Old man, old man—I see you with your lake-rights cottage and your knotty pine paneling, dark as walnut with cigar smoke. Even now, the blue haze tangles in your hair. You’ve burned your dining table all to hell—the table your wife bought to refinish four years back, though a heart attack finished her first.
I’d helped with that one, too.
I see you, old man. You were a widower even before she died. Of your own design, you marched backward in measured retreat. You never had to battle the army in front of you, nor run out of ground behind you. Until now, the day you will die.
Or rather, the night.
(The old should die at night, and in the fall or winter. The young should die in the morning and springtime. It is an aesthetic concern that had been ignored until the districts were parceled out to individual angels. The middle-aged adult can die any time in the day or year, according to whom or what is left behind. They are mourned as themselves, not as archetypes, as are the young or old.)
Old man, you die tonight in your home, cigar in hand, or better, in mouth. Your recliner would be an easy place to go and . . . ah, I have the perfect idea.
You see me now, don’t you? I can tell by that glassy-eyed stare that sees past all the world and sees nothing at all.
I am that nothing, old man. I am the Bastard Being, extension without substance. I am not the garden shears that snip a rose from the vine, but rather the unexplainable and persistent shadow that overcasts bush and bloom until both are dead. I am an angel descended of the archangels Michael and Samael and Azrael, the bringers of death.
You do not want to go with me. I should not have let you see me so soon. You leap up from the ash-pitted tabletop. Your hamstrings fling back the chair, and it barks to the battered hardwood between us as you flee. But I am an angel. Chairs do not bother these sharp Caucasian shins, the linen pants I wear. They are appearances only. I bound through the chair.
You’ve left your cigar beside the ashtray on the table.
I grapple you. Your hair is greasy on my arm. You bite my shoulder, no more than a cornered badger. I need to calm you down, so I drag you downstairs to the basement. You claw at the pictures on the wall. Some fall. Glass breaks. Those will leave people wondering.
Ah, the furnace room. The exhaust usually goes through this white pipe. Not with a nest of mice in it. Now it comes out here and here, but mostly here. You’re gasping anyway now, so with your face rammed up into that galvanized triangle, it’s not long before you are limp in my hands.
The gas will go through the rest of the place by the time I’m gone.
Strange how much heavier you feel as dead weight. Your pants mop the stairs of glass shards as we ascend. I pick up the broken pictures, a nice touch in mind.
You look comfortable in the recliner, especially with the leg-rest up and the pictures on your lap like you are reminiscing. Ah, here’s your cigar. With a couple long draws from me, it flares hot. Your chair catches easily, with all the towels draped over arms and back, and I stand to watch your bruised chest slowly breathing.
You won’t awaken. No, not with the carbon monoxide in the air. Your pants peel back like curling parchment, and your leg hair is flashing with orange and sending up white smoke.
I breathe that smoke, sweeter than any cigar.
I must leave. In this form, the carbon monoxide will make me dizzy. Soon the chair will catch the drapes, and the drapes the walls, and there will be neighbors calling the volunteers.
I shift, no longer a thirty-year-old white male with a disarming smile and a predilection for murder, becoming nothing at all, the Bastard Being. I move through the back door without opening it and disappear among the bare boughs of autumn.August 27th, 2009
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