There are decisions that we know immediately are good. There are decisions that we know immediately are bad. There are decisions that we know immediately are horrific, atrocious, I’ll-regret-this-for-the-rest-of-my-life bad.
I specialized in the third category.
“Glad to see you still haven’t gotten rid of that broken lampshade,” Tyler said, reaching behind her to take her bra off.
“Fuck you,” I said with a bite to her lower lip, slapping her hands out of the way so that I could unhook it with one hand. Tyler shivered, even though that particular lesbian trick had never impressed her before.
I nudged her into bed, next to the lamp with, yes, a very broken lampshade, and we went down hard into my twisted-up, unwashed bedsheets. I wanted to be embarrassed about the way I hadn’t changed since we’d been together, about the way that I’d taken our beautiful, open, airy room and turned it into my dark, weird cave with mandala tapestries and overflowing ashtrays. And I was embarrassed, at least a little. Mostly I was horny.
“Jesus, Soph, ow, with the biting,” she said, as I sucked a desperate hickey into the inside of her thigh. “That’s gonna bruise.”
Good, I thought viciously. If she saw a mark from me for the next week, then I wouldn’t be forgotten. She’d have to think about me, at least for a little bit, think about me and the life she left behind and the Upper East Side apartment she left in my name with no thought at all to how expensive that was.
I took the hair tie off my wrist and pulled my hair into a sloppy bun. Tyler lounged back on the bed with her hands already fisted into what little blonde hair she had. I ducked down, spread her knees apart, belly-flopped forward until I was pressed up against her musky darkness. I had been celibate for far too long, and yes, Tyler was about the worst person I could have slept with, but I’d seen her at Trader Joe’s and she always had a beautiful smile and I gave a first, tentative lick —
Nope, I thought, with my nose pressed right to the core of her. No, not tonight.
“Go away,” I said, muffled. Tyler snorted a laugh.
“The disposal is broken. Come fix it.”
“New roomie struggles?” Tyler said, with a terrible grin.
“You have — very literally — no idea,” I said. To the thing standing outside the door, I said, “We can fix it tomorrow. If you put string cheese wrappers down the sink, then the disposal breaks.”
“Sophie, I want to fix it now. Stop playing with the weird girl.”
I smiled sheepishly at Tyler (and God was I sick of apologizing to this girl), put a hand on her knee and kissed the join of her hip and thigh.
Then I heard the jiggle of the door handle. “Sophie —”
“Shit!” I grabbed the blankets and threw them over Tyler. “Do not come inside, I mean it!”
Tyler rolled her eyes, grabbed her phone to flick through it. Blushing, furious, I stuffed myself into a gigantic t-shirt and opened the door, face-to-face with the new roommate I’d been stuck with since Tyler left me.
“We talked about this,” I said to Death. “When my door is closed you leave me alone.”
Death blinked their massive grey eyes. “But the disposal.”
“Fuck the disposal, I’ll fix it tomorrow. Aren’t you supposed to be out shepherding lost souls? Isn’t there anywhere else you could be that’s not cockblocking me?”
“The minions are working tonight,” they replied. “I wanted to listen to One Direction but now the disposal is broken and I can’t listen to music when the disposal is broken.”
“That doesn’t make any sense! Just go in your room —”
“Sophie,” they said, pathetic with their limp hair and Avenged Sevenfold t-shirt and big, sad eyes. “I need you to fix the disposal.”
They would stand here all night. Death would stand outside my door until I fixed the disposal. And if that wasn’t the worst boner-killer I’d ever heard.
I sighed and went back inside my room. I couldn’t make eye contact with Tyler when I said, “Maybe it’s best if you come back another night.”
She wouldn’t come back another night. This had been my one chance and we both knew it. She gave a weird little smirk and rolled over to grab her shirt.
“Seems like you lowered your standards,” she said meanly.
It’s funny that she thought I had standards.
This may sound hard to believe, but interrupting my non-existent sex life was not the only problem that came with having Death as a roommate. It was, however, the final impetus for a raging fight.
