The Recovery of a Sick Man

by Vanzetti

Mary stands still, imagining that her feet can feel the cold wood floor. For the first time that she can remember, the house is silent: no ghost whispering threats and promises to her, nothing skittering in the shadows, no echoes from the living world. No children playing. No children.

"They're cute boys, aren't they?"

She turns: it's a girl, white skin and black hair, black around her eyes and a silver symbol hanging on her neck. "Are they..." Mary starts to ask.

"They're safe," the girl says. "It's gone. It's time for you to go, too."

"The other one isn't gone."

"It's gone from here, Mary. It hasn't been here since the night you died."

She clenches her fists and curls her toes to grip the floor, but she can feel herself growing thin. "But I was right, wasn't I? They needed me. They still need me."

"You kept them safe," the girl says gently. "It's time for you to go."

"But I..."

"Now." The girl holds out her hands.

She wants to take them, she's ready to follow, when a thought stops her. "What about John?"

"He's not here either." Mary stands still, trying not to notice how tired she is, how quiet the house has become. The girl sighs. "OK. What about him?"

"Someone has to watch out for him."

The girl is quiet for a moment. "Mary, do you know who I am?"

She nods and names her. "Death."

"And you want me to look after your husband."

"I don't have anyone else to ask." She isn't sure, but she thinks Death smiles at that. "And I remember... the first time, you let me stay here."

"You're weak now, Mary. If you stay, you'll fade to nothing, not even memory."

"I'll go with you now, if you promise to look after John."

"John's been mine for almost twenty-three years," the girl says. "I'll watch him for you." Mary reaches out and takes her hands, and the girl smiles, suddenly, wicked and reassuring all at once. "Does he like goldfish?"


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Title from "The man who was tired of life," a Middle Egyptian poem more famous among fans for being quoted by Gaiman in one of the early Sandman issues: Death is before me today, like the recovery of a sick man, like the going forth into a garden after sickness...
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