Death Outside Damascus

Death is an old woman today. Her back is bent, her mouth wide and gasping in the thin air. She has no teeth to gnash in frustration. Instead, her lips smack dryly against one another, seeped of moisture by her endless walk.
As the sun rises, she touches bodies of children with swollen bellies and dark eyes that shine with fear. Some lie on the floors of too-crowded homes. It was hot when they died. They are in green and blue shorts, pink and purple tank tops, red and yellow t-shirts. Some of the children, those outside, have been dragged into neat rows along buildings, to clear the paths for the living.
Death cannot see life, in any aspect. For her, all flowers are wilted, all trees burned or eaten by insects, all buildings destroyed. She finds these beautiful. They are all she has.
Death bends over one body, then another, performing the same act over and over again. She plunges a bony hand into the rib-cage, the other hand into the cranium, and scoops up the flickering flame and smoky wisp that reside there. She brings her hands together and the two combine into a pulsing red oblong the size of a large gem.
Today, Death cannot help comparing her spoils to cartoonish hand-grenades.
Death swallows each gem whole, shoving it into her toothless maw. Her appetite is wholly evaporated, but this is duty, really, more than privilege. She trudges on, feeling her stomach swell as its insides, black holes to an elsewhere she has never seen and never will, extend and retract too slowly for the pace at which she is working.
Death reaches those wrapped in pristine white sheets, corners tucked in to make them look like Russian dolls lying unpainted on an assembly line. She cannot look at their faces anymore. She closes her eyes, the bags below them sagging so low as to touch her cheeks, and reaches into each body. Her invasion is impersonal now, more horrific than she can bear, but it goes quicker when she doesn’t linger over the long eyelashes, the hint of freckle, the curve of the cheekbones, that make human faces unique.
It becomes torture. She walks quickly on her bow legs, bending and rising, each muscle in her form yearning for rest, for a moment’s pause, but this pain allows her to focus on something other than the sheer number in so close a space. Her throat is raw with the rage and hurt encapsulated in the sustenance she ingests and she begins to dry-heave. She punches herself in the throat, forcing her form to discipline, to rigor. It is always like this with massacres, she knows. But every time is like the first. She cannot become immune to it.
When it is almost full morning, Death feels the tug that tells her that she has almost reached the end. For a while. Enough time for her to recuperate, as time in her home doesn’t move as it does here.
She is within sight of the last and she creaks towards him, opening her eyes, ready to make this final connection a true one.
The man is rolling around, his chest is pumping up and down, as if he is still alive, even breathing. But Death knows he is hers. He is being pulled by the living, she can tell, they are trying to save him long, long after he has gone. Death waits patiently for him to be allowed the dignity of lying still. She can almost catch the wail across the divide, the sound the tells her there will be another very soon, but not like this man, no. Rather, Death thinks, one taken by his or her own hand. Only they succeed in making themselves felt to her, all the way from life.
Death kneels by the man’s side. He is thirty, bearded, his eyes a greenish-brown that may seem harsh or soft depending on the expression. His arms are still contorted from his asphyxiation. His chest in concave from where he has been beaten by human hands so eager to rescue him.
As she takes this man’s soul, Death watches his face closely, his cheeks and jaw especially, waiting for the moment at which the body’s tension is released from the burden and weight of sentience. She doesn’t see it, though she holds in her hand the evidence that it has happened. This gem, like all the others, pulses more rapidly than the usual ones do. Torn out of life so abruptly, their very souls are rebelling, Death thinks.
She puts it in her mouth and swallows, slowly, allowing the rough unhewn edges of an unwilling soul to cut her throat. Rushing up across her tongue – the taste of blood.

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