“And you never take out the trash!” I screamed.
“And you don’t let me play my music over the speakers,” Death replied, never raising their voice.
“That’s because I’m not listening to One Direction again! Your taste in music is shit!” I would feel bad that the neighbors could hear us, but we lived in Manhattan. Our walls were so thin I could tell whether George and Amber in number 4 were having missionary or doggystyle.
“If you would just let me get a cat —”
“Oh no, not this again,” I said. It didn’t help that Death had picked a particularly pathetic human suit today. Instead of their usual borderline-pedophile man, today it was a small, perky, blonde woman. I felt like I was screaming at Kristin Chenoweth. “We’re not getting a cat. I would end up doing all the work and taking out the cat shit and you would get all the snuggles. Absolutely not.”
“Sophie,” they said. Big, sad, blue eyes. Looking just like all the girls that used to call me weird in middle school. “Please. I want a cat.”
“Kiss my ass,” I replied.
When I was unmoving, Death finally spoke. “Our Father, who art in Heaven —”
“Oh, shit, don’t do that —”
“Hallowed be thy name —”
“No, anyone but her —”
“Thy kingdom come, thy will —”
“I’m here,” God said. She appeared, like she always did, out of thin air, and the walls of the apartment bulged with the power of two immortal beings. Unlike Death, who took pleasure in switching up their appearance and gender, God was the same every time I saw her: a chubby, harried middle-aged woman with brown hair. She typed furiously into an iPhone and didn’t look up at us. “Hello, Death. Hello, Sophie. This had better be important.”
“I can’t do this anymore,” I said immediately. “Death is the absolute worst. I want out of the contract.”
“You want out of the contract?” She said, looking up over her phone. “You want out of free rent, paid-off student loans, a raise at work, and a miraculous cure for your step-grandmother’s pancreatic cancer?”
That gave me pause. Just as it had the first time she’d offered it.
“Let her go,” Death said flatly. “She’s terrible. She didn’t fix the disposal and she wouldn’t come out to help me because she was having bad sex.”
“Do you know how long it’s been since I got laid?” I spat. “I was this close to finally having a good orgasm before your useless ass —”
“This is not productive,” God said. “Obviously you haven’t bonded. In order to make this arrangement work, you have to be able to understand each other.”
“Let me out of this stupid arrangement,” Death said, a rare note of bass in their voice. But God didn’t even blink.
“No. Your bedside manner is atrocious and you have lost all touch with humanity. We agreed, Death, living with a human is going to be good for you. Now,” she said, as Death and I both opened our mouths to argue, “you two have to spend more time together. I want to see you having a productive conversation about how you’re going to make this arrangement work. Sometime in the next few days will work just fine. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
And just like that she was gone. The apartment felt normal again — tiny and overpriced, yes, but slightly normal. Except for the immortal being sitting on my sofa, pouting their big pink lips.
“I’m going to Trader Joe’s,” I said to Death.
The apartment always smelled vaguely musty. Even back when it was me and Tyler living here, there was something off about the walls. Mold, maybe. Asbestos. It’s New York, it could be anything.
Death did not improve the situation.
“You need a shower,” I said, upon coming home with a twelve-pack of White Claw. If I was going to bond with Death, there was no way I was going to do it sober.
“I showered this morning.” They sat on the couch, mindlessly flicking through Netflix. They were in a new male body today — a very attractive one, I might add, Black and trim and gorgeous. I’m gay, but I have eyes.
“Did you actually turn the water on or did you just stand in the shower and touch the tiles?”
Death looked at me plaintively. “They are very soothing to the touch.”
“Oh my God.” I pulled one out of the cans, cracked it open and drank it warm.
“What are you drinking? I thought animal claws were not to be eaten?” they asked.
I looked down at the can in my hand. “What? It’s not actually — it’s White Claw. It’s hard seltzer.” Death looked at me blankly. “It’s carbonated water, but with alcohol in it. I didn’t want to love it, but it’s delicious. Have you never had White Claw?”
