Author is a retired attorney having practiced for 35 years in Illinois who now lives in Texas and started writing stories about a year and a half ago.
THE OLD WOMAN, HER HUSBAND, AND MR. DEATH
They joked about it all the time now. Well for the last couple of years anyway since it suddenly dawned on them that they were both old now and soon would be dead. Joking about it was their way of dealing with it, death that is.
For example the other day when they were out at a department store she suggested to her husband that he buy a couple of new shirts as his were getting old and frayed at the neck. To which he replied, “I ain’t buying any more shirts. I got me enough shirts to last me the rest of my life.”
Whatever he had now, he had enough of to last him the rest of his life. He always said that.
“But yours are old and worn out. You need to replace them,” she said knowing that he’d rise to the bait.
“Well so am I. I’m old and worn out too ya know. You gonna to replace me too woman?” He said all this with his usual smile upon his face, a twinkle in his eyes, proud of himself, thinking he was quite the clever fellow indeed.
They both enjoyed this little banter, this little routine, this little repertoire, or whatever it was called of theirs. The skit was over for now. She said no more.
Oh they would improvise or ad lib on occasion when doing their routine. Like the other day when she suggested that they buy some new furniture as theirs was getting old and tacky looking.
“Kind of like me I’m old and tacky looking too ya know. You gonna replace me too?”
To which she replied, “Ya maybe I will.”
“Oh yeah, who you going to replace me with?
“Well maybe I’ll get me a handsome young gigolo. Did you ever think of that?”
“Well I might replace you with one of them there trophy wives.Did you ever think of that?”
“You haven’t got enough money for a trophy wife.”
“Well I’ve got enough for a pre-owned one.”
“No you don’t. You couldn’t even afford a pre-owned one whatever that is.”
“Well I’ll get me one of them there rescue women then.”
“A rescue woman? What in the hell is a rescue woman husband?”
“You know how they have those animal rescue shelters for cats and dogs?”
“Well they got them for women too. I might get me one there. They’re free. Hell I might get couple of ‘em and if any of ‘em don’t work out, I’ll just take them back. What do you think of that, woman?”
“I think you’re being silly now so just shut up,” she said with eyebrows raised cutting him off before he could say anything else that was sure to be stupid. After all, even for her, enough was enough.
From the tone of her voice and from the fifty plus years of their marriage, her husband knew it was time to shut up or commit suicide by wife. He chose to live.
All this talk about replacing was just plain silly as far as she was concerned for never, not even once, during the course of the marriage, had she ever thought about replacing him for she loved him so. She would be lost without him. He managed all their investments. She knew nothing about them and wouldn’t know how to manage them if he went first. She worried about that. He handled the tax returns. She had no idea what records to keep and how to fill out a tax form and that was another thing she didn’t want to have to worry about if he went first. He was handy around the house and fixed things. She wasn’t. She’d be lost, helpless without him, and have to hire someone to fix things and hope that they would be honest with her and wouldn’t rip her off.
It wasn’t that she was dumb. She was sure she could learn how to do these things if push came to shove but she really didn’t want to be bothered with all that at her age. Teaching an old dog new tricks wasn’t her thing. That and the fact that she didn’t want to live alone without him were the reasons why she wanted to go first.
Oh she knew that if she died first, he would remarry. After all being a man he’d have to have someone to clean and cook and wash his dirty underwear for him. Those things were just too complicated for a man. Besides as far as he was concerned a man wasn’t supposed to do those things anyway. That was woman’s work. Furthermore she knew that her husband was a social animal, loved being around people, loved to joke obviously, and never would be able to live by himself. He wouldn’t be able to take the loneliness. He’d have to have companionship in order to survive. Have someone around to joke with. God help the poor woman whoever that might be.
Though she worried that some woman might take advantage of him, get his money, clean him out, that didn’t really bother her that much.
“Oh well,” she shought. “So be it. What the heck. Que sera, sera. Let him be happy his last few years. What do I care. I’ll be dead. Why deny him happiness even if it costs him.” After all, that’s all she ever wanted for her husband, for him to be happy that is.
So they continued their comedy routine about death, her setting him up, him delivering the punch line, and life went on for them.
But as they grew even older their health deteriorated. Their life took on a new routine now, trips to the doctors in their battle against death. They’d make a day of it, going to the doctor and back that is. Everything moved at a snail’s pace for them now except for time which of course continued to fugit by.
