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DEATH AND THE SALESMAN
BY PAUL JASON STREET
*
It's Tuesday. I always come to this cafe on Tuesday and order a turkey bagel sandwich with American cheese. They are very good and fill me up for the long day ahead; price isn't that bad either. It's nice out today, so I can actually sit outside on the patio again. All the snow and rain has disappeared and the sun is out in the open without a cloud to block it. I fight through the large crowd for a seat at a little table towards the edge of the patio. 

A voice fills my eardrum with an odd tone. "Sure is crowded in here, huh?" 

I look up from my seat to see a man looking at me. I try to act polite and use my "nice" voice. "Yes, it sure is crowded today. I guess itís because itís finally nice outside, people coming out of their holes and whatnot." 

"Well, do you mind if I sit with you for awhile?" 

"No, go right ahead. No use in you eating that soup standing up." 

"I thank you, kind sir. The nameís Roy," the stranger enthusiastically says as he holds out his hand and grabs mine very tightly. His shake sends a chill down my spine and I pull my hand away fast. 

Iím usually not good with this kind of scenario. Talking to customers is one thing, but talking to a person on a "real" level is entirely different. I'm a traveling life insurance salesman. One town here, another town there type of life. This is why I have never been able to separate my work from my life; everyone is a future customer to me. I could let him sit here and ignore him or I could attempt a conversation, but I also could try and sell him, which is the only option I'm good at. 

So, I start my pitch. "Nice to meet you, Roy. My nameís Tim, but my friends call me í Tiny í." 

"I get it ... like Tiny Tim. Very clever friends you must have, huh?" 

"Whenever I actually get to see them. Iím on the road most of my days." 

"Oh yeah, sounds exciting,ď Roy smiles,Ē What line of work you in?" 

"Glad you ask, friend. Iím in life insurance. Selling peace of mind, if you will." And there it is, my slogan. Peace of mind always sounds attractive to people. Everyone has an overactive mind and will spend a fortune on anything that could possibly stop it. Besides, he's a young looking guy and probably just started a family, so it's a no brainer for him. 

"Really, howís that going for you? Is it a profitable business?" 

ďSometimes itís busy as sin and sometimes itís quiet as a clam. Keep my spirits up, though. I just keep telling myself that Iím providing a very important service." 

Roy seems to think something is funny and begins a light laughter. ďEverybody dies sooner or later, right? I mean, canít run from death." 

"I think of it as job security," I laugh,  "So, what line of work you in, Roy?" 

"Letís just say itís close to your line of work. I deal with death too." 

"You in the insurance biz too?" 

"No, Iím more hands-on with the death process," Roy says as he shoves the spoon of chicken noodle in his mouth and slurps. Small cracker crumbs start to build up on his red tie and his white shirtsleeve has a coffee stain around the buttons. 

How odd this guy is. Friendly as can be the first minute, all bottled up the next. He seemed perfectly happy talking about my business, but the moment I ask his, itís all hush hush. I get so nervous around "real" people and this guy already has a bad vibe to him. Maybe heís a murderer. Oh my God, thatís it. Iím more hands on with the death process, ahhhh, heís a killer all right. Here he is being nice to me while, in secret, plotting my death. I knew this would happen, you expect this in my line of work. When you spend enough time on the road, somethingís bound to get you. Why did I let him sit here? I think selling him the 100k plan is out, too. 

"So, you a mortician or something? Maybe you work in a cemetery," I inquire. 

"Can I be honest with you, Tim?" 

"Of course, honesty is important," I mumble. 

"Iím Death." 

Oh my God, there it is! Some guy who thinks heís Death is going to kill me right here, in the middle of this restaurantís patio. Wait, he seems too well dressed and calm for that. I know, heíll tell me that I should come out to his car for something, perhaps a business card, and then chop me up into a million pieces. Iíll end up hacked to pieces in a garbage bag somewhere in the woods. No one will discover my body for years, and when they do, wonít be able to tell who I am. Wait, with all that DNA stuff, Iím sure they could ID me. This is why I never married! I knew this would happen! 