They shook their head.
I pulled another one out of the pack and tossed it over. They caught it clumsily, like a six-year-old at a t-ball game. “Here you go. Nectar of the gods.”
“This substance is ambrosia?” They sniffed it and then tried to lick the top of the can. I snorted.
“No, you just – you drink it, like a normal human. Pull the tab, put your lips to it and swallow.”
Slowly, painstakingly, they cracked the tab with unnaturally long fingernails. Then they finally lifted it up and drank it, and then before my eyes Death drained the entire can in one swallow.
“I guess you liked it?” I said, biting down a chuckle.
Death shrugged. “It’s fine.”
“That’s what we all say. Wait until the third one hits you. Let me get you some more.”
I wasn’t passing up a chance to get drunk with Death, that’s all I’m saying.
An hour later we’d cleaned out all the seltzer I owned and had moved on to more intellectual topics. “So every week he picks the girls he likes and then he sends the rest of them home?” Death said slowly.
“Yes, exactly. The ones he likes gets a rose and then the ones he doesn’t go home.”
“But how much time has he actually spent with them? The ones who receive the rose?”
“Not much. Maybe an hour or so, if they’re lucky?”
“And ‘the Bachelor’ is meant to make a decision about his future wife from this? How does he know if she is in it for the right reasons?”
“Exactly!” I said, drunkenly staggering upright and slapping the couch cushions. “You never know if they’re in it for the right reasons! Who’s here for love and who’s just here for Instagram followers?”
“Is that why you have never gone on this show?” Death asked. Without my noticing it, we each had a can of seltzer in our hands, even though I was positive we’d finished them all. Finally using those superpowers for good.
I laughed, though it sounded like a cackle. “Uh, no. I haven’t gone on the Bachelor because I’m not pretty enough and not straight enough.”
“Ah, so the show does not allow lesbians. I see.”
“Wait, does being gay actually send me to Hell?” I asked.
“No,” Death said, sending a tidal wave of relief through my body. Apparently I’d been more concerned about that than I thought. So much for my liberal laissez-faire. “You will not go to ‘Hell’ for being gay.”
The way they said ‘Hell’ made me very curious, but I knew they wouldn’t tell me anything about the afterlife. I’d already tried asking, the first week we lived together, and been promptly shut down. I switched tactics. “What’s your sexuality? Do you date? Have you ever been in a relationship?”
Death paused and thought about it. Their fingernails curled across the seltzer can. “God and I have been together since time immemorial.”
“No, you can’t date God. She doesn’t count. Nobody else who you had a special connection to?”
Death’s voice didn’t give anything away, no emotional inflection at all. Still, my heart ached for them, just a little. Their life sounded lonely. “Okay. That’s okay. Well, I, uh. I hope you find someone. I hope you feel that. Because it’s wonderful, to feel like you’ve found your person. And it’s the person who you want to talk to about everything, and maybe you didn’t make any promises to be together forever, but…you assumed that they wouldn’t want to go anywhere ‘cause they always seemed so happy.” I caught myself, because this was one spiral I didn’t want to travel down. “Anyway. Being in love is awesome. But it’s also kinda exhausting. I know I should date more, but…it’s hard, sometimes. To move on.”
“Where is your ex-girlfriend now?”
“Tyler? She’s probably at her best friend’s for board game night right now. She lives four blocks down; we go to the same Trader Joe’s.”
“Tyler…that is a boy’s name?”
“Names don’t have a gender,” I said immediately, parroting the phrase I’d heard every day for all three years of our relationship, and then stopped myself. “But. Yeah.”
“And you are not invited to board game night? Why not? You two had sexual relations.”