Now enough time had passed that it was time for one of them to leave this world. So Mr. Death paid them a visit one night as they slept. She heard him stumble around their room for he was quite the clumsy fellow and as he did so he woke her up. Besides that he had had a few drinks that night. His job got to him sometimes. Her husband though kept on snoring through it all, kept on sawing logs, for he was such a sound sleeper that he could have slept through the second coming, which this was in a way sort of.
“I’m sorry I woke you up,” slurred Mr. Death to the old woman, “I’m such a klutz you know. But don’t worry. I’m not here for you. I’m here for your husband.”
Mr. Death had lied. He might have had a little too much to drink but he still had his wits about him. He was here for her but didn’t dare tell her that. For whenever he told anyone that he was here for them, they became hysterical and they were always nothing but trouble then. He wanted to spare himself all that. That’s why he had lied.
“Oh,” she said. Though she knew this day was coming, she had been caught off guard and was flummoxed by Mr. Death’s sudden appearance.
“Oh don't worry.” Mr. Death reassured her with a limp flip of his wrist. “I won’t hurt him any. That’s why I take them while they’re sleeping.”
The old woman got her bearings now, straightened herself upright, and confronted Mr. Death. This was her chance to go first and she couldn’t let it pass her by. A once in a lifetime opportunity so to speak for she really did not want to go on living alone without her husband.
“Look,” she said, “how about you take me first? I won’t fight you. I’ll go peacefully into that good night.”
“But I’m not here for you dear,” repeated Mr. Death. “I'm here for your husband. It’s his turn according to my laptop.” He stuck to this line so as to not upset her.
With that said Mr. Death pulled out his laptop from the inside of his flowing, though somewhat gaudily decorated black robe, brushed back his hair behind his ears, straightened out his ruffled pink flowered shirt, and fired up his laptop. Nimbly his fingers flew as he typed in the name of her husband under tomorrow’s obituaries and showed her. “Here,” he said, “take a look for yourself. It’s his turn. Besides he’s older than you and everybody knows that the man always goes first.”
The old woman refused to look at the laptop. Instead she fired back. “Where is it written that the man must go first? And certainly you of all people Mr. Death must know that we don’t all check out in the same order that we checked in now do we? After all how many children do you take every day?”
“But the computer says.”
“But nothing,” she snarled, “the computer can be wrong now can’t it? People hack into computers and change things in them all the time now don’t they? I’m sure you know how to do that now don’t you? Have a little consideration for people’s feelings will you. I want to go first. Please delete my husband’s name and type mine in his place.”
Mr. Death was not used to doing anyone a favor but now he would have to act as if he was.
“Well,” said Mr. Death pausing for effect and then putting his right hand over his heart. (Yah he had one.) “Okay I’ll see what I can do. Just hold your horses now will ya while I google you up.” He said all this in a huffy like manner as if he was being put out some for he couldn’t hide his real feelings. He wasn’t that good at acting.
Mr. Death went to work typing away on his laptop. He made faces and smiled and grimaced as he typed and then after awhile he shut his computer down.
“Okay I’ve reprogrammed everything so that you can go first,” he said.
He lied. In fact he had just been answering his emails the whole time.
“I can take you now but you gotta to promise one thing first, not to fight me,” he said. “I hate it when people do that. You would not believe what I had to go through with the other day when this one guy just flat out refused to go.” He gave her another limp wrist wave. “Oh the stories that I could tell you.”
“Okay, okay, I promise. I promise. Can we just get on with it please?”
Mr. Death knew how he was going to take her now. He had a plan.
“Why don’t you go over and tell your husband goodbye now and then you can go. But whatever you do don’t wake him up. For if you do and he objects to me taking you, then I’ll have to take him first after all to shut him up. And we both don’t want that now do we?”
“Thank you,” she said as she walked over to her husband still somehow asleep through all this. She whispered a few words to him explaining her actions. Told him that she loved him. Told him that she was doing this because she loved him and didn’t want to go on living by herself without him. That she was taking his place for him for she wanted him to have a few more years of happiness here on earth. Then she bent over and gently kissed him on his forehead.
Her back was to Mr. Death. He was right behind her. He tapped her on the shoulder. She was gone.