A Conversation with Clyde

                
           I heard the sound of a bear paw knocking twice on the door to my hallway.  The sound was extremely loud…ethereal…and commanding.  I wasn’t startled.  It was exactly as I assumed it would be. Exactly when I assumed it would be.  Carefully, I climbed off of my synthetic red futon and slowly approached the copper-lined peephole, attentively spying out of its walleye-shaped lens from behind the front door. 

            Nothing.

            Only a dark emptiness stared back at me.

            As I turned to walk back to the comfortable cushions of my futon, the pounding double-knock struck against my hallway door with authority for a second time. Warily, I moved towards the eyehole once again; peering into the black, vacant abyss outside my door.  Worried that my mind was engaging in a game I was not willing to play, I turned away from the door; shutting my eyes closed as tight as the chest to a buried treasure. 

            Was I overreacting by imagining all of this?  Could it be the wind snapping at my door during the middle of the night?  I was almost certain I was going to receive an important visitor tonight.  Walking back to my seat in confusion, I heard the familiar sounds for a third time.  This time the knocking was more intense, expressed with a bit of annoyance in their exaggerated percussions.  It was a demanding noise that would not be ignored again. 

            Expecting to see a figure dressed in a black cloak, holding a scythe with its boney hands; I pictured the phantom poised and ready to strike me down like a stalk of wheat.  Cautiously, I threw the door open and was astonished by the individual positioned inside my doorway.  It was only a man. 

            Standing there in a gray, double breasted pin-stripped suit, the man was completely unremarkable.  He looked as bland as a saltine cracker with no distinguishing characteristics to make him stand out from any other person you might find in a crowded bus terminal, or a busy restaurant.  The man was of an average height, a medium build, with soft, lucid blue eyes to compliment his brown cropped hairdo. He looked like anyone and everyone all at once. And although he seemed quite ordinary, resembling the facsimile of a manikin in a storeroom window, his presence was exceptionally unique. 

            How disappointing. 

            I was expecting something much more…grotesque…menacing even. 

            “Emily, may I come in?” he asked, as if we were old friends.

            “Do I have a choice?” I sarcastically replied.

            He smiled ever so slightly, saying, “I think you already know the answer to your question.”

            “Well then, by all means, make yourself comfortable,” I said, sweeping my arm toward the inside of my home in a mocking gesture.     

            The man slowly strolled into my studio apartment with his hands clasped behind his back.  He was unassuming in his swagger while entering my home. He leisurely marched in, admiring each piece of artwork that had been hung upon the white brick walls.  Each wall was covered with photographs that I had spent a lifetime developing during my career as a photographer.  The man moved from piece to piece, seemingly unimpressed until he stopped to admire one of the pictures for longer than just a glance.  The picture was one of my favorites. It was a black and white portrait of a woman working on a sculpture. 

            She was smoothing over the final touches of a man she had been sculpting out of a cream-colored stone. The statuesque character was bent over, fallen to one knee and tensely grasping at the ground. Pathetically, he was squeezing the dirt in front of him, emanating a sense of hopeless defeat.  I remember taking the pictures of her working on the sculpture without admiring the radiance and beauty of the actual piece itself.  In retrospect, it was the most magnificent work of art I have ever laid eyes upon.  Unfortunately, I was too preoccupied with creating my own work of art to notice her brilliance.  Eventually, her masterpiece became the subject of my own.

            “You have a great deal of talent,” he stated bluntly, slowly moving on from each picture without stopping to take a look at me.

            “I didn’t know the bringer of death was such an art critic,” I said, ignoring the compliment.

            The man turned to look directly at me. His eyes seemed to be piercing straight through me as he responded, “Please, call me anything…anything but that.”

            “How does Clyde sound?” I joked, blurting out the first name that came to mind.

            He turned to look at me and nodded with approval.

            “That will do nicely,” he replied in admiration of the joke.

            After perusing the last of the photographs that I had so diligently worked on, Clyde took a seat in one of the bar stools directly across from me, crossing his legs as if he were an old aristocrat.  He placed his fingers spread out in front of his face, touching them to his nose like an opened pyramid before pointing them directly at me to ask a question. 