“That was a bad idea, I shouldn’t have done that. And I’m not invited to board game night because those are her friends, not mine. Every couple has groups of friends that they bring into a relationship, and then they keep their friends after they breakup. Except I didn’t bring any friends, really, ‘cause I moved here from Columbus for Tyler, so…” The room spun and swung around me; I was officially drunk with Death, and talking about Tyler of all people. How fucking pathetic. I hiccuped and swallowed down a wave of vomit. “I don’t, like. Have a lot of friends.”
Death blinked. “And you find this isolating?”
I nodded. “Yeah.” My eyes watered, suddenly, pathetically. “I do.”
“Do you wish to move back to Columbus?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. There’s nothing for me there. I wasn’t any happier there. I’d go just for my grandma, but she’s pretty old and one time she told me that there wasn’t any point in a young person wasting their life on someone who was going to die soon anyway.” It occurred to me how strange this was, to be voicing this to Death, but they didn’t react. Of course they didn’t, of course they didn’t react to themselves. “But I don’t really want to stay here either, so I just don’t know. I don’t want to start from scratch all over again, I like my job but that’s about it…”
“You need to discover what you want to do in life,” Death said calmly. “You lack purpose and direction. You are adrift. You must decide what to do with the time you are given.”
“Yeah, I get it, can we stop talking about this?” I snapped, alcohol slurring my words. “Can we talk about anything else? Damn.”
Death actually leaned back a little, startled. To my drunken mind, that didn’t make a lot of sense — weren’t people always angry at Death? Surely I wasn’t the angriest person to ever confront them? I felt bad, suddenly, for getting upset; that I was another human in a long line to be pissed at Death for doing their job. I shifted my anger.
“Why doesn’t God help me find my purpose?” I said sarcastically. “Should I pray and see if she can come down and help me figure out what I’m doing in New York?”
“She wouldn’t answer,” Death said. “She never really helps you.”
Their voice was bitter, laced with arsenic. I looked over to see Death moodily sipping their White Claw.
“That’s a lot of emotions,” I said. “Wanna talk about it?”
Death said nothing. The neighbors started arguing again; with our paper-thin walls, we could hear every shout. George had decided to spend more money on lotto tickets again, when Amber said that there were better ways to spend the money that she earned. It was a familiar refrain. Made me want to talk softly so they didn’t hear the wacky shit in apartment 3.
“God looks out for my best interest,” they said. “But I do not need her to. I have existed as long as she has. Her maternal efforts are useless and infantilizing.”
Oh, this was good. “Like what?”
“Like you,” they said immediately. “Moving into this apartment, ostensibly to relearn my ‘bedside manner’. She says I have forgotten how to talk to humans. I ask her, am I meant to be smiling when I am never greeted with a smile? She has no idea what I do, the unceasing burden of my existence, and she saddles me with this apartment and this human form in order to make herself feel better.”
In all our months living together I’d never heard them sound like that. “Sitting around with you does nothing to make my existence less agonizing. Knowing the name of this drink does not mean that the next person whose loved one I take will be less angry. This is a performative, empty gesture, and she knows it.”
“So why do it?” I asked. “Why go along with it when you knew it was stupid?”
Death took another sip of White Claw. It was a very human gesture of delay. “I don’t know,” they replied. “Only that…what was the point of arguing? Why delay the inevitable? She always gets what she wants, in the end. I went along with it. I always go along with it.”
In the next apartment, George and Amber had stopped arguing. I lowered my voice so they wouldn’t hear my next sentence. “Can you, like, stick it to her? Fuck the police? I got arrested a lot in college for protesting, I can help you out.” I got arrested more often for trespassing than protesting, but no need to throw myself under the bus.
“One does not stick it to God,” Death replied, with a hint of amusement. “She could even kill people, do my job for me, if she wanted to. But she says she’s not ‘as good at it’ as I am, and I must assume that I exist to end joy, just as she exists to bring joy. Obviously this makes her much more popular than I am. And if I do what I am told, I get to fly under her radar, and she does not bother me. I get to live a quiet existence.”
“Baby,” I said, cracking another White Claw, “that’s the strategy I’ve been using for 27 years.”
