica. “But you’ve just confirmed who you are.”
“How? I’m not carrying a scythe or in the form of a skeleton.”
“That is old hat,” said Veronica. She took a firmer grip of her cane. “I imagine you, of all people, would move with the times. I’ve never even seen a scythe in real life.”
Veronica’s shoulders slumped. She lowered the walking stick until it was resting on the floor, but she didn’t let go of it.
“Jasper has fought for so long. This is so unfair,” she said.
“Why? Death is a part of the cycle of life. If you like, I can have Life come and explain it to you.”
Veronica glanced back at Jasper. “I can remember when he was young and handsome. I couldn’t believe my luck when he told me he loved me. I will not be parted from him.”
“It won’t be for long. I promise,” said Death.
“No. I remember my wedding vows. We are married only until death parts us, but I want to remain married for eternity.”
“Love is the commitment. Love remains, even after your life is over.”
Death looked at Jasper. She could see the man he must have been: tall, strong, and vital. His illness had robbed him of everything but his height. His skin was pale and blue, and even in his coma the lines of pain twisted his features. “He is a fine man,” she said. “But I think you have this situation all wrong. Why do you think I’ve come for Jasper?”
Veronica looked uncertain. “You haven’t? But he is dying. The doctors have all said he can’t last another week.”
“Oh, dear. Listen to the machines… Jasper is still alive, at least for the moment. None of his alarms have gone off.”
Death pointed to the armchair pulled up beside the bed. “Look at the chair, Veronica.”
The old lady looked. Her body was still sitting in it.
“Oh.” The ghost of Veronica started to cry.
Death looked sympathetic. “My dearest Veronica. Little, brave heart. You were very tired. You’ve eaten nothing at all for the past three days. A body needs fuel.” Death reached out and patted Veronica’s little ghost hand.
“So you were here for me all along?” Veronica sobbed even harder. “So Jasper is going to die alone?”
Veronica’s sobbing became a sniffle. “How?”
Death smiled. She said, “Look at Jasper.”
Veronica spun around, much too fast for a frail, elderly woman. As her ghostly form adjusted to the afterlife, it stopped reacting as an old body would. Her hair was changing from grey to chestnut even as she turned.
On the bed, Jasper was growing younger, too. His wrinkles smoothed themselves away and his knobby bones were hidden once again behind panels of firm flesh. His bald pate sprouted a thicket of dark hair. He opened his eyes, and they were bright and clear.
“Veronica?” he called out. He sat up in bed. His wife ran to his arms. They kissed.
As alarms sounded and screamed and displays flashed into red, the hospital room faded away.
Jasper couldn’t stop kissing Veronica. Finally, he noticed Death watching them.
“Oops. Hello, there,” he said. “I feel I should know you.” He still kept his arms wrapped around Veronica.
“It’s Lady Death, darling,” said Veronica.
“Really?” He didn’t doubt his wife’s statement. He had faced death more than once during his life. He pushed Veronica behind him and said, “You can’t have her. Take me instead.”
Death threw back her head and laughed. Once she was able to catch her breath, she said, “Oh, I can see you two were made for each other.”
“You’re too late, Jasper,” explained Veronica.
Veronica continued on, “We are already dead, my love.”
“We are? But I don’t feel dead. I don’t remember dying.”
Death grinned. “Good. If I ever need a reference, I know who to ask.”
Jasper grinned back. “Well, I guess the worst is over, then. So, what is next?”
Death shrugged. “Don’t look at me. I never get to see what comes next.”