Death And Birth And Breath
It looked like a warm, crisp day in Copperfield, Calgary. Most of the snow had melted and a cool-sounding wind was hissing through bare and budding tree branches.
I never understood the appeal.
I double-checked the address before making my way to the front door. I looked at the doorbell and smirked. It clicked in, then out. A faint ding-dong echoed through the building on the other side of the doorway.
Several moments later an average-sized human male opened the door. He frowned, stuck his head through the doorway and looked left to right.
“Kids,” he muttered, and shut the door. I chuckled. After a few moments the doorbell clicked again. This time the man was at the door much faster. He even took several steps outside. I laughed allowed and waved a hand in front his face.
It was remarkable; the amount a soul forgot whilst on earth. They gave up so much just to feel the wind.
“Please stop!” the man was saying to a group of shrubs. “You’ve had your joke, now go do it to someone else!”
He turned back inside with a huff and closed the door loudly behind him.
“Soon your troubles will be over,” I said quietly.
I moved through the door and into the house.
It was a nice home by earth standards: clean, spacious. I followed the man’s scent up a set of stairs and into a bedroom.
He was sitting on the edge of a large, pillow-y bed and talking softly. A woman was lying on the bed looking up at him. She had a hand on his face and a tired look on hers. They looked happy.
I moved toward the man and reached out to touch him. As I neared his body, I could feel the soul squirm.
“Sorry,” I whispered, “just following orders.”
Right as I was about to lay my fingers on the man’s shoulder a warm sensation rippled through the room.
Puzzled, I looked around for the source. When I found it, I rolled my eyes.
“Azzy,” she smiled, nodding in greeting.
“Izzy,” I replied, sneering. “What are you doing here?”
She pointed with her forehead at the woman on the bed.
I hadn’t noticed before; the woman was pregnant.
“Shit!” I said, “Now?”
‘According to my orders!” she said, beaming. She took a step toward the woman on the bed. As she did so, she pulled out a small, silver whistle.
“Wait!” I said, fumbling in one of my pockets. “Who’s supposed to go first?”
“How should I know?” she laughed. “Didn’t you read the time on your instructions?”
“Of course I read the time!” I snapped. “Exact timing doesn’t usually matter this much, does it?”
“Perhaps not for you,” she said, winking, “But for me, the more theatrical, the better.”
Before I had a chance to reply, she raised the whistle to her lips and blew a single, clear note. The woman on the bed shifted uncomfortably and put a hand on her impregnated belly. The man didn’t seem to notice; he was squinting and staring at nothing in particular; distracted by something unseen.
“Dammit, Izzy!” I snarled, finally finding what I was looking for in my pocket. I pulled out a slender black whistle and a crumpled piece of paper.
“Right, here it is,” I said as I did my best to smooth out the instructions. “Soul is to be extracted at 4:03 p.m. Earth time. What’s yours say?”
But Izzy wasn’t listening to me. She shook her whistle and gave it a quizzical look.
“That’s odd,” she muttered, and looked around the room expectantly, “They always show up instantly.”
“Izzy!” I snapped. “Your instructions! What do they say?”
Izzy rolled her eyes and pulled out a neatly folded sheet of paper. “4:05 p.m., earth time,” she said as her eyes scanned the page. “What did yours say, again?” she asked casually.
“4:03,” I said quietly, “But you’ve already blown your whistle.”
The woman on the bed let out a sharp cry and clutched her side. Her husband snapped out of his daze and stroked her hair.
“Are you alright?” he asked nervously.
I didn’t imagine that getting these two times slightly off from each other was too serious of a screw up, but one could never be careful enough…
Izzy and I looked to the bedside clock in the same instant: 4:06 p.m.
“Shit!” said Izzy, “where’s my soul?” She blew a much longer, louder note this time.
The woman on the bed contorted in pain and squeezed her husband’s hand.
“The hospital bag!’ she shouted. “Get the hospital bag!”
But the man wasn’t listening. He was squinting again, staring at nothing.
“Did you hear that?” he asked.
Izzy was staring down the barrel of her whistle.
“Bloody thing must be broken,” she said.
“Oh my God!” cried the woman on the bed. “Alex, I think the baby’s coming now!”
Again the man whose name was Alex snapped out of his daze.
“What?” he asked, flustered. “Should I get the hospital bag?’
Izzy blew so hard into her whistle that she went red in the face.
The woman on the bed screamed, but Alex again seemed to disappear into a dazed sort of state.
“Come on!” shouted Izzy. “If I don’t get a soul soon this’ll be a stillborn!”
“Blow your whistle again,” I said slowly, watching Alex carefully.
“Fourth time’s the charm, is it?” asked Izzy, but when I didn’t reply she blew another hard, loud note.
Alex stood up.
“Who’s there?” he asked, and suddenly I knew.
I blew a gentle, calm note into my whistle and placed a hand on Alex’s shoulder. He clutched suddenly at his chest and fell to the ground, quite still. In the place where he’d been standing was a brilliant, shimmering blue light.
“Ah,” said the light. Its voice was much like Alex’s. “I’d forgotten about this.”
“You all do,” I said, shaking my head.
The soul that was Alex stayed silent for several moments. The woman on the bed was screaming at Alex’s body to get up.
“If only she could remember,” said the soul.
“I think you’re meant to help with that,” I said, and gestured to Izzy, who was watching the scene with a single tear sliding down her cheek. She seemed to have understood what was happening as well. She took a deep breath and shook her head slightly.
“Right, well, you heard the call, obviously?”
“And I assume you’ve done this before?”
The woman on the bed was still screaming, but no longer looking at Alex’s body. It was a scream of agony. With one hand she clutched her belly, with the other she reached for a phone that sat on one of the bedside tables.
“Well, if you’ll just come over here, then,” said Izzy. “I seem to have sped up the process a bit.”
The soul flowed toward Izzy like a stream of water. If it could have been grasped, it would have been sitting in the palm of her hand.
“You know the drill, then?” asked Izzy,
“More or less,” said the soul, “I am to remember, and to help my brothers and sisters remember.”
“That’s right,” said Izzy. “Good luck.”
And death and birth waited with bated breath.
more by ISAAC GOLLE
photograph by Eduard Militaru