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Death Wears Fingerless Gloves

Shane Cashman


I straightened my posture when Death and his wife walked into the auction house. No one else seemed to mind that he had shown up. Or they hadn’t yet recognized him.


Death appeared just as you’d expect––unannounced, reserved, shadow-like, but dignified. I’d heard that he had stopped by the auction house in the past, but never during one of my shifts.


His wife quickly scanned the room and saw me standing behind the glass showcase where I’d been paid to guard, among other things, the 19th Century Scarab from France.


She held out her hand and demanded the scarab. This was not a good first impression. I don’t think she stomped her foot as she asked, but I like to remember it that way when I tell this story. In all honesty though, I have a tough time liking anybody who walks into the gallery to place bids. It might be because I don’t get paid enough to place bids on anything myself––or, just as likely, that during my shifts I somehow lose all patience with nearly every human who falls into my orbit. If there is a hell, I’ve more than likely already won a one-way ticket on account of how flippant I’ve treated some of the people who come in here rubbing their fingerprints all over my glass showcase. I did, however, like this one Irishman who for a whole month stopped by every Thursday to ogle an old oil-on-canvas of an Irish countryside. He never placed a bid. He just liked to stop by and look at it as if it were a porthole joining New York with County Cork. He claimed it was of his town. He said he knew that hill. There were sheep in the painting and I wondered if he recognized them too.


I stopped myself from giving Death’s wife any attitude on account of who she slept next to at night––if Death even slept in a bed. I’d imagine being married to Death might inflate one’s ego. She could probably tell that I was all of a sudden trying to be on my best behavior. She must see it all the time.


The scarab was rather delicate. I placed it in the center of her palm with great care. She went about guessing the weight, mumbling to herself, testing it out in either palm. Her eyeballs reached to the sides of their sockets, like she was searching for a memory of the weight of a previous scarab she’d held long ago. I wondered then what vacation must be like with Death. Does he get vacation time? Is there a way to calculate any moratoriums of fatalities that might correlate with the times in which Death went to, say, the south of France? Or does his wife typically holiday alone and Death just pops in when he’s on break?


“How do you know if it is real?” she asked.


What I wanted to say: I don’t believe a fucking word my boss says about any of the shit in this room VS. What I really said: The auctioneer carefully appraises each item in the room.


Death toured the showroom slowly, inspecting each object. If he were treating the gallery with the respect of a museum, touching nothing, nodding here and there at things he liked, then his wife was treating it like a petting zoo. Not that I really minded one method over the other. She could’ve spiked the scarab on the floor into dust and it wouldn’t have bothered me a bit. I’ve never seen my boss fire anyone here. Although there are no windows in the showroom, all I really am is a glorified window cleaner––my showcase is my window. And I’m not so much a guard as I am a stanchion. And if she were to shatter this precious antique against the hard tile, I’m sure my boss would’ve given her a pass seeing as whom she walked in with. I’ve heard that Death and his wife left high bids on items in the past. He sometimes makes unflattering doodles of the auctioneer on napkins during auctions. My coworkers, if they beat me to sweeping up the morning after an auction, usually sweep the napkins into the trash right away because everyone here is overly superstitious. They don’t see anything Death touches as somehow worthy of, say, being in my showcase.


Once Death joins his wife at the showcase, I act cool, pretending as if he’s not, in fact, Death. He’s so close I think to shake his hand. But I bet he hates special treatment. I wouldn’t want him to think that I’m shaking his hand for no reason other than that it might buy me some extra time in this life. I don’t think Death appreciates ass-kissers. Honestly, I feel like most people shake his hand with ulterior motives––a fear in their heads causing them to overcompensate with pleasantries.

I consider telling him I’m a fan, but I don’t want him to see me as just another groupie. I’m not like the biggest fan––not the kind that’ll beg him for an autograph, but I do wish to tell him I appreciate his work.


I’ve never seen a celebrity this close and I actually find myself feeling bad for Death. It’s not until I see his crow’s feet at the corners of each eye giving him a ghoulish charm that I realize maybe he’s been typecast. How many times has he been hired to portray Death in a movie? If not Death, then some sort of evil incarnate.


Personally, I’ve always called him Death, but, according to the Internet Movie Database, other people know him just as well as the President of the United States or Dick Brain or Heywood or Klaus. None of these ring a bell. He’s Death. I will never not know him as anything other than Death.


It is, however, fair to say he has a birth name given to him by his parents, and this name appears, I’m sure, on his driver’s license and tax returns and SAG membership card. But I will not call him by that legal name, not here, because he has been Death, in my eyes, since 1991, when I was an impressionable six-year-old just beginning to struggle with the nature of life and death. You can Google Death, the word Bogus, the name Keanu, and movies released in 1991, and, fairly quickly, you can find his real name.


His wife handed him the scarab to inspect. That’s when I noticed Death wore fingerless gloves. They looked homemade. I imagined him sitting in his kitchen cutting off each finger then trying them on in the mirror to see if he could pull off the look. He can.


He brought the scarab close to his face as if to decide if it smelled authentically 19th century and or French. I wondered how stressful it must be to have to wear that Death face everywhere you go. I don’t mean this in a bad way, not at all, but he doesn’t need much makeup or prosthetics to be recognized as Death. Even without the whole get-up, as cliché as it’s become––the black cloak, the scythe, the trail of bodies extending from here to the beginning of humankind––he’s rather distinguishable.


When he looked at me for the first time with his bright eyes, I won’t lie, it felt as if he’d found a target on my forehead, a price tag, an expiration. He looked straight through the middle of my face and smiled. I usually don’t have a problem making the distinction between an actor and the roles they’ve played, but this was different. His being cast as Death in 1991 was, in my mind, the real life version of The Shadow of the Vampire (2000), in which the filming crew behind Nosferatu (1922) becomes suspicious the lead actor might actually be a real vampire. If you were standing with me at the showcase with Death and his wife, you’d also be suspicious.


I thought images from my life would scream through my brain as I waited for Death to take my number. His eyes really were bright. When he smiles you can see the exact shape of his skull. But, really, all I could think was how this would be a great way to skip out on the rest of my shift.


I’m embarrassed to say this was a misunderstanding on my behalf––thinking I was at all important to be recognized so soon by someone so popular.


He’d actually become captivated by a large painting hanging on the wall above my head. A poorly done watercolor of a fox chase. Like most the crap-art we sold here, the frame probably cost more than the painting.


Death asked if he could see it up close. I’d need a ladder to bring it down. It was also my job to take the paintings off the wall and Vanna-White them for potential bidders.


He came around behind the showcase, something no one’s supposed to do­­––but who am I to tell him otherwise? He held the shaky ladder as I climbed up to pull the wire from the hook.


He grabbed the ladder with one hand, looked up at me with his skull-smile, and, I swear to you, he said, “Wouldn’t want you to die.”


That’s when I knew we’d probably get along if we were to ever hang out when neither of us was on the clock. But Death must never vacation.


“I bet you say that every time,” I told him, holding the fox chase under my arm. He laughed. His laugh sounded eerily average. But it also echoed through my soul, the showroom, through the tile floor, and straight down to the hell-hot core of Earth.

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