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The Delayed Delivery of Nadia's Death by Katherine Varga

As Nadia turned on her gas stove, her invisible death deliverer inhaled and leaned in, ready to blow below Nadia’s pan of scrambling eggs to cause a spark that would catch on her sleeve and spread across her body.

But then Nadia did something odd for a woman who lived alone. She pulled out not one, but two plates from the cabinet, and not one, but two mugs. She separated her eggs with the spatula and put half on each plate. She poured coffee into both mugs.

She looked directly at her death deliverer. “Join me?”

DeeDee glanced behind her, at the kitchen wall, in case she had missed another person in the studio.

“You can see me?” DeeDee asked.

“Yeah. Ever since yesterday. On the highway.”

At first, DeeDee thought she’d take it easy with a traffic accident. She popped into the front passenger seat and bent the rear mirror of the car in front of them so the driver would miss Nadia changing lanes. Just before the cars collided, she got distracted by dark ink on Nadia’s forearm. A flower with a clock in its center. For a second, she lost focus and Nadia honked and pull away. But that was okay – if at first you don’t succeed, etc.

There were more creative ways to deliver a death. For example, a dangling light fixture falling on Nadia’s head. But that could wait until after breakfast.

“I’ve never had coffee,” she admitted. She had never had any human food—none of the deliverers needed it.

“It’s still hot,” Nadia said, handing DeeDee a fork. “Do you like eggs? I shouldn’t have just assumed.”

DeeDee took a bite. The eggs didn’t taste like much. “They’re great,” she said. She sipped the coffee. Too bitter and too hot.

“Have some cream,” Nadia said. DeeDee watched it lighten the coffee, like blood swirling around a shipwreck. “Do you read the paper?” She sized DeeDee up, and handed over the funnies.

After breakfast, Nadia asked, “Do you need to change or do you always wear… that?” She gestured to DeeDee’s plain dark suit.

“It’s business casual,” the death deliverer said.

“I’ve got something. If you wanted to mix it up.”

Nadia pulled a pink polka dot dress from the back of her closet and threw it at DeeDee, who accepted it although she usually wore neutral colors. Her assignments sometimes saw her right before their cognitive functions shut down forever, and she didn’t want their last thoughts to be, “What is that stranger wearing?”

But Nadia could already see her, and she might appreciate looking at a cute dress during her final breathe.

“So… I have work now,” Nadia said, hesitating by the door with her purse and keys.

“I know.” DeeDee floated through the passenger side door and settled in.

They didn’t speak during the drive, just listened to the radio. One of DeeDee’s favorite songs was playing – a remix, technically, but the familiar melody made DeeDee want to dance and twirl and laugh. Nadia shut it off.

“It’s so horrible,” she said. “I can’t listen to the news before work anymore.”

DeeDee felt ashamed, like a little kid chastised for making a fart noise during church.

“I’ll probably end up there,” she said, gesturing to the radio. “When I’m done with you.”

DeeDee eyed Nadia – would she try to shut her off as resolutely as she did the radio? But Nadia just said, “oh wow,” and pulled into a drive through at a donut shop. “Birthday at the office,” she explained.

Nadia arrived at the back parking lot of her marketing firm. They both got out of the car.

“Oh,” she said. “I thought work would be safe.”

“Nothing’s ever really safe,” DeeDee said.

“I suppose you’re right,” Nadia said. “Let’s go then.”

Nadia sat at her desk, hand on her mouse, hunched over without realizing how bad her posture was. DeeDee waited in the empty cubicle next to hers, knitting a scarf for her brother, who might want to use it to strangle one of his assignments. There were several other humans in the office, but none close to death—DeeDee was the only one of her profession in the room.

DeeDee learned a lot about Nadia from how she interacted with her coworkers: how she bit her lip in concentration, or giggled when she was nervous, or snorted when she was overjoyed.

Every once in a while, Nadia glanced over at DeeDee and smiled. DeeDee had never heard of anyone acknowledging a death deliver so casually. People either froze with wide eyes or closed their eyes in resignation when death was so close. They never winked then went back to their emails.

When Nadia went to the bathroom, DeeDee squeezed into the corner of her stall and looked up at the ceiling, to give Nadia her privacy. Although she thrived on germs, she washed her hands beside Nadia like any other coworker.

“Will you warn me?” Nadia asked. “When it’s coming?”

She could do it now. Ignite a fire in the sink. Bang her skull against the wall. Reach into her throat and stop her heart. No warning necessary, the way she always did it.

“I will,” DeeDee said. When Nadia smiled, the fluorescent bathroom lights glowed more gloriously than a nuclear explosion.

That night, as Nadia curled up under a blanket watching her favorite murder mystery show on TV, she glanced over at DeeDee, who counted stitches in the scarf for her brother.

“Hey, so, I like to go to this bakery on Saturday mornings,” she asked. “Do you want to go with me? Not like, out of necessity because you watch my every move. But as a proper outing. We can have coffee and get to know each other.”

DeeDee lost count of her stitches. “Sure,” she said, finally. “If you make it through the night.”

She wanted to incite ominous shivers down Nadia’s spine, but Nadia just laughed with sparkles and light before tucking herself into bed.

