The sun had scoured the landscape, leaving it sand-grit and hot blue sky. A rough hewn house, surrounded by faded fences, shimmered at the end of the dusty track. A rusty blue pickup was parked outside. The absolute silence of desert dawn still seemed to hang over the entire world.
A man, and who could say where he came from, walked up the bowed steps and knocked on the door.
The man inside, to whom the house belonged, heard the knock and paused. He had been caught shaving. He patted his face dry, tossed the towel over his shoulder and went to open the door. He did not seem surprised to see the stranger on the doorstep, although he had no prior knowledge of the his visit.
“I suppose I’m why you’re here,” he said. The stranger nodded. He was dressed all in black and his black hair was parted neatly. He was pale, strangely so for someone who must have recently been in the desert sun, and thin, his eyes and cheeks sunken caverns. He had thin straight lips and thin straight eyebrows and thin straight fingers. He was like a vertical line, immutably dividing one side from another.
In contrast, his host shared the indestructibility that characterized the house and the desert. Everything extraneous had been worn away by sun, sand, and wind and what remained seemed immutable. His feet were clad in grey woolen socks, waiting for the cowboy boots that were their natural protection.
“I’d like to have a cup of coffee first,” he said, “before we go.”
“Very well,” the thin straight man pronounced. It was strange the way the words materialized. One moment there was silence and in the next the words hung in the air between the two men.
The man stepped back and allowed the stranger to pass inside. The hallway led to a small kitchen with cracked linoleum and dusty windows. The stranger sat at the table while the man brewed his coffee with well practiced motions. Soon it was drip-drip-dripping into the pot, filling the house with the rich hot smell.
When it was finished, the man poured himself a cup and offered another to the stranger. He accepted it and put it on the table in front of him, to steam gently. The old man took a sip of his, grimaced, sighed and said, “Bitter as sin but like nothing else for waking a body up.”
“So,” he continued, settling more comfortably in his chair, “My time has come, has it? I suppose I’m not surprised. Today is as good a day as any.”
Death nodded and lifted his coffee to his lips.
“It even makes a kind of sense,” said the man, “ They say settin’ still is death and I’ve been a wanderer all my life. This house looks pretty fixed but it stood empty a good few years before I came into it. That was on account of her.” He indicated the upstairs with a nod of his head.
“Your wife?” Death asked politely.
“My daughter,” said the man proudly, “And too good to have me as an old man. She’s asleep now and I’d rather she not wake til after I’m gone,” he added anxiously.
“I will be quiet.”
“I’m sure you will, I’m sure you will,” said the man, nodding. “But as I was saying, I came into this house because of her. Girl needed something fixed in her life and for a time it wasn’t as lonesome as it is now. Times change though; the world ain’t what it used to be. I’ve told her to sell the house when I’m gone. It’s all left in her name and she knows where the papers are. I had a feeling you’d be along soon, thought I’d best get my affairs in order. She didn’t believe me, said I was being silly. That’s the optimism of youth for you. Hope it won’t hurt her too much when I’m gone.” He paused, before continuing.
“It’ll be good for her though. She’ll get a nice bit from the house and she’ll be able to get out of this hole of her papa’s, go and find her own life. She’s my girl but she’s smart for all that. She’ll do fine.”