Baths are my preferred form of self-care. I understand that ‘self-care’ means more than just spending excessive amounts of money on bougie bath salts; people who really practice self-care go to bed on time, take care of their skin, work out and probably contribute productively to society. But nobody likes those people. So I take baths.
I stretched out and wiggled my toes against the grout, which desperately needed a scrub. Do you know how rare it is to find a Manhattan apartment with a full-size bathtub? There was a reason I’d put up with Death’s nonsense in order to keep this place.
The other reason made my phone ring in my room.
I sat up immediately, sloshing water over the side of the tub. That particular harp ringtone was reserved for my grandmother. My very sick, very old grandmother.
“Death!” I screamed, hoping it would make it to the living room. “I need you to get my phone!”
“What?” they said.
“My phone, can you get it?”
I could have called her back, I know. But I was perpetually terrified that this was the call, the one that would tell me that my grandmother died, despite the fact that I’d literally bargained with God to ensure that wouldn’t happen. My grandma is the most important person in my life. She’s my step-grandma, technically, but of all the step- and half-siblings that I got during the divorce, collected and dropped like trading cards, she was the only one who stuck around. When I was branded as the difficult one in high school, when the rest of them decided that there wasn’t enough behind my vitriol to get to know, she stayed, and talked to me, and slowly wore me down. We baked fucking cookies together, and we weren’t even related by blood. When she got cancer, I thought, Here goes the last person on Earth who’ll ever care about me.
All of this drama with God and Death was worth it for her. I clumsily got out of the bathtub, soap suds still in my hair, and lunged for the towel. I heard Death’s plodding footsteps across the apartment, and suddenly I was utterly terrified of what I’d asked them to do.
“Yes?” Death said into the phone. “Hello. No, Sophie is in the bathtub. This is her roommate.” They paused. “My name is Tiffany.” With a deep, masculine voice. I groaned and rubbed myself dry as quickly as I could.
“I am doing well today, thank you. The Bachelor last night made the right decision and that made me happy during the day today.” Another pause. “Yes, Sophie and I watch it together. Yes, it is wonderful. No, I don’t think Sarah really loved him. I quite agree. Something about her.” Another pause. “If it’s any consolation, she will not lead a happy life. Her ex-boyfriend —”
“Stop being omniscient on the phone with my grandma!” I whisper-yelled.
“Um. Do you like One Direction?”
I wrapped the towel under my armpits and finally managed to get into my room, where Death sat calmly on my bed, attempting to engage my grandmother about One Direction. They looked up at me through thick eyebrows and said, “Sophie is here and would like to speak to you.” A pause. “It was…nice to talk to you too.”
I couldn’t help but smile at the bafflement in their voice. They handed me the phone and I mouthed, “Thank you.” They nodded and shuffled out of the room.
“Hey, Grandma. How are you doing?”
“Wonderful! I love your new roommate. Seems so much nicer than that Tyler girl.”
“Yeah, she is,” I said, and wasn’t even lying.
“Her voice was very deep, though. For a young lady.”
“Uh. Yeah. It’s a. It’s a thyroid thing.” I cleared my throat. “Tell me about bridge club!”
“Sophie, God is here.”
“What?” I was just about to start masturbating. “Like, now?”
“Yes. Come to the living room.”
I threw my head back on the pillow. Kids, don’t make deals with the devil. You wind up with God in your living room and no time to enjoy the most basic pleasures in life.
I stomped out to the living room. Death sat lazily on the easy chair, in their standard white male loser body; God, as usual, was dressed in the best fashion that the outlet mall could buy.
“Hello, Sophie,” she said, smiling widely. I grunted and sat down on the couch. “How is your day?”
“Fine. Very busy. Really don’t have any time to chat.”
“Well, I’ll be out of your hair before long,” she said, still with an unceasing customer service smile. “I just wanted to let you both know how thrilled I’ve been to see you getting along. Your deep conversations about life and love, Death helping out by meeting your grandmother…it’s just wonderful to see!”
