(The intercom buzzes in Death’s office.)
— Mr. Death, sir, Mr. Flores is here.
— (Slightly surprised, Death takes a look at his wrist hourglass.) Already? I wasn’t expecting him so early. Well, let him in anyway, Miss Coffins.
(Miss Coffins shows Mr. Flores in. He cautiously looks around, confused.)
— Ah, Mr. Flores! Welcome. You are a bit early, but if you’re ready to go, I have no objection.
— Go? Where? Who are you?
— I understand you are nervous, Mr. Flores, but there is no reason to, really. I have served plenty of customers before, and not one ever came back to complain.
— I work for a customers’ association—you’d be surprised how many unhappy customers simply couldn’t be bothered to take the time to complain. And that didn’t answer any of my questions anyway.
— You are a quick-witted one, Mr. Flores. I like that. I am sure we will… (Tries to put an arm around Mr. Flores’ shoulders, but his arm just goes through.) Oh, I see. You are not quite ready yet, it seems, but you are afraid that you might soon be. That’s why you arrived early. Yes, it does happen, from time to time. Tell me, Mr. Flores, was your doctor optimistic about the procedure?
— (Finally realizing who he is talking to.) You’re Death, aren’t you?
— I suppose we can operate on a first-name basis—I never cared for titles much. So, you are not very confident that the doctors can save you, isn’t that right?
— (Quietly.) They did say that chances weren’t good.
— (Smirks.) I see. I suppose it would be customary to express my condolences, but when you are in my line of work, you try to look at the bright side of things.
— Such as?
— We are going to enjoy each other’s company for all eternity, Mr. Flores! I am very busy with new customers coming in all the time, but I always try to find a moment to come and check on my precious pieces.
— Your “precious pieces”?
— (Chuckles.) I like you, Mr. Flores. I want to show you something. Follow me. (He leads the way through a fancy-looking door with a plate reading “collectibles”.)
— Where are we going?
— (Death turns a key in the door’s lock.) Consider it a sneak peek—not many people get to see this… in advance.
(They enter an unimaginably large space extending in all directions; the walls are too far away to be seen through the distant fog. There are an enormous amount of suspended platforms reachable through suspended walkways. An incredible number of showcases covers each platform, and there are signs indicating directions to specific sections of the collection. Inside each case, there is a dead creature, completely still, with a name tag and other information. Death and Mr Flores head to the “Humans” section, making their way through insects, animals, plants, and more unusual classifications.)
— You are speechless, eh? Isn’t it marvelous?
— That isn’t quite the word I had in mind. What do you even do with all these dead creatures?
— I am one of the few lucky devils who has managed to turn his hobby into a profession.
— I prefer the term “collector”.
(They take a lift a few floors up. They pass through a section with a variety of unusual exhibits in display cases—geocentrism, phlogiston, chivalry, disco, and so on. Mr. Flores notices an empty case reading “Aging” on it.)
— (Points at the case.) What’s that for?
— (Waves casually.) A friend who is joining fairly soon.
(They reach the “Humans” section, not far from Mr. Flores’ own display case.)
— These, Mr. Flores, are my precious pieces. Not just humans, but anything that was once alive. Each and every of them is a unique, invaluable specimen!
— There are a lot of ordinary people here. People who have done nothing special with their lives and probably led rather similar lives too. What’s the point of having them all?
— (Laughs.) That’s where you’re mistaken, Mr. Flores. As I said, each of these is unique, and thus, invaluable. No two lives are the same, Mr. Flores, which is what makes them worth collecting for me… and should make them worth saving for the rest of you, I guess. I’m speaking against my own best interests there, aren’t I?
— (Quietly, looking thoughtful.) I suppose.
— Then again, for you mortals, the issue is a bit different.
— What do you mean?
— You need me to give meaning to your lives. You’re not wired to make sense of infinity.
— Aren’t mathematicians kind of paid to do exactly that?
— (Sarcastically.) You can do better than that, Mr. Flores.
— I never bought into the whole “death gives life meaning” argument.
— Oh, but it’s a very good argument.
— Now you’re speaking for your best interests.
— Yes, but that doesn’t make the argument any less true.
— But what does it mean? That life has no meaning until it ends? Do you give meaning to life “retroactively” once it is over? If life has meaning only when it is over, then the meaning of life doesn’t matter much, because you can’t experience it.
— Nothing so complicated, Mr. Flores. It only means that you need to know that life is limited in order to be able to enjoy it.
— Nonsense—children, for example, enjoy their lives without knowing anything about you, and they are actually quite upset once they learn of your existence, usually.
— Ah, children—bless their souls. They are too young to understand.
— I think they understand it pretty well—as long as you get to do what you enjoy, life has meaning, and it is okay if you have to put up with some unpleasant things along the way. And this applies to anyone, children or not.
— What about you, Mr. Flores? Do you enjoy your job at the consumers’ association?
— Not particularly, but I do have many hobbies, and people, that make me happy. (Stares at his own empty display case.)
— (Scoffs.) One eventually grows tired of hobbies.
— You haven’t grown tired of yours yet.
— And even when you do grow tired of something, you can always look for something new.
— You could get tired of looking for something in the first place.
— I’ll worry about it if and when it happens. Until then, I’ll enjoy the meaning my life will have had thus far.
(Miss Coffins’ voice from a loudspeaker interrupts them.)
— Mr. Death, Mr. Flores has to be sent back. It seems there was a mistake. My apologies.
— (Grins amusedly.) It’s all right, Miss Coffins. We’ll be back shortly. You’re a tough customer, Mr. Flores, but one day, we’ll meet again. I am very particular about completing my collections—that’s why I have an empty case with a “universe” tag on it.
— You don’t seem to realize that, right after you fill that case, you’ll need one for yourself.
— (Smirks.) Who says I don’t have one?
— Then I suppose it all depends on which one of us ends up in a case first. I’ll find my way back. (Leaves Death alone.)
— (Grins.) I suppose it does.