Don’t Fear The Reaper
I have one child, one child that I carried, all 12 pounds of her, and had her pulled from me, squalling into this awe-inspiring and cruel world. All of my love, hopes, and dreams for the future lay upon her tiny shoulders. As the saying goes, “my heart lives outside my chest.” This is why Mr. Death by the always incredible Alix E. Harrow smacked me around a bit emotionally. I empathized with both the reaper and the parents. Two sides of the same coin, and in the middle is a little boy, age two, whose soul shines like the sun.
You know from the first line of the story, “I’ve ferried two hundred and twenty-one souls across the river of death, and I can already tell my two-hundred-and-twenty-second is going to be a real shitkicker.” Mr. Death is about a reaper who gently ferries souls from their bodies to the river and the after. Sam Grayson, the reaper in question and the main protagonist of the story, is a father grieving the loss of his own son years before when he is taken by lung cancer. While waiting in the breakroom for his next assignment, He is handed a manilla envelope. Thin, to thin, with this information printed on it:
Name: Lawrence Harper
Address: 186 Grist Mill Road, Lisle NY, 13797
Time: Sunday, July 14th 2020, 2:08AM, EST
Cause: Cardiac arrest resulting from undiagnosed long QT syndrome
Age: 30 months
As a reader, his response and mine are the same, “Jesus Christ on his sacred red bicycle. He’s two.” Sam visits the child, supposedly invisible, but for some reason, Lawrence can see him. Sam’s heart aches in solidarity for the upcoming earth-shattering pain he will have to inflict upon these loving parents and the pain of his own loss. But all bodies will eventually die, and when it is your time, that is an unassailable fact. Or is it?
Harrow has pulled just enough of the raging thunderstorm of grief into this story to make you empathize and believe the situation. Instead of maudlin, it is heartfelt. It is a lovely read and pretty obvious why it is now nominated for a Nebula. Awards seem to stick to Harrow like magnets these days, and rightly so. Check it out.
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