I looked over at Death to watch them roll their eyes. Like this wasn’t the exact behavior we’d been complaining about. I winked back.
“I hope that this convinces you to trust me more readily in the future,” God said, once again pulling out her iPhone. She’d been without it for two minutes; color me impressed. “I know that it’s in vogue to rail against me, to claim that you know better and you have no need of my wisdom, but I often know what I’m doing. Just like with you and your ex, Sophie. I knew all along that was a terrible idea.”
My stomach turned to ice. “What?”
“Oh, she was awful for you,” God said, without even looking up from her phone. “Didn’t ever actually love you. And I knew that the whole time, but I didn’t say anything, to let you make that decision on your own. But maybe next time you’ll come talk to me, let me in on your life, and you’ll see what kind of guidance I can provide.” I gaped at her while something built up inside me, roiling, whiting out my vision with rage.
“Alright, I’ll leave you to it. You two have a great day!” She gave a jaunty little wave and vanished. The apartment went quiet, nothing but the ever-present noise of the A/C and the washing machine and the cars relentlessly zooming by outside.
I turned to Death, saw them wide-eyed and glued to their seat.
“That bitch,” I said.
“And then she has the gall, the fucking gall, to stand there and say that she was doing it for me! For my best interest!” I yelled, letting my voice screech, making George and Amber quake next door.
“I know,” Death said, from where they still sat in the easy chair, eyes watching my relentless pace around the living room. I’d worn a track in the carpet.
“It was not good for me, it was not my best interest, it was —” I paused, took a deep breath. “That relationship broke me. All the gaslighting, all the distance, all her coldness, the way that she just never cared about my career or what I wanted or even me…and God was okay with that? She was just fine letting me get torn up?”
“Yes,” Death said. “She loves to say she knows best.”
“Oh, does she? And really you’re just doing what she wants. Like this apartment, right? She said it was my choice, when she first came to me she said I could choose, but really she knew what I would say. She knew how broke I was, she knew how Tyler left my name on the mortgage but I had no idea how to pay for it, and she saw this poor sucker and figured I was gonna be the perfect guinea pig for her little experiment.”
“I’m sorry,” Death said, still in that same flat tone of voice. “That she made you live with me.”
I whirled around. “Hey, no. No. It’s not you I’m mad at. I like living with you.” The words struck me, how true they were, how I’d never thought them before. I doubled down. “I like living with you. It’s her that I’m pissed at.”
Death nodded, with a slight smile. And then the smile slipped off their face. “Sophie,” they said, and a river of cold washed down my spine. “I have to kill Tyler.”
“It is her time. She has an undiagnosed heart condition. It will send her into cardiac arrest. The ambulance will be called but they will come too late because there is no defibrillator at her office. She will be pronounced dead at the scene. It will happen tomorrow at 2:09 in the afternoon.”
“What? She’s 29, why is she dying? And why are you telling me?”
“So that you can say goodbye,” they said solemnly. “I tried to intervene with God, to get her a special dispensation, but God said no. So I, um. I got you White Claw. In case you are sad. To cheer you up.”
I dropped onto the rickety couch, my head ringing like a bell. Tyler was going to die? Tyler, with her undercut and her aloofness, Tyler with her fifty different board games, her mother’s only child? And I was supposed to walk over there and say goodbye without saying goodbye, invite myself into my ex’s house and bring her wine because only I knew that it was her last night on Earth?
“Why would you tell me this?” I said, my voice cracking. “You bastard…”
Death looked genuinely sad, pained. Deep lines cut through their face. “I know. But it is a privilege that you have. To know. If I did not tell you, you would also be upset with me.”
“Don’t put this on me,” I lashed out. “Don’t say you’re doing this for me. If you really cared about me you wouldn’t kill her.” I looked up, locked eyes. “So don’t do it. Don’t kill her.”
“What?” Death said.
“Don’t kill her.” I stood up and stalked over. “Come on. You don’t have to kill her. She’s 29, she’s never done anything wrong except be a bitch.”