I think this is what it's like to be hit by a bullet. I can't speak at all right now, but I want to scream. ďExcuse me? You think you're Death?" 

ďYep, thatís my professional name, at least. Itís a family business, you know. Weíve been in the death market for hundreds of generations." 

I try to think through this in a sane manner. Christ, I was trying to sell a guy that thinks he's Death life insurance a minute ago! Kind of funny in a way, but not really. ďSo, you are THE Death, huh?" 

"Yeah, right here for your enjoyment." 

"You donít look like Death." 

"What should I look like, Timmy," he chuckles in amusement, like a little boy hiding up in a tree. 

"You know...black robe, no face, and a sickle. Wait, maybe a skeleton face. I don't know, Death-type shit!" 

"We did away with that outfit hundreds of years ago. I think it was great-great grandpa who started to break the mold." 

More interested in his story than him killing me, I ask, "So, are you serious about all this stuff? You do realize how absurd it all sounds, right?" 

ďWell, I just started out on my own lately, so I'm still learning the ins and outs. My father, Death Sr., retired and moved to the Hamptons. Nice people there, you know." 

"Are you crazy? Maybe just joking around with me? Death is not a young white business-looking guy, that's just stupid." 

Roy becomes silent and grabs my forearms. I struggle for a moment, but his hands are strong and I begin to feel drained. He looks straight into my eyes with his. For a moment, I feel horror run up my spine and his cold eyes just turn to a weird ring of fire, the one Johnny Cash sings about. He really is Death!

I just sit with my mouth open for a moment and try to take this in. After that moment passes, I begin to cry like a little girl. "Death, are you going to kill me? I mean, I think I should have a say in this. I havenít even started a family yet!" 

"No, no, no. I just get lonely sometimes and find it nice to talk to someone. It's lonely being Death, nobody ever stays around long enough to talk with. I figured that I should see the sights in town while I wait for this old guy to bite it.  His kid put him in a nursing home five years ago and never came to visit.  Itís sad to see the whole sense of family fall apart over the years.  Itís like no one cares about their family anymore." 

"Right, thatís to bad, but Iím fine? Youíre not taking me with you?" I pause, "Wait...did you use the words 'bite it'?" 

"No, Tim, youíre just fine. If I were you, though, Iíd get started on that family soon." 

"Aaahhh, whatís that fucking mean? Am I going to go soon?" 

"Iím just playing with you! You have a long life ahead of you, but maybe you should start a family soon.  It might help you to calm down a little and learn how to communicate with people in a non-salesman way." 

Death has a point, there. 

A waiter walks towards us. "May I take any of your plates, sir?" 

"This guy, on the other hand, is going to die soon. He gets a little too kinky in the bathroom," Roy says, pointing at the waiter while slurping his soup from the spoon. 

"Excuse me, sir. What was that last comment about me," snaps the insulted waiter. 

Thatís it, I need to get out of here. Iím willing to believe that Death is sitting across from me. I'm willing to bet that my pitch didn't work on him and I am even willing to believe that our waiter is a kinky son of a bitch, but I am not willing to sit here and watch Death play around with the lives of normal people. Dying should be a surprise. Not a happy birthday kind of surprise, but a surprise nonetheless. As for myself, I really donít want to hear about my violent and bloody end. I'm already convinced itís coming and thatís good enough. 

Death starts to move away from the table in his chair and speaks with a matter of fact voice. "I said that in two years, you will die while trying to give yourself a blowjob. Youíll be on the side of the bathtub and when you go down, youíll slide off and break your neck. The good news is that you do, for a brief moment, actually get down there." 

Oh my God, did he just say that? What the fuck is going on here?! I just wanted a nice bagel sandwich before I started my day, but now Death is telling my waiter that he dies giving himself a BJ! This isn't happening! "OKAY! Hey, if I could get my check and be going now..." 