DeeDee floated outside while Nadia slept. She grabbed a lightning bug and squashed it in her palm. Easy, natural. If she was being generous, she’d do the same for Nadia now. Humans often preferred to die in the middle of the night, during their sleep, no awareness. Instead of returning to Nadia’s apartment, DeeDee flew down on the midnight wind to visit her brother in a neighboring town, who was shaking the trees above a house during a storm. He dropped the branches when he saw DeeDee.

“Why are you dressed like a human going to a party?” he asked.

DeeDee still wore the pink polka dot dress. She smoothed out a wrinkle above her hip.

“I made you this.” She held out the scarf.

He rubbed it against his cheek. “That is very generous of you. Come, sit.”

They sat on a branch, the wind and rain howling around and through them.

“I have an assignment. She has this tattoo—and she likes driving in silence—and she brings donuts for her coworkers—and I don’t know, maybe we don’t always have to deliver death,” she said.

His eyes widened in horror. He was older and had gone through many more assignments than her – he forgot sometimes what it was like to be young.

“All right, so we stop delivering death, just because we like a person,” he said. “The human doesn’t die. They age and age and age. They can’t eat or walk or remember anything, but they’re alive. Sounds like a zombie apocalypse.”

“But maybe we don’t have to deliver death when they’re young,” she said. “Maybe we can wait.”

Her brother laughed. “No senseless tragedies? How would people define themselves? Know the value of life?” Then he smiled slyly. “Besides. They taste better young.”

Death deliverers rarely admitted this in polite company, but humans did taste good, especially the young and beloved ones. The sweetness of their lives oozed out, luscious, rich. Even after the death, the grief of those around kept the aftertaste strong.

“If she’s as great as you say, she’ll probably taste extra good,” he said.

DeeDee didn’t disagree, but that wasn’t the point. “She sees me,” she said. “She sees me and she isn’t afraid.”

“Even the weird ones have to die.”

Her brother jumped up, and grabbed the tree by the trunk. He snapped it so the upper half of the tree fell onto the roof of the house. He winked at her and flew away, off to the next assignment.

The next morning, Nadia biked to the bakery with DeeDee sitting on the handlebars. Nadia ordered an extra large mocha latte and a scone to share. They sat in the red velvet chairs around the corner of the back, so nobody would think Nadia was talking to herself.

“So like. Why me?” Nadia asked. She took a red mug from her bag and filled it with the mocha latte, then gave it to DeeDee.

“It’s pretty arbitrary,” she said. “We get assigned someone close to death and latch on.”

“How many people have you…”

“About fifty,” DeeDee said. And then she couldn’t resist speaking the truth: “But you’re my favorite so far.”

Nadia looked down, her cheeks darkening, much like they would if she were unable to breathe.

“And how long do you stay with each person?”

“Until they’re dead.”

Nadia choked on her scone. Not severely – DeeDee wasn’t planning for her to go this way. But she coughed and some specks of pastry flew out of her mouth.

“It only makes sense,” DeeDee said. “I’m here to end things, so I’m with you till the end.”

Nadia stopped eating and stopped blinking and stopped sipping coffee. (But she didn’t stop breathing – DeeDee was very aware of the air still flowing up and out Nadia’s nose.) “I thought—I thought you were here to save me.”

“I am,” DeeDee said, sipping her coffee. “I’m here to save you from living forever.”

Nadia’s eyes widened and DeeDee laughed to hide her hurt. “What did you think, I was your guardian angel?”

Nadia didn’t say anything. DeeDee was so used to her assignments ignoring her, but this intentional looking away and refusal to speak was new.

She held up her hand to do it. Reach through Nadia’s mouth and twist around her stomach until the cells lacked the nutrients they needed to stay healthy, like reaching into a sink’s disposal to pull out a fork. Then Nadia would wait, wait, wait for the cancer to end her, just like DeeDee was wait, wait, waiting for Nadia’s response.

Nadia finally looked into Deedee’s eyes. “How long do I have?”

“As long as I decide.”

“My entire life depends on someone else?”

“That’s how the world works.”

“Can I at least finish the TV show I’m watching before you do it?” she asked. “I think I know where it’s going but I want to see if I’m right. There’s only a couple more seasons left.”

DeeDee chewed her scone slowly, soaking in Nadia’s dark eyeliner and painted fingernails and heart shaped necklace.

She had to be honest with herself: if she hadn’t killed Nadia by now she never would. She needed time to recover from the illusion of being seen and cherished rather than feared and loathed. She would come back for someone with hair whiter than Nadia’s and skin more wrinkled.

“I’ll see you after the last episode,” she said, and left.

Of course, DeeDee didn’t care what Nadia watched on TV. But let her dread her favorite show. Let her avoid ever making it to the final episode. Let her live life never knowing if she was right about the ending. It couldn’t be any worse than finding out you were wrong.

DeeDee would wait it out at the center of a field of flowers…


Katherine Varga is a writer and theatre critic living in Rochester, NY. Her plays have been performed in 8 states. Her creative prose has appeared or is forthcoming in Passengers Journal, Qu Literary Magazine, Arasi, The Evermore Review, Welter, and The Hooghly Review. On an ideal day, you'll find her biking to the public library.

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