A Grim Reaper’s Letter to the Editor, Miami Herald

The list and scythe are only a myth, and, though my given name is Reaper-1, my friends call me “Steve.” It’s less formal and more relatable, which is everything in this business.

Animals are the most accepting of my visit, particularly the reptiles. When I pick up the ball pythons, I simply tell them that they are going to a place that never runs out of mice, and they curl up in my arms with a contented smile and flick of the tongue.

It’s not a good career fit for everyone, though. New reapers are produced every so often to replace their predecessors. There’s a lot of burnout in the first months on the job, and everyone has their own soft spots. Mathieu quit on the spot after Dachau, and my last trainee, Shawn, quit the first week after gathering several thousand frogs who succumbed to chytrid.

My first case under Andrei (who insisted on being called “Reaper-13”) was in a small Russian village before Catherine the Great’s reign. The cottage floor was dirt—and cold—when we arrived for the little waif in the corner. Her blonde mops of curls covered bright green eyes, and she sucked the fingers in her mouth as if they were little breadsticks. She shivered under her patched shirt, shrinking from us. Nishka was her name. Little Nishka, followed by Alexei that spring (TB) and their mother in fall (TB).

spring snow on the roof—
drip, drip, drip, sizzle
fireplace ashes

The clients that always tug at my cloak-strings are the iguanas. Loyal and affectionate when they get to know you, iguanas really are simple folk—peeking around a bush, nibbling on a patch of “Mr. Grass” or a serendipitous freshly-planted hibiscus flow, or diving from their sun-drenched perch to the deep clue canal at the sight of a shadow. Of course, they’ll head-bob anything within 20 yards—minus me.

The year of 2010, rumors of snow circulated through the greater Kendall area faster than coffee in a Keurig. The iguanas were particularly hard-hit, ashen footballs falling like missed passes from their perches in the trees to the streets below only to be stepped on by a linebacker named Ford or Toyota. Many did miss the passing cars and revived in the sunlight, but I picked up several stragglers.

Their ashen hue revived to a healthy green when I stood next to them. They usually cocked their head to the right and to the left and back again before leaping into my arms with a glimmer in their eyes and a faint song on the lips.

reviving iguana—
tummy so happy filled
with lychees and warmth

It’s not always mass casualties in this business. There’s a lot of one-offs, typically the mundane stuff—accidents, disease, predations—but also more of the weird than one might expect—asphyxiation by orange slice, heart attack while pleasuring one’s self, a case of the bends, even a seagull who downed a ghost pepper off the dock and drank himself to death on seawater. Lizards, spiders, squid, and mice are frequent fliers, and amphibians are becoming routine these days.

A common misconception is that if a creature sees me, he’s a goner. It’s a myth that we are the ones who cause death. We simply appear in cases where death is probable and disappear after the case resolves itself. Some people—and animals, in particular—sense when I’m there. Blood running cold. A chill down the spine. Even a moment of breathlessness or an unseen shadow. Ever seen a jumpy gazelle or spooked horse?

Some people avoid death or prepare for a loved one’s death by heeding those signs. A twin sister feeling the chill surrounding her sister 1500 miles away. A Liberian nurse filled with dread when Patient 0 arrives and puts on her gloves, urging others to do the same. It’s a particularly common phenomenon amongst infantrymen. I remember a case in Ramadi—2007—where a young sergeant saved his unit from an IED and rooftop sniper in wait by heeding my heeding my warning.

So, the next time you see your neighborhood reaper, don’t panic; talk to us. Heed our warnings. We don’t want to carry you off any more than you want us to, and we’ll give you ample warning of the approaching danger. And, if you happen to make it, you can always thank us with freshly-baked cookies.

shadow creeping
behind house in twilight—
tornado siren

 Colleen M. Farrelly

A Grim Reaper’s Letter to the Editor, Miami Herald

A Prayer For The Man In The Red Raincoat

Our Father;
the sins of man
beaten out of him

    This morning, like every morning, returning home to a cold empty flat along the cinder packed towpath, under lichen covered bridges and across frictionless rancid-black footboards from one side of the lock to the other and back again, holding tightly to the gate rails to prevent slipping into the cut and being pulled down with the swell and through the paddle into the chamber to almost certain death.
I passed a young man wearing a red raincoat, speaking as if to Himself in a timbre that told me His adolescence had been drawn out, and I thought, that thought, that one, that one day He will be dead, and what will be left of Him will simply be graffiti in the minds of the ones, if there were any, who had loved Him.
In His name, Amen.