            “So then, you know why I’m here?”

            “Well, I have a good idea of why you’re here,” I said, continuing with a sarcastic and defiant tone. 

            A long moment of silence passed between the two of us. It felt like eternity to me, and probably felt like a grain of sand in an hour glass, or the blink of an eye to him.  I stood up and walked over to my spiral shaped wine rack in the far corner of the room.  At the bottom of the rack was a bottle of Malvasia Bianca from 1998; a bottle that I had been saving for a special occasion.  I was convinced that this night qualified as such, pulling it from its resting place. 

            After uncorking the light yellow wine, I decided to take a moment to savor the sweet smell of honey and pears mixed with a hint of vanilla.  The scent was refreshing and tantalizing to me. I was glad to take the time to appreciate its aroma.  I rarely took time like this to appreciate much of anything.  Now that I was face to face with Dea…Clyde…I felt like I should start enjoying things while I still had a chance.

            “Would you like a drink?” I asked him as I poured a glass for myself. 

            “No, thank you,” he politely returned.

            “Not much of a drinker, huh?”  I inquired, taking a small sip of the wine. 

            After all, why should an omnipotent being such as Clyde take part in any form of human pleasure?  

            “I do on occasion,” Clyde stated, making me wonder if he was replying to my mocking question or reading my mind and responding to his carnal knowledge of human desires. 

            I shrugged my shoulders and took a substantially larger sip of the wine.  After refilling my glass, I walked back over to my futon with the bottle still in hand. Plopping down, I faced Clyde as if preparing to negotiate a business deal.  In some ways, I guess I was.  

            “So, is this where I’m supposed to beg for forgiveness and repent for all of my sins,” I wondered out loud. 

            “That’s really not my department,” Clyde stated.

            Puzzled by his response, I probed further, “Well, can you at least tell me if I’ll be going to heaven or hell?”

            “It really isn’t up to me.  I’m more of an intermediary who presents the required merchandise,” Clyde asserted as a matter-of-fact. 

            “So, my soul will reach either God or the Devil?” I questioned him further.

            Clyde took a deep breath and began, “It gets a bit more complicated than that; I only facilitate things,” he asserted.

            “That’s bullshit, give me a real answer,” I jumped up, yelling in contempt.

            He countered, waving his hand as if he were a police officer attempting to stop a car in traffic, “Whoa, don’t kill the messenger.”

            I gave a slight laugh at the irony of his statement; as if I were capable of killing the usher of the deceased himself.  Apparently, Clyde has a sense of humor.  I guess you’d have to have a sense of humor in his line of work.

            After regaining my composure I sat down, refilling my recently emptied glass of wine once again.  As I shifted in my seat trying to find a comfortable position, I noticed Clyde looking intently at me with the eyes of a granite gargoyle, seeming to probe the deepest depths of my soul. 

            “Why aren’t you afraid of me?” he asked. 

            Clyde continued, “Almost everyone fears my arrival.  Very few people can accept the fact that they are going to eventually meet with me.  People who are suicidal, seasoned combat veterans, even those who live in countries torn apart by poverty and have nothing to live for; they all fear me and try to avoid their appointed time with me. But not you…why is that?” 

            “Well, let’s just say that I had a near-Clyde experience when I was a child that changed my way of thinking,” I told him.

            “There is no such thing.  People either have an appointment with me or they do not.  I’m not one to toy with the lives of others,” he interrupted, trying to enlighten me.

            Choosing to ignore his comment, I continued, “I almost drowned in my parent’s swimming pool when I was nine years old.  Everything seemed black and cold to me, but I felt an overwhelming sense of peace.  A calm feeling of relief filled my entire being.  It was the relief from a life of struggle and pain that I was too young to know about, or understand; but the sensation was still there, and I never forgot it.” 

            “My next door neighbor, Mr. Hicks, saw me face down in the water and reacted.  The next thing I knew I was awake and coughing up water from where he laid me down to give me mouth-to-mouth.  Regardless if you were there or not; it felt like the real thing. Enough to make me realize I would experience that feeling at least once more in my lifetime.  From that moment on, I was unafraid of you Clyde.”

