I’ve been throwing some tough stories out here lately. For a brief change of pace, let’s go with this “cozy” from Jennifer Moore.
“Come on, Ms. Priver,”he thought, checking his watch. “I haven’t got all day.” It was always depressing to fall behind on the first job of the morning. “What’s keeping you?”
But when the door was eventually opened, after a toe-scuffing two and a half minute wait on the leaf-strewn doorstep, it wasn’t Antonia standing there. Death thought he recognised the dressing-gowned old woman, peering out at him from the coolness of the tiled hallway, as her grandmother. Yes. They were old friends in fact. That’s to say their paths had crossed a couple of times before, which was as close to friendship as Death ever got. As unpleasant occupations went, his was right up there with sewerage plant worker and taxman. No one ever wanted to sit next to the reaper at parties. And dating was proving a complete no-no too, thanks to the uncompromising hours.
“Hello,” murmured the old lady, the word loitering somewhere between a question and an apology.
“Ah, Madame Priver. I’m sorry to call so early. I was looking for Antonia.”
The old lady’s eyes narrowed to thin black hyphens as she tried to remember what her granddaughter had told her about letting strange men into the house.
“Have you come to read the meter?”
“No,” smiled Death. “I’m here to see Antonia.”
“What’s the password?”
Death sighed. Young people were by far the hardest part of his job, but it was almost as cruel to keep the old ones hanging on so long. To wait until Time had already ravaged their minds.
He fixed his attention on the tight grey bun on top of the woman’s thinning scalp and plunged into the tangled chaos of her thoughts. An ailing cat jostled for attention with her great uncle’s butterfly collection. Characters from her favourite novel argued over an inheritance while her younger brother drowned unnoticed in her grandfather’s pond. Fragments of shopping lists and a recipe for apple almond tart had twisted themselves around her seventeenth birthday. Odd words fluttered above the general mêlée. Death seized one at random.
“No,” she said. “I don’t think it was that.”
He tried another. “Laburnum?”
She rolled it over on her tongue, head to one side. “Laburnum, laburnum. Hmm, I’m rather afraid we chopped it down. It’s poisonous, you know.”
“Pacific? Viper? Baguette?”
“Baguette.” She smiled triumphantly. “Yes that’s it. I knew it was something to do with cheese. My late husband was French.”
Death stepped across the threshold. “Ah yes, Albert. I remember him well. Such a shame about his heart.”