"No, I want you to sit there and listen to what your friend is saying to me," yells the waiter. He has his right hand on his hip and his tray in his left raised above his shoulder. It's just as I'd imagine a waiter to act when angry. That reminds me, I wonder if my bagel is still coming out? 

"Really, heís not my fri..." 

"David, your name is David, right?" asks Death, "I am the one, the only Death. I know when and how everyone goes." 

I whisper soft enough for no one to hear, "What the fuck is he doing? Acting like the Wizard of Oz or some shit?" 

Dave, the waiter, is obviously not buying Roy's story. He's just holding his tray like he's ready to take a swing with it. Actually, I wouldn't mind seeing a waiter kick the shit out of Death today. Dave starts yelling. "Youíre a nutcase and Iím having you thrown out immediately!" 

"Look into my eyes, Dave. Stare right into my eyes." Death begins to act very dramatic and perhaps what one would call "Over the Top"? 

I grab Roy by the shoulder, which is cold, and plead. ďOh, now this is enough! Who are you, Dracula? Just leave the poor guy alone!" 

The waiter walks closer to us and exclaims, "No, Iíll play his silly little game!" 

Death stands from his chair and grabs Dave by the shoulders, forcing him to look into his face. I notice how tense Dave is, but after a brief moment, his body goes limp. It becomes eerily silent. Not a bird chirp in the sky. Wait, was there any birds to start with? 

My mind drifts and I begin thinking about all the unknown garbage bags in all the unknown woods in this country, containing all the unknown insurance salesmen. I wonder if they are drawstring bags or twist ties. Oh shit, I need to find a nice woman and settle down! Screw this insurance crap! 

"Oh my God, you are Death," Dave cries. 

Death shrugs his shoulders and sits back down. "I told you, but you wouldnít listen." 

"Do I really die like that?" 

"Yes, but remember that you do actually get down on yourself for a brief moment." 

"What about my family? I have nothing to leave them. I donít even have insurance," weeps the waiter. 

That phrase was like a bell going off in my head. Anytime someone spouts about how they lack insurance, it makes my pants tingle. "What did you just say?" 

"I donít even have anything to leave them. I am a horrible father and husband! I deserve this ending!" 

"Right, that's to bad," I say, trying to hold the excitement I'm feeling down inside, "but you said something about insurance, I believe." 

He cries and falls to his knees as the whole scene sinks in fully. "Insurance? I'm a fucking waiter! I have nothing, you asshole!" 

"Well, I know this is hard for you, but I think I can help you out on the insurance issue." 

The waiter, now with soft and weak voice, looks up with tears in his eyes and looks right into mine. I can just tell I got him, like a fly in my spider web. He just mumbles out one frail word. "Really?" 

So, I give Dave the whole run down of coverage's and he goes with the middle ground of life insurance; fifty thousand dollars with accidental. I guess when youíre a waiter, you canít afford to spend a lot on covering your death. I'm a little disappointed in my lack to get him to go higher, but this has been weird for both of us. Still, I should've pushed the hundred thousand with accidental and alligator protection! Damnit! No one actually needs the alligator, but it makes people feel better and more likely to visit New Orleans. I should've been a travel agent. 

After I closed the deal, Death leans over to me and, with a wise grin, says, "We should go into business, friend. It seems we complement each other quite well." 

I think about all the reasons I should just say no to Death. All the horrible things he does and how I would be nothing more than a vulture diving down on these people in a weak moment. Hmm, I just did all of that, though. Hell, I guess I could do that! So, I look towards Death, still slurping his soup, and answer. 

"Fuck it. At least you're not the Devil! You got yourself a deal!" 

Death wipes his mouth with one of the folded napkins on the table and chuckles. "Excellent choice, friend. I think we got a good thing here and, remember, Death brings job security." 

"Let's go to a bar, huh? I need a drink!" 
**

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