Frida eyed the instant coffee on the counter with distaste. She’d chosen it especially just to make her lover laugh.
‘Eugh, instant coffee? Tastes like death,’ Death would say, and then they would waggle their eyebrows suggestively until both they and Frida broke into giggles that turned into kisses.
But Frida didn’t feel like kissing right now.
It was her mistake, honestly. She should know better than to look at her clients and make an emotional connection with them. Her job was to toss them, mind and soul, into the void and then leave them; their bodies held somewhere between a shout and a sigh. It wasn’t for her to know if they lived, returning from the void with something more or something less to them, or died. But she’d pitied the last one. She’d liked him even. Her payment for that job had been the instant coffee, the only thing she’d wanted from his apartment. He’d been twenty-two and had felt worn at the edges like an old pair of blue jeans.
But clients died, like he had died, and when you were dating Death, inevitable consequences ended up messily personal.
Frida prodded at the pesto pasta she’d made for dinner. The fork was unenthusiastic in her hands. Pasta tubes flopped over each other in the bowl.
Sometimes she hated being able to see in sundersaatum; the hidden wave of colour on the light spectrum. If she couldn’t see the world through that weird twist of dark-light, she wouldn’t have her job. She wouldn’t have this life where she alone could see the connections that anchored minds and souls to bodies and be able manipulate them. She wouldn’t be able to sever those threads.
Then again, if she couldn’t see in sundersaatum then she never would have fallen in love. She’d never have spent her nights tucked up against Death’s sure, steady, self.
Frida didn’t hear the rattle of keys as Death let themselves into the apartment. The clomping of their work boots on the floorboards was, however, unmissable.
‘Evening lover,’ Death said with a smile that faded as soon as they saw Frida’s expression.
‘Hey, Dee.’ Frida tried to summon a smile but couldn’t. She could barely look her lover in the eye.
Today Death looked like a woman in her thirties; short hair and strong hands. They looked like the kind of person who’d do what needed to be done. Death always did what needed to be done. Death tucked a hand into the pocket of their coveralls, shoulders slumping as they said, ‘This is about that soul of yours today.’
‘Not mine,’ Frida refuted immediately. Sure, she’d split them from their earthy cases, tossed them into the void they’d asked for so badly, and then left – but they weren’t her souls. She couldn’t think of them like that. She prodded the pasta again. It was now lukewarm.
‘Frida, you can’t keep doing this.’ Death said, running a hand through their silvery crop of hair in a way that spoke of frustration. It wasn’t the first time Frida had brought it up and guilt spiked in her stomach. ‘We work the wrong jobs to make it personal.’
‘I know, I know, and I’m sorry. It’s just- I pitied him, Dee. I liked him.’ Frida sighed, ‘It’s just… hard sometimes.
Death went very still.
‘But, not too hard, right?’ Death said carefully.
Frida winced immediately, rushing over to take Death’s hands and squeezing them tight. ‘Dee no, of course not, not like that, no.’
She could just kick herself. Death had a fragile history with commitment. Many flirted with them, but not many actually wanted to stick around. Oh sure, Death kept everyone eventually, but they also lost them in the end.
‘It’s just been a hard week,’ Frida confessed. Misery swelled as she said, ‘I found a message from my mother, she doesn’t know why I don’t come to visit for the holidays anymore.’
Her voice trembled, and tears threatened. It was too hard seeing her family and knowing what she knew now.
‘Oh honey,’ Death said, immediately pulling her into a hug. Frida relaxed into it. Death gave the best hugs. It always felt like they’d never let her go no matter what.
Death ran a thumb under Frida’s eyes, gently wiping away the tears.
‘Okay lover, that pasta’s cold and I think we both deserve some comfort food. Why don’t you settle on the couch and go I’ll order takeout, hey? Sound good?’
Frida nodded into Death’s chest and Death tilted her chin up to press a soft kiss to her lips. About to pull back, Frida’s little job-payment caught Death’s eye. A glimmer of dirty humour grew on the corners of their lips.
‘Is that… instant coffee?’ Death’s disgust was betrayed by the smile they couldn’t quite hide as they said, ‘You know it tastes like Death, right?’
Words by Taeghan Buggy
Taeghan Buggy is a writer, a poet, and a performer. Her work tends towards emotional gut punches and dangerous words. Taeghan’s immersion within ‘Arts Culture’ includes the New Wave Audio Theatre project, Flinders’ Speakeasy Creative Readings, and Adelaide’s open-mic poetry scene. You can find Taeghan on Twitter.