 

Brendan Slater

A Prayer For The Man In The Red Raincoat

So What

Newport Jazz Festival 1958. The year that accelerated jazz into a new era. The white race was catching sight at black music, and Anita O’Day, white as snow, swinging “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “Tea for Two”. Fashion was cool, simple and stylish. It was high-level art and completely irresistible. The world would find itself and the music exploded.

She was 10 years old and explosive. She had just saved her father from committing suicide. Or maybe he used her, realizing he would not die by drinking a whole bottle of snaps in one go. However, the gas? Turned up to minimum strength, she barely noticed, when she opened the window and shouted for help, while her father lay in a bloodstream with a hole in the head. Her nose and the smell of alcohol and blood mixed with gas saved them. She had had some experiments with her father’s “circus performance”, making sure he did not jump out in front of a train at North Harbor Station. The repeating pattern: dad on a bender/mom wants a divorce/dad threatens suicide. “Oh, my dear, poor daddy!” Subsequently she drove her mother to madness with psychological questions. Was she malicious? Did she try to save herself by releasing her pain in this helpless manner; did she really resemble her father that much? She had to find out if her mother could withstand her pain and sorrow without giving up, like her father, because she felt empty, selfless and abandoned.

Now her world should change too, so she could find herself for real. What a process, what a chance. In addition, life, so damn slow, lying right there like a big bleeding sparkling love ball, calling for help.

The fool
loses face
So What

Mona Larsen

So What

 S.O.Briquet

Grand rounds every Monday morning at the mission hospital, where I interned was always a holy time where we solemnly followed the Chief – a formidable Scots lady
who examined every patient’s chart minutely and berated us for the smallest errors.

One Monday, she noticed several patients’ charts had been marked ‘S.O.B.’ by the new Canadian doctor who, like many before him had come from various countries to study exotic tropical diseases. In a shocked voice the Chief asked what ‘S.O.B.’ meant and the Canadian innocently said, “Why doctor? It means short of breath.”

breath work
my bean bag also
breathes in… out

Angelee Deodhar

 S.O.Briquet

Something Fishy

It is Saturday and as I dress leisurely I am singing under my breath. This is the day I look forward to all week. The day I venture out into the wild, wild world of the bazaar to put one over on the natives.

Saturday disco
I wonder if the polka dot shirt
is too formal

Stepping forth with rare fortitude and courage into the vegetable market I approach the vendor of potatoes and onions. I start haggling even before she has quoted. One has to be firm with these people. After argument and counter-argument she sighs in defeat and triumphantly paying her my price I plonk the purchase into my basket. But even as I step away flushed with victory I overhear the wretched woman quoting a much lower price to the next customer. I shudder to think how Mother will dice me along with the potatoes.

Grandfather alarmed
as a nurse mentions tubers
health check up

A moment later finds me examining the fresh fish displayed by a monger. When he quotes I act as though shocked to the core. I point out to the good man that this is highway robbery. He whimpers and whines that they are indeed large specimens of the species. Relenting, I shell out the money and head homeward.

worldly wise
the way the geography teacher
twirls the globe

Hauling the catch up the three flights of stairs to the old home I am greeted with a Basilisk’s glare. From the mater. Having listened with a patient smile to her criticism of the price paid for the onions, I dip into the seafood packet with a complacent smirk. What I do draw out of the container however ate two tiny specimens of the much touted pompfret. I gape at Mother with fishlike eyes. And I realize for the thousandth time what a cruel world this is.

bazaar apathy
……..a crab reaches out
for my fingers

 Gautam Nadkarni

Something Fishy

A Size Too Large

I had often heard about séances in my childhood and something equally dreadful called planchette. And then a playmate of mine from the neighbourhood brightly informed me that his cousin was a medium. At planchette, he added darkly. My curiosity piqued, it was shortly thereafter that a small group of us gathered conspiratorially around a carom board on which the cousin had chalked in some mysterious symbols.

She tossed her pigtails as she placed a coin on the board which had been liberally dusted with talc. Then the medium called out to the ghosts of our ancestors. We all took turns calling out to them but not a squeak out of a spectre. Since the four of us had our index fingers on the coin it moved in every conceivable direction with every conceivable result. Finally, having shouted ourselves hoarse for an hour, we despaired and gave up.

in low spirits
…….I pour myself
a large vodka

Gautam Nadkarni

A Size Too Large