“I have to lead her to the beyond,” Death said. “That is my purpose.”
“Well, it’s a shitty purpose! Don’t you want to take a day off? Don’t you want to stick it to the man? Don’t you want to stick it to God?” Oh, that felt good; molten heat built up in my bones. “You’re tired of following her orders. You’re tired of her forcing you to do unnecessary shit for her entertainment. You said she has no idea of the unceasing burden of your existence. Isn’t it time she found out?”
Death took a step backwards, into the wall, away from me, my voice, my eyes, my tall body and my broad shoulders, my elbows that jammed into faces during basketball. Like every other kid in middle school, they were afraid of me.
Death was afraid of me.
“Listen to me. She doesn’t control you. You control yourself. For a million years you managed your own destiny. Do it again. Leave Tyler out of it.”
I could feel what we were doing, the blasphemy of it, deep inside me. My teeth couldn’t stop grinding together and there was a cold sweat under my arms, around the back of my neck. I knew it was the eye of God watching us and I didn’t care.
“Take a stand,” I whispered, and I could see that I’d won.
Maybe you shouldn’t have dumped me, I thought, to the ex whose life I’d just saved.
When I woke up the next day, I was untethered. I laid in bed in my room and felt all the limitless possibilities of New York and America and the world outside. I called out sick from work and convinced Death to play hooky with me. We went to the Met and made a scavenger hunt to find all the racy art (which is when I, Sophie Collins, had the honor of explaining to Death how lesbian sex works, because they had no idea). Of all things Death liked the Asian art section the best; they lingered for a long time in front of a black stone carving of the god Shiva as conqueror of death. They stroked the small, carved fingers over and over, like a compulsion, until the guard came and yelled at them for destroying the precious artwork and unceremoniously booted us out.
After that we got pizza from the good place on 5th Avenue before wandering around the city. Death smiled and looked happy as they ate a deformed Spongebob popsicle, and I was so nervous it felt like I was going to shake apart. A part of me wanted to make sure that Death was with me when 2:09 hit, that I knew that they would follow through with their pact. A part of me wanted to hide from God, to take the subway underground all the way to Long Island and as far as I could go so she couldn’t see me. A part of me wanted to climb on top of the fountain in Central Park and scream about what we were doing.
And then it was the afternoon, and Death was engrossed in some historical plaque, and I looked down at my watch and it was 2:09 on the dot. I said nothing, smoked my cigarette while people steered clear of Death with their pedophile-long hair, and at 2:10 I released all the breath in my lungs.
“You didn’t trust me?” Death said, looking right at me.
“No,” I replied, and Death smiled.
In retrospect it makes sense that we were at St. Patrick’s Cathedral when I got the call. Death gave me a flat look when I wanted to go in, and I grinned back and dragged them by the hand inside. St. Patrick’s is Catholic nonsense and Grandma would have a lot to say about these people with their idols up all over the place and the gaudiness of the stained glass, but I liked the majesty of it, the way that the cathedral soared over and around me without any input from anyone else. I especially liked watching Death, the way that they seemed calmer. Their eyes roved all over the space; not rapidly like someone seeing it for the first time, but slowly, carefully. Like they were seeking out their favorite parts, old stained glass windows and marble carvings, seeing if anything was different.
“Been here before?” I asked.
“Many times,” they replied.
My phone went off, buzzing up a storm, causing glares from Death and a couple of Asian tourists. I pulled it out of my backpack and saw my mom’s name flashing. The hairs on my neck stood up. I did not regularly talk with my mother.
“Uh, gimme a sec,” I said. I ducked around the corner, next to the huge white statue by the altar. “Hi, Mom.”
“Hi Soph,” she said, with a sniffle in her voice. “Oh, hun, I don’t want to be the one to tell you this.”
“Tell me what?” I said, looking frantically at my watch. 3:16. Way past time.
