Death Comes to Dinner
I can tell my family is having trouble pretending to be at ease with the boyfriend I brought home for dinner. Although they're not crazy about me being gay, it isn't the fact that Steve is a guy that bothers them. It's the fact that he is, in fact, Death.
My sister won't stop staring. I give her a warning look, but she doesn't notice.
"So, how come you don't look like... yunno...?"
I know what she's thinking. She had expected a skeletal creature in dark robes carrying around a scythe, but Steve looks like any other guy. She's always been preoccupied with crass stereotypes, which is a polite way of saying she's kind of racist. I know Steve isn't easily offended, but I'm piqued on his behalf.
"God, Jenny, how can you be so ignorant?"
Steve smiles patiently. "It's okay. I'm supposed to look like a regular guy. I couldn't get anything done otherwise, you know what I mean?"
Jenny almost smiles. "Like when actresses wear big, floppy hats and giant sunglasses so they can go out shopping without being harassed."
"If it helps."
Steve makes eye contact with me for a moment, and I smirk, knowing he's finding her insipid but doesn't mind playing along to placate my family.
"Would you like some more bread, Steven?" asks my mother, ever the committed hostess.
"Thank you, I'm fine, Mrs. Prendergast. Everything is delicious, by the way."
Mom smiles stiffly. Usually she would say, "Please, call me Gail," but she doesn't want to get too familiar with Death.
Dad gets up to fetch himself a second beer from the fridge.
"So, how do you, like... do it?" Jenny asks.
There are several awkward exchanges of glances around the table before Jenny blushes and bursts into giggles, covering her cheeks with her hands.
"I meant the death thing!" she says shrilly. "Not, like... 'It'."
"Jenny!" I snap. "Don't be rude. He might not want to talk about work at the dinner table."
Steve defuses the tension with another patient smile. "I don't mind too much. I just don't want to put anyone off their meals. I know not everyone feels comfortable talking about these things."
Mom and dad frown but say nothing. Jenny continues to stare, embodying the very definition of morbid fascination.
"It's only a touch," Steve says.
I have to hide how much it excites me when he talks this way. He's so blasé about it, his tone so soft.
"I know instinctively whose time it is to go, and I just have to touch them. Nature takes its course."
"Nature!" dad mutters.
Everyone looks at him. He scoffs and leans back in his chair.
"I don't know how you can do this kind of work in good conscience."
I stuff my mouth with spaghetti, stifling away the instinct to rush to Steve's rescue. He doesn't need me to defend him.
"I understand how you feel, Mr. Prendergast," Steve says, ever the gentleman. "I don't necessarily love what I do. Nonetheless, I perform a necessary function. I do what I am meant to do, and trust me, you do not want to live in a world without death. People who wish they could live forever fail to understand the true implications of eternity."
I reach beneath the table, giving his thigh a comforting squeeze. Steve is the only immortal being I've ever dated, and I know it can be a sensitive subject for him.
"There's no life without death, dad," I chime in. "You know... balance of the universe. Light and darkness. Yin and Yang. Life and death. They need each other in order to exist."
"Sounds like a lot of new age hippie-dippy crap to me. But, what do I know?"
Dad had spoken similarly when I'd first come out of the closet. As if being gay were some modern trend, and I was just trying to be edgy. I reflect his sour look back at him. "It's not 'new age'. It's been a universal truth as long as life has existed!"
"Brandon, don't argue with your father at the dinner table," mom says.
Everyone eats in silence for a few minutes.
"So, if it's touch," my sister continues, as if no time had passed since he'd answered her question, "how do you not kill people if you're like, shaking hands, or... uh... yunno, just... touching? Like, does it ever happen by accident?"
I notice the uncomfortable glance she gives me, and I turn to look at the clock on the wall, needing to focus on anything other than the concept of my little sister thinking of me having sex, or dying, or both.
Steve just smiles in his usual charmingly patient way. "There are no accidents with these things. At the heart of it, I'm merely an instrument, a personification of a natural function of the universe, like the wind, the tides, the phases of the moon. I cannot kill by accident, any more than I can choose to spare someone. While this power seems, in a literal sense, to be in my hands, in a much broader, more figurative sense, it's entirely out of my hands."
Jenny seems to be growing bored with his explanations, but I love the way Steve talks. He's so articulate, and so clever. I'm looking forward to this meal being over so I can drag him away and jump his bones.
"Anyone care for dessert?" mom asks once we've mostly cleaned our plates. "I don't have anything ready, but I could throw together a fruit salad."
"No need to fuss," says Steve, taking my hand beneath the table and squeezing. "I was planning to take this guy out for ice cream tonight."
Dad sighs and leaves the table without further comment. Mom says something vaguely polite and clears the table.
Steve drives us to my favourite ice cream place. We get a nice secluded parking spot behind the building and get a little handsy as we kiss.
"You're a saint to put up with all that," I assure him between deep, slow kisses. "It was like the world's most ignorant game of Twenty Questions."
"Come now," he chuckles, kissing my nose and squeezing my ass. "I've been around a while. I've seen everything. That was nothing."
He's so patient, so mellow. Immortal beings are totally my type.
We hold hands as we walk to the front door of the ice cream place. A guy standing outside smoking mutters something about faggots, and blows smoke at us. I cough. Steve pulls me close to his side in a protective gesture, but he gives the man a tranquil smile.
"Those things will kill you, my friend," Steve remarks, nodding at his cigarette.
My grin as we walk through the door is so wide I can feel my cheeks ache.