When we were let in, I picked yet another one of the scones (peach), and we both decided that black coffee was the way to go today. We made for the table by our fireplace, in our cafe, to start our morning. I wondered if the baristas were discussing whether Dee and I were business associates or lovers. Our repeated presence, and secretive nature more likely than not had the rumor mill going.
I was still trying to figure out how the extension and all out rape of the system of time, by which I had governed my whole life, could be justified by Dee in the name of productivity. And when I sat down, the weight of that and all the rest of it hit me all at once. Dee sat across the table, pleasantly fluffing his newspaper out, and sipping lightly at his hot brew; just like he had done yesterday…and the day before, and probably every other day before he had called me to join the corps. There was a rising panic in my stomach that spread to my chest and vibrated at my fingertips in only the span of time it took Dee to finish reading the front page of the news.
This commitment I was making to join Dee in his daily work was more than just a job. This work would not end when I hit 65. There was no retirement. There was going to be no weekends. The job didn’t really ever have a quitting time. I was forever on call. I was forever bound to my duty, and I was forever expected to exist in a realm of duty rather than a realm of self-seeking as every other mortal was free to do. I was bound inextricably to this work and this routine of the morning scone, the distasteful chord cutting, and the forced digestion of all the fabric of other people’s lives. While other humans just got to be concerned with their own purpose in life, I had to try and evaluate the purpose for all human existence, and with less material of my own to find meaning in. The life that Dee assured me I could have outside of my dedication to the job, was seeming less and less possible. Had I lost the right to life by accepting the bond with Death?
I pushed back from the table, and my untouched breakfast, and shook my head at the whole of the thing. Dee pulled the paper away from his face, and set it on the table front as he looked to me to see what was the matter.
“I can’t do this, Dee,” I said again, but now there was a real feeling behind it that I would be giving up too much in taking this job, and I would not see what reward there was in it for me. It seemed like a selfish thought, but all the same I couldn’t banish it. I wanted to live, and I wanted to matter. I wanted to be seen always, and to not just disappear to the rest of the world when things that they couldn’t process happened. I didn’t want to see these things that mortals couldn’t see. I wanted the normalcy of the human lifespan and the mundane that went with it.
“It gets easier,” Dee said. “You’ve got to give it a try. Turning your back on your duties will send you right back to that boring little rut you had carved for yourself, and you’ll be subject to death at any time that fate dictates. Even worse, it’s going to allow the demons to show up at any time and place, with only me to fend them off, and take all the souls they can grab up from us. That means that you walking out now is damning countless people to a hell of emptiness. This is larger than you, and larger than me. It’s not something to pick up and drop at a whim. You are fate, and your fate is to be that force that drives the motion of the world.”
I paused and tried to take in his words, but the fear bubbled up in me again, and I saw Azazal’s sharp eyes in my memory, and heard his words about the worthlessness of working against the grain of existence.
I said: “I know you have good intentions in saying all this, and trying to take me on as an assistant. I’m honored. Truly. But I think that if I ever was an assistant to you, and able to do that job in the past…well, I’ve lost something that made me qualified or rather insane enough to go through with it. I can’t give up my own life for everyone else’s. I’m just not that guy,” I said, and I stood, turning away from Dee and heading for the door.
“You’re content with just letting Azazal have them all?” Dee shouted after me. “Your going to let him take them with no fight at all?”
I didn’t turn around, not even to check if anyone else in the cafe could hear this man yelling what probably seemed like crazy nonsense at me. I mumbled to myself: “Not my problem.” Because it wasn’t my problem. I didn’t have any kind of responsibility to figure out people’s purpose for them, and I didn’t have an obligation to take their life away from them; whether they were saints or scoundrels. I wasn’t any better judge of character than anyone else.
I wasn’t that much of a forward thinker either, and so I hadn’t considered that I wouldn’t have a ride home once I’d dropped the title of Death’s assistant and the benefits that went with it. When I exited the cafe, my first impulse was to head back home and try and recoup my thoughts. Yet, as I walked toward the bus stop to head in that direction, I realized the building where I had worked as an insurance agent was only a block away now. Since I had turned in my resignation to Dee, it actually made more sense to me to return to business as usual in my old life, I thought. No time like the present. I turned at the corner and crossed the street to get to the building.
I hadn’t been in the building in about a day and a half, but it felt like I’d been gone on a long vacation. Everything was so normal, and quiet in the morning hours, that it took on a strange quality that made me nervous, as though a swarm of locusts or something was going to fly around the corner at me if all stayed too still for much longer. I ignored my newfound paranoia to the typical jibe of reality, and took the elevator up to my floor and sought out my cubicle. My cellphone now read a time of 8 a.m., and so I was still early for my work shift by all accounts. I didn’t care one way or another. I sat down at the cubicle, strapped my headset on, and punched a line to take the next waiting caller. I greeted them with the most chipper, “Hello, my name is George!” that I think I’d ever mustered. The woman on the other line actually paused for a few beats to make sure I was a real voice and not an over-enthusiastic robot.
I took several other calls, laughing and bantering with the customers, and refusing any possibility of getting upset with their most banal requests or any level of condescension in their voice. An hour later, when all my co-workers began to arrive, a man who looked eerily similar to me hovered in the hallway, watching me at the cubicle, before hanging his head in resignation and disappearing down the hall and from existence all together it would appear if anyone was paying attention to him.
Commitment, when done with a firm and true dedication, can provide fulfillment greater than any other when the object of your efforts reaches new levels; a payoff. Certainly, commitment to one area may result in a hindrance of freedom to other matters, and it’s going to require some legwork no matter how sweet the rewards of the initial dedication appear. This is why it scares many of us to give of one’s self so fully to a cause, especially if the future of the time vested in the efforts is unpredictable. The future is always unpredictable though, and commitment is always a risk laden and terrifying process on some kind of sliding scale. Because when you commit, you give of yourself pieces that aren’t so easily taken back. You become one with the entity that’s taking your time, love, skills, etc. Becoming one with two bodies is impossible says the rational mind, and then it flees. The fearful mind can doubt just about anything. The things that rely on a leap of faith stand no chance in this atmosphere.
By the time I was on the bus home that day, I was exhausted from going at a non-stop pace all day, solving issues for irate customers and selling policies left and right. But I’d given it an effort I’d never given to the job, and it was a tired satisfaction I felt. I was settled back into the hard plastic of my bus seat, and was flipping through some paperwork that had been handed out this week that my doppelganger had supposedly read through and signed my name off on, when I felt a small tap on my shoulder.
I looked up, and in front of me stood a short, pale-skinned woman with floppy bleached blonde hair. It was my ex-girlfriend Ashley, standing there in the purple faux-fur lined parka I’d bought her last year. She didn’t look murderous or tearful, both things I’d seen in her eyes the last time we’d encountered one another, and so I took this for a good sign.
“Oh hello,” I said awkwardly. “You ride the bus?”