“The home just called. Grandma…she was taking a nap and just…fell asleep. Apparently it was peaceful…” Her throat cracked, and my stomach dropped. No. “She just…I’m so sorry, I know you loved her, you can come home and say goodbye —”
I hung up, because I could see the guilt trip coming; the plea, even in one of the worst moments of my life, to come back home and take care of my mother in her pain. But my pain was also real, so real that I dropped into a pew, my knees buckling under me.
Death walked up. “What happened?”
“You mean you don’t know?”
Death frowned. “Know what?”
I gaped, searching their face for signs of lying, because Death said that they had no idea about my grandmother’s death, and if they didn’t know then that meant —
In front of me, on the other side of the pew, God appeared.
I stared at her, mouth open and eyes wide, looking and feeling like a fish. “What?”
For the first time ever, God did not have an iPhone in her hands. They were clasped in front of her, in front of her sensible Ann Taylor blazer. “I’m sorry about your grandmother, Sophie. But it had to be done.”
“What did you do?” Death said, sitting down beside me. God’s face was still, lifeless, like the statue behind her.
“The two of you thought that you would scheme to ensure that Tyler Astin did not die today, as she was scheduled to. You offended the natural order of life, merely out of misplaced affection for a woman who left you. This behavior is unacceptable. You cannot dictate the flow of the world by abusing your relationship with Death. I had to step in.”
“But that’s against the contract,” I said, dragging the words up. “When I moved in with Death. You would cure my grandmother’s cancer. You broke the contract.”
“I did no such thing,” God said. “I cured your grandmother’s cancer, as promised. She died of natural causes.”
“You can’t do that,” I whispered, trying to stand up for myself even when all I wanted to do was fold to my knees and cry.
“You have no idea what I can do,” God said, and a couple of people walking around her froze at the power in her voice. One man, engrossed in his phone, looked up and swerved away from her at the last second. He almost bumped into God, I thought hysterically.
“Keep that in mind the next time that you decide to rebel,” she said, pulling out her iPhone again. “I am your God, Sophie Collins. You will respect me, or I will take all you hold dear and turn it to ash.”
And just like that, she was gone.
I was left staring at the place she used to be, at the giant white marble statue. It showed a man and a woman, the man kneeling on the floor, slumped into the woman’s arms, her face radiating static, frozen pain.
“Sophie, I’m sorry,” Death said quietly. The rustle of conversation in the church was achingly loud. “I never thought that she would use her power on your family.”
Grandma and I would never bake cookies again. I knew there were other revelations that would come later, but right now, this was the one stuck in my mind like a skipped disc. Grandma and I would never bake cookies again. She was the only one who’d ever bothered to make cookies with me. She was the only reason I’d ever go back to Ohio.
My eyes looked at the statue without really looking. The church slid in and out of focus. Tears welled up in my eyes, blurring the statue even more. I blinked them away, and finally recognized what the statue was supposed to be.
“Is that Jesus?”
Death nodded. “That is Jesus after he was taken down from the cross, lying in the lap of his mother.”
“So he’s dead there?”
“You killed him?”
Death blinked. “What?”
“Did you kill Jesus, or did God do it?”
One lady next to us overheard this conversation and turned to look at us. I fixed her with a glare and she backed away at the sight of my red eyes and tearstained cheeks and snarling mouth.
“I did it,” Death said, with a heavy voice. “God did not want to kill her son, even though she was the one who said it was necessary. So I did the dirty work.”
I relaxed back into the pew, just for a minute. My sadness started to ebb away, resolution calcifying in its place. Warmth filled me up, took roost in the marrow of my bones.
I might have found a reason to stay in New York.
“Okay, so you can kill a god,” I said, stronger now, gathering speed. “You’ve done it before. You can do it again.”
“We’re going after God,” I said, and nothing had ever sounded so right. “You and I. We’re going to take her down.”
Death stared at me. I smiled, showing my canines.
They smiled back. Far, far above us, in the giant church spire, the great bell tolled across New York City.