Kinds of Oblivion

Artwork by Kami Anderson

Artwork by Kami Anderson

Through the crush on a night-time street, Death makes his way.  As he moves, flourishes of urgent neon sear into view from shop fronts above and left, and tyres hiss and slither on wet asphalt behind and right. The chaos of voices in the air around him rises up from a coursing mass of drunken somebodies cutting paths past each other into their Friday night. He moves against and through this tide, towering taller than the faces below him. He stares unchallenged over their heads as the people make their progress, lapsed in a sound oblivion that screens them from the knowledge of him. They hold tight to their insensibility and he colludes, sticking fast to the periphery – to the space from which he moves only when they shift their gaze to meet him.

And when they do, his work is quick for the mechanics of death are not his to administer; no orchestrations of violence or protractions of pain. He has no truck with the flights of terror that precede the quiet he brings. Those things are the properties of a different sphere, a place from which the gift he is charged to deliver does not come. The terminal chimera times his advance with precision enough to avoid all this, appearing and retreating with a deft fluidity that gives them no time or cause to squall. His method is the mastery of timing.

Take this last – this sixth floor man who peered around the door into the semi-darkness and whose eyes, upon seeing, had widened. His hands had flown up to his chest, but this shock of realisation was quickly chased off by the knowledge that here, right now, and at his door, was reprieve. Upon seeing, the man had folded to the floor as quickly as his afflictions flew up and out and his was a new kind of oblivion.

So, death makes his easy way through this press of bodies, and veers from the main road left, to a quieter one lined tall on each side by rows of anonymous buildings. They loom overhead and the street is a tunnel at the end of which, he sees a park, a brightly lit rotunda in the centre. He continues down towards it and passes a cluster of women, bending in towards each other against the cold. One of their number leans into a car window to haggle with the driver of an idling cab. As he approaches, the cab moves off because no deal has been struck.

A woman steps out of the huddle at this moment, and she stops in the middle of the pavement. She is in his path but with her back turned, looking in the direction of the park. “I can see another cab down there. Let me see if I can get him.” She is already pacing down the street as her friends murmur their ok’s. He watches her as she goes ahead and he knows to go, too.

He is many metres behind her when she nears the end of the street, stepping out into the road with an arm raised in the direction of the cab. She sees then that it is not a cab at all – just a darkened car and no one at the wheel.  She spins quickly on her feet to return to her friends while another car reverses, swift and unseen.

He stops where he is and waits. The driver of the halted car does not emerge. The engine runs and he sees frozen hands clutch the steering wheel. He shifts his eyes to the woman then, who is a coil of limbs and fabric at the bumper.

Now.

He crouches beside her and meets her querying eyes. They dart about the surface of his face, seeking anything which might translate these events to her stricken mind. And then, like the last, her moment of apprehension is apparent. Her eyes widen.

Except, this woman wails.

It is a deep and rolling holler that makes him reel. He keeps his ground as he hunches over her but her eyes, with new knowledge, grab at his. They stay wide and do not tremor, and then she moves. He is forced to back away as she sits up and turns her face full to his.

His hands fall. Something he clutches drops with a clatter to the ground. Her eyes track him as he retreats, this backlit figure with no discernible feature. She stares after his shrinking form even as the driver finally appears, venting desperate apologies.  She stares after the figure still as he makes a hurried retreat, receding to the oblivion he strayed from.

Isabel Barnes

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