The New Guy

I was scarfing down whoppers when death came. Not the burgers–yeck–but the candy, wolfing them down, crunching on the chocolate milk balls so that I didn’t hear his dainty little knocks.

But then the bell rang. I sat up straight, cocked my head like a retriever. No matter much bad news I received, and I received my fair share, I clung to some thought that one day, something might happen. Maybe old Ed McMahon was out there now, waiting, a camera crew behind him, holding a giant check. I saw some version of me, in all my pony-tailed, sweepstakes-winning graciousness, clinging to the old man, jumping up and down…

Only, wasn’t Ed McMahon dead?

Right. I stood. I didn’t bother with my hair, there was no big check in my future. No glitz and glamour. No prince or tycoon or wheezing millionaire and certainly no camera crew. But there was a hooded stranger, holding a scythe and clipboard of all things.

I looked him over. “Aren’t you a little early?”

The Reaper shrugged. I squinted, trying to get a look at the face under the hood but I couldn’t see a thing. He swayed from foot to foot, dropped his clipboard and quickly picked it up and then dropped his scythe with a clang. “Oops, sorry.”

“Look, I’ve got stuff to do, so…”

“Are you Lynn Beckers?”

“It’s Tucker. Lynn Tucker.”

“Oh, uh…” He gripped the scythe, turned his head left to right. I rolled my eyes, crossed my arms and waited for this twerp to get himself together. It was going to take a while.

“I got divorced.” I glanced at his notes. “Two years ago. What they won’t give you an iPad or something?”

“Oh, Um, okay, let me…” More flipping through the papers, his long skeleton fingers struggling with the task. He looked up and cleared his throat. “I have some bad news.”

I set a hand on the doorknob. “Yeah well, get in line.”

The Reaper actually turned around. As though there were bill collectors and lawyers clambering behind him. He looked back to me. “I’m uh, it’s my first day.”

Of course. Here was death, knocking on my door—quite literally—and even that couldn’t seem to go according to plan. Not for me. I thought back to Nick, my high school boyfriend. He’d driven his motorcycle smack into a semi-truck on Route 56. Poor sad Nick, the school and its pity, the grief counselors and moments of silence before kickoff. Sad as it was, it was a James Dean kind of way to go. My uncle Jed, leaping out of a plane, pulling the cord only to find his backpack was simply that. I always imagined him with a grin and a shrug, saying, “Well, if that’s the way it’s going to be…”

But here was me, same old Lame Lynn. I get…this. Some clumsy flunky who’s afraid of his own shadow, holding a clipboard, with a squeaky voice that couldn’t scare a squirrel up a tree. He started muttering about a mix up but I cut him off mid-stutter. “No thanks.”

“Um,” he looked at his little instruction manual. Raised the scythe. “We cannot fear, uh, what we cannot…shoot, it’s, nope. Oh, we cannot…” He flipped the page.

“Are you like, an intern or something?”

“No, it’s just, see, I’m not…”

“Oh dear God.” I turned back inside, to the smell of defeat, to the split-level atrocity that was my life. I left the door open for my stuttering death. The TV blared, as the studio audience went wild as a chubby cat lady hyperventilated on The Price Is Right.

“I have tea or…” Sure, it was eleven-thirty, but how often does Death come calling. “Wine?”

I found two filmy glasses, filled them to the brim with blush, then gestured to the couch. It turned out the Reaper wasn’t an intern. He was twenty-five and had taken the gig due to his exorbitant student loan debt. His last job was a call center at a large insurance company but he thought it might be nice to travel. The wine got him talking, and by the time I refilled our glasses, he’d set his legs on the coffee table and was rambling on about Long Term Care and Annuities when I put a stop to it.

“Look, um, so how does this work?”

“What?” he said, snapping out of the jargon. He’d finished his second glass and well on the way to telling me how his father was disappointed in his career path.

“Me. This.” I lowered my gaze. “Death.”

“Oh, that. Well, Mrs. Beckers.”

“Miss. And it’s Tucker.”

“I’m not exactly allowed to discuss the logistics.”

“Logistics?” I snatched the clipboard, followed the list down to my name. LYNN BECKERS. I looked at the cause of death. My mouth flew open. “No!”

“Yeah, I had to read it twice.”

“The whole town will be laughing.”

The Reaper shrugged. The wine seemed to have relaxed him. Not me, I shook the papers at him. “Choking on Whoppers? Come on, Jake will just love that.”

“Jake Beckers?”

I threw the clipboard, tears streaming. “His new wife is a physical trainer. She called me a pig. She had me fired. I’m not even completely sure she’s human.”

“Hmm.” The Reaper tossed a Whopper into the abyss under the hood.

“Hmm what?”

He scooped up his clipboard. “Well, it’s just that, this says Beckers. You’re not Mrs. Beckers.”

I stopped. Eyed the Whoppers, my instrument of death. “Okay?”

The Reaper set a spindly hand on my shoulder. “I need a Beckers. A Mrs. Beckers.”

I turned to face death, and for the first time I thought I saw what could be eyes back there, two moons in the vast blackness. I sniffled some. “You can’t do that.”

The Reaper shrugged. “It’s my first day. Call it a Rookie mistake.”


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