            He slowly nodded with acceptance to my explanation for the lack of fear that I felt.  After doing so, he sat up straight in his barstool to continue our conversation.

            “Is there anything else that you wish to know?” he asked softly.

            “Yeah, who killed JFK, and what are tomorrows winning lottery numbers?” I said teasing him.

            Again, he laughed at the question.  I never imagined Clyde would be so good-humored.  It’s funny.  He was the best date I’ve had in years; too bad he was here to bring me into the afterlife.  I decided I should probably cut to the chase.

            “Do you ever look the other way?  I mean, I still have a lot to live for; a lot I’d like to accomplish in life.  Do you ever give anyone a pass that might have something left to contribute to this world?” I wondered, hoping his answer would be the one I was looking for.

            “No, I never have.”

            “Never?”

            “Not ever.  Just last week I had to initiate the expiration of a woman on the verge of curing breast cancer,” Clyde commented modestly.

            “You took the life…of a person…who discovered the cure to breast cancer?” I asked in complete disbelief.

            “No, but she was on the verge of curing it.”

            “Breast cancer?” I repeated.

            “Yes, breast cancer.  Is that a problem?” Clyde retorted in a heated tone, seemingly upset by my line of questioning.

            I snapped back and replied, “No it’s not a problem. I’m not the one who has to live with that on their conscience, that’s all.”

            Again, there was a long, uncomfortable silence between the two of us.  We both found the statement humorous, but neither of us laughed this time.  I poured the last of the Malvasia from the bottle into my glass.  The glass was only filled half way.  I decided to pull another bottle from the rack.  This time it was a red cabernet.  I drank the rest of the white wine in a single gulp, uncorking the ruby red wine immediately afterwards.  Settling back on the futon, I poured myself another glass and continued my conversation with Clyde.

            “So, how did you get into this line of work?”

            “Actually,” he responded, “it’s a family business.”

            I sensed it was a topic he wasn't willing to talk about further, so I left it alone and continued with my inquisition.

            “Are you responsible for all forms of death?  You know...animals, plant life, minute cell death, extraterrestrial life forms, y’know stuff like that?” I questioned him once again.

            “I only harvest the souls of others,” he returned.

            “So, is E.T. included in that cohort,” I countered.

            Shaking his head, he laughed saying, “Are you ever going to be willing to accept things as they are.”

            “No, probably not,” I told him.

            Clyde walked over to me and grabbed the glass from my hand.  He took the last sip for himself, gulping it down.  He placed his hand on my shoulder and looked directly into my eyes.  He was looking at me this time. Not through me, or within me, but actually looking at me without deviating from me.

            “It’s time to go,” he said finally, after a somber moment had passed.

            “I don’t feel like I’m about to die, maybe I’m not ready,” I responded.

            Clyde took my hand into his and gently led me towards the doorway. 

            “No one ever feels like it’s their time to go, but it always is.”

            I walked with him, looking at my life’s work and felt that calming aura I felt as a child.  I wasn’t afraid.  I knew Clyde was there to escort me during this transition into the afterlife. 

            Inquisitively, I asked him, “When will it begin?”

            “It began the moment you opened the door tonight,” he explained.

            Passing by my favorite work of art, admiring it for the last time, I looked back at my futon and saw a woman asleep on the couch.  She was at peace, as if she were dreaming of a life less complicated. 

            My final thought before leaving was a comforting one.

            “It could be far more appalling; to suffer a fate worse than Clyde.”


Comments:
 
Moonrose   Moonrose wrote
on 2/17/2009 3:14:34 PM
Wow, this is kinda cool. Puts a new view on death and that sort of thing... and I like the humor you spin in, it works nicely. Great job.

justwrite   justwrite wrote
on 4/21/2008 11:43:42 AM
I loved it! A glass of wine, good conversation, even though it was with Death. Good spin on the aspect of dying. Well Done!

albertfiger
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Synopsis
A woman receives a visitor on what may be the last night of her life.
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