Short Story: Long Story

Death can always find Life in the graveyard, her legs in a basket, painting bones with fresh coats. Thick, sticky droplets that drip from her fingertips become impaled on blades of grass; he walks to her, through a field of new colours. On her hands and knees, she kneads the soil, replanting flowers clipped for the grave. Her heavy, exhausted breath produces winds so strong that the headstones are stripped of scripture. He sometimes sits with her, under an infinity of daytime stars, to watch her moulds rise from the stale dough as it bakes.

Early morning, out past her white picket fence, she watches him. He wanders the shore in search for sandcastles to trample, fish to pluck from the ocean and men to drown, but all with a dreamy look in his eyes. He prefers to think of his cosmic hand of destruction as an instrument, which instead deconstructs life’s complexities, keenly. He views each of his five bony fingers as separate tools on a switch-blade knife, and his work as that of a tinkerer.

He tears things apart with wonder. He enjoys the vulnerability that comes with removing the face of a clock and exposing the delicate mechanisms beneath. Between gears, he places a piercing fingernail, jamming the rotations, just see what happens.

When hearts stop beating, he likes the way the last rhythm is often the most creative. It’s boundless, desperate. Life’s essence becomes a frantic conductor, pulling as many heartstrings as it can, at once. A dying heart is a rippling harp, plucking noise from the gut. Sounds that fray and snap as the musician’s breath cracks. The most beautiful melody plays and without fear of hitting a wrong note, but ultimately it always ends on a flat. Finally, the muscles in the musician’s arms stiffen, thumbs no longer pulse but gush, and there’s silence. Only death stands to applaud.

Late morning, by the river that she bled from the North, through the buzzing field and into the dank Graveyard, he often takes a break. Occasionally, she will catch him skipping the odd stone across the calm waves, revelling in the only life he can bring to an object. He, also, likes how the ripples attempt to break the water, yet it remains united, moving with the chaos, fluid and smooth until stillness wins. The pebble’s motion fascinates her in other ways; she’s reminded of how everything must end. She can never predict when the stone will remember that it is, in fact, a stone and lose its footing. One, two, three… it suddenly fails to bounce back and streamlines, slipping fast into the cool depths.

Early afternoon, she sometimes carries his scythe down to the beach-merging forest. She meets him with a fluttering heart; he catches butterflies on his tongue and crunches. He inhales the wind beneath their wings, creating a new vacuum of space to be filled. She opens the heavens and he washes everything down with a sky of rainwater, smiling. He thanks her, taking his scythe from her steady hands. She watches him as he tackles trees and grapples grass, scalping the Earth. It fascinates Life, how Death must crack and make an omelette out of every egg that she lays.

Death always believes she can do better: she can build higher, expand wider, revise foundations and strengthen the entire construct. He never thinks she’s failed, though, quite the opposite; he knows that everything she does is magical. He thinks she is spectacular. Before lighting a match in the art gallery, he always marvels each one of her creations. All of which he has hanged in his heart, where they swing eternally lifeless – with him, he forever carries the weight of her many imaginings.

He works much later into the evening than she does. Merciless but meticulous he is. He takes things slow, acting as a sort of quality control measure. Whereas, her craft is a talent. It’s something that she does so effortlessly with time, cleverness and only a handful of atoms. Like beads of a select number of colours, she strings them in an infinite number of patterns. She threads marvellous accessories around which she fashions a full body of attire. Oftentimes, he returns home with her full creations as separate entities: donning a fur coat, sipping wine from a hollowed out tusk, and merrily whistling each stolen breath away.

She grins from the kitchen window as he tosses his thick, black cloak over the burning sun, eliciting night. He makes his way back home, kicking stones from his path. In passing, he pulls a weed from the front garden for her to reimagine.

Just to toy with him, Life places the crippled plant within a vase to wither. The weed wastes there for days before it comes time for him to claim it. He likes this one, though, so he takes one of her old journals and presses it. Stale brown juices branch out across the paper and pale greens flush the page – life-forces still looking for something to feed. He laughs. Like ink, the tears of the weeping weed write a story, and without Life or Death acting as ghost-writer. As always, he’s impressed.

Life creates and Death destroys, but, mostly, they just observe and leave an awful lot open to interpretation – like all great artists should. It’s not really their place to pull the feathers of a bird’s wings West nor East, here nor there, to nor fro. They only serve to set new-born chicks free, and then catch them when the fall from the sky, frail and old. Where creation chooses to fly with vigour and youth is creation’s business, only.