Bad News sits on the counter in the kitchen watching me make coffee for my guy. "I'm going to be dumped on you again today."
"You're dumped on me practically every day." I hand her the package of coffee filters, which I can never separate on my own. "Just don't make me cry. We're out of Kleenex and I don't have time to go shopping."
Bad News frowns. "There's a box that fell behind the work table upstairs when you were doing the taxes last week."
I yawn. "Thanks."
Death looks up from the obituaries he's reading. "Hey, want to play Who's Next?"
Worry, who is poking around in the fridge checking expiration dates, looks around the door. "It's not me."
"It's never you," I assure her.
Death stretches and scratches between his second and third ribs. "I'm hungry. Are there any Toaster Tarts left?"
"Those things are very bad for you," Bad News says, and searches through her innumerable pockets. "I've got the scientific study to prove it." She takes out a wad of papers and shuffles through them. "Here we go. Four out of five rats who were fed Toaster Tarts every day over a two year period developed cancer."
"Excellent." Death heads for the pantry.
"I bet for two years they were really happy rats, though." Worry makes a face. "Sorry, forgot myself." In a solemn voice she intones, "Everyone in this family who has ever eaten a Toaster Tart is probably going to develop cancer and die."
"We're not rats." I go over to the table and move Death's scythe to a safer spot next to the wall. "Come on, you guys, it's getting late. Let's do this."
Worry and Bad News come over to sit at Death's right and left side. Worry pokes a new little mystery lump on my left wrist but pulls her hand away before I smack her. Bad News hides a smile. Death opens a pack of Toaster Tarts and offers them around before he starts munching.
No one ever wants to start, so I do. "I have one orthodontist and two dentist appointments," I tell them as I check the planner. "PT on Friday, and nine and ten days respectively to finish two colliding deadlines for different publishers. Housework, laundry, dishes, decluttering the hall closet if possible, and the girls want to go to the art show this weekend so I need to get things done early. As always I'll try to accommodate you but you know how it goes. Family first, work second, whatever else third."
"You ever wonder why they call them deadlines?" Death asks no one in particular. "They're not deceased. They don't kill anyone. Usually. I really have nothing at all to do with them. Why didn't they call them last-day-to-turn-in-your-work-before-we-fire-your-asslines?"
We all look at Death.
"Right." He hunches his shoulders a little. "This week looks good for you, me-wise. You know, barring acts of God, runaway tractor-trailers and the undetected cerebral aneurysm going pop. And as usual I can't guarantee I won't drop in on your Dad or Mom, that sick friend in the hospital, anyone you know over forty . . . "
"Got it." I glance at Bad News. "You?"
"Counting the weekend, that conversation you have to have with your mother, and the stack of mail you haven't read yet, that makes . . . " She thinks for a minute. "Four incoming deliveries. No, five."
She sulks a little. "Okay, four." Before I can say anything, she adds, "And one more but that turns out to be a blessing in disguise."
"Yipee." My head is starting to hurt. "Next?"
"My turn." Worry starts rubbing her hands together. "That pain in your right foot could be a fracture. Or a tumor. You're a month late getting your mammogram. You're going to get breast cancer and die. The milk your guy used last night expired two days ago. Botulism. The date on the egg carton is too blurry to read. Salmonella. That possum in the neighbor's shed is probably rabid--"
I hold up a hand to stem the flood. "Do you have any new business?"
She ducks her head and mutters something under her breath.
"The dogs could kill you." As Death chuckles, she glares at him. "Well, they could!"
"They're Shelties," Death chides. "What are they going to do, lick her to death?"
"There was that article online about people who've gotten sick from touching their pets and kissing them and sleeping with them and stuff," Worry says, indignant now. "Some of them even died."
"Pitiful. Truly pitiful." Death slowly shakes his head. "If the dogs were a valid concern, I could have iced her decades ago."
"I don't sleep with the pets, I don't kiss them on the mouth, and I wash my hands after I handle them," I tell Worry. "You know that."
"One time you might forget." She looks exasperated. "Oh, all right. I guess I don't have new business. Unless you eat those Toaster Tarts, in which case--" she sees the look on my face and sighs. "Okay, okay. That's all I've got."
"Thank you." I sit back and start sorting out priorities. "Bad News, I need to focus on work in the mornings, so I'd appreciate it if you'd hold off deliveries until the afternoons. Worry, you and I will do our usual one hour in the morning meditation sessions." I face Death. "I think you and I spent enough time together last week."
"That should wrap it up." I stand, hesitate, and then pick up a Toaster Tart and take a bite.
Worry gives me a warm smile and takes one for herself. "You're such a good sport."
"Sure, I am." I hate Toaster Tarts. "Anyone want to help me wake up the teenager?"
Bad News coughs, Worry chokes and Death pales right before they all vanish.
I take another bite of the Toaster Tart. "Wimps."
(Dedicated to my Uncle Frank, who decided to go on to the next place. He wasn't afraid, and he didn't want tears or grief, so I wrote this as a tribute for him. Safe journey, Uncle. We love you and miss you.)