Ruth is talking about classic television shows with someone on the internet. She wears a sweatshirt that hasn’t been out of the apartment for quite some time.
Favorite episode? Oh, boy. I mean, there are so many. All the classics. Monsters Are Due on Maple Street, It’s a Good Life, Time Enough at Last. Great. The best. But favorite?
There’s one about an old man, a sidewalk vendor. It starts with him in front of a building on a hot summer day, selling toys and manicure sets and neck ties out of a sample-case on legs. Someone’s watching him. A young man in a dark suit, making notes in a small black notebook. When the salesman goes home, the man is waiting in his apartment. He says to the old man, “I’m Death. It’s your time to die.” Then he clicks his pen and starts flipping through the pages of his notebook, checking all the information, making sure there aren’t any mistakes, no gaps in the record. That’s when the salesman starts to bargain with this guy. He bargains with Death. Works out a deal with him. It doesn’t end the way the old man wants it to, but for one minute, he got Death to...pause. That was the thing that stayed in my head; that you could sit across from Death in your living room and come to a mutual understanding. You could talk to him, ask him questions. He’d still take you, you’d still have to die. He’d still put his hand on your shoulder and walk you under the street lamps the way Death takes the old man at the end of the episode. But there would have been a moment. A connection. You could look Death in the eye.
If only this thing had a face. Eyes. But there’s no face. Shut windows. Closed doors. That’s all.
I know how I’d do it. I’d put on a nice suit, a white blouse, a string of discreet pearls. Then I’d get a black notebook and a good pen. People could look me in the eye when I gave them the bad news. And after I tell them, I’ll listen. I’ll nod, make notes in my book, and listen. If you’re tired, you can tell me how tired you are. If you’re afraid or angry, you can tell me that, too. You can tell me anything, because I’m listening. You can see it in my eyes.
Ruth holds her look to the camera for as long as it feels appropriate. Then:
Right. Well. Anyway. That’s my favorite Twilight Zone episode. I think it’s called One For The Angels. What’s your favorite?
Joseph Dougherty is a writer living in California.