I was visiting a friend in the hospital the summer of ’85. While I was passing down a corridor, I noticed a child of about six sitting next to an old man who was lying in a hospital bed. The little girl was holding his hand — he looked too weak to grasp hers.
Usually I don’t eavesdrop on others’ conversations, but in this case I couldn’t help myself.
The two were talking quietly and so intently that my presence was unnoticed.
The old man asked the child, “Do you see anyone yet, Angie?”
“Not yet grandfather,” she replied.
“They should be here soon,” he whispered.
The child’s gaze was drawn to the windows in the room. She said, her blue eyes wide, “Someone is coming. I can almost make them out, grandfather.”
“Tell me,” he said, “Is it a man and a woman?”
Her voice had been low before but, now, was barely a whisper.
“Yes, they’re standing right next to us on the other side of the bed.”
“Yes,” the old man said, “I can feel it now. My eyes are tired and weak, so tell me, child, what does he look like?”
“His face is smooth, and he is looking so kindly at you. He doesn’t look at me.”
The old man said, “What about the lady?”
“Oh, she is so beautiful. She is smiling at me.”
“The lady is lady time. I always knew she was a woman, not a man. And she smiles at you, for you are just beginning. The man, Angie, we call him death. He does not look so fierce, does he?”
“Oh, no, grandfather, he would never hurt anyone. They are going now.”
The child was staring at something by the window that I could not see. “Grandfather, Grandfather,” she called out as they departed.
And a whisper filled the room.
Short story by Gail Berry
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