With assistance from Jennifer Varner.
Eileen Murkoway was the angel of death. It had started out with the old tom cat her parents still had, who had long outlived his welcome and now yowled and pissed about the house in an aggravating state of senility.
"I'm surprised that thing's not dead yet," she had said in response to her mother's recital of the cat's latest crimes of sphincter dysfunction. Within the week it was.
Then there had been the case of her boyfriend's dog, a dilapidated old German Shepherd whom he fawned over endlessly and whose interactions with Eileen consisted entirely of plowing his head into her crotch.
"I think you love that dog more than you love me," she had pointed out archly.
"Maybe," Todd had replied with a grin.
"Hmm," she had glared at the dog. Later that night she had told a girlfriend on the phone, "Well, he won't live forever. Then I will assume my rightful place as number one in Todd's heart." Two days later, the dog was hit by a car. She began to suspect something then, but it wasn't until a few weeks later when she told an old lech at a bus stop to drop dead and he had a heart attack that she was sure.
"You can't be serious," her friend Mona told her over the phone.
"Cross my heart and... I am quite serious," Eileen amended solemnly.
"Well, one singer just OD'd in his home in Malibu yesterday. Did you do that, too?"
"Not on my route," Eileen replied.
"Poor Mr. O'Hare," her mother was saying over lunch the next day. "He's not on life support, but he just keeps lingering and lingering. It's terrible. He keeps telling his family how much he wishes he could just die. Sometimes it's just so sad being a nurse."
Eileen pursed her lips stubbornly over her meatball sub and declined to comment.
At the grocery store, the check out girl chattered on as she rang up Eileen's eggs and salami. "Judy O'Hare was just in here, remember her? We all sat in the back in Health class?"
"She had the chipped tooth and always wore those tight sweaters?"
"That's her. Apparently her grandfather is really sick, in the hospital. Whole family is gathered, just waiting for the end. Apparently it's really hard on them, waiting like that. Just waiting."
Eileen narrowed her eyes in irritation as she finished filling out her check. In the doctor's office, she browsed through a magazine. Across the room, two women talked too loudly not to be overheard. "Have you heard how Bob O'Hare is doing?"
"God, that's got to be terrible. Can you imagine that? Just waiting to die like that?"
"I'm not going to do it and that's final!" Eileen shouted over the top of her magazine, fixing the two women with a steely glare. With great deliberation, she resumed reading her article on eyebrow shaping.
On the local news that night, the newscaster concluded his report. "And finally, close to home tonight, Robert O'Hare, who holds the record for longest-lived man in the county, remains in stable but serious condition in the hospital. Mr. O'Hare told Channel 12 news today that he has lived a full life and is ready to go..."
The next day, Eileen took a bus directly from work to the hospital. As she walked into his room, Bob O'Hare opened his eyes and looked over at her with a spark of recognition and hope before his bony face fell. "Oh. I thought you were someone else," he rasped dourly.
"I won't do it," she told him firmly.
"Animals are one thing. People are entirely another. That pervert at the bus stop was an accident. I won't be a part of this."
The old man sighed and settled back into his bed. He stared up at the ceiling and began to talk as if he had forgotten she was there. "I hate this room. It smells funny. They've got tubes and wires and needles stuck in every damn orifice on my body. I can't eat real food, I piss through a tube, some fat woman with a lousy attitude wipes my ass for me..."
"That's my mother you are referring to."
"...All my friends are dead. My children are dead. My grandchildren are getting old. It was fun while it lasted, but I am about sick to death of all this bullshit."
"All right!" Eileen threw her hands up. "Fine then! I'm sure you'll be dead soon."
On the hospital bed, Bob O'Hare closed his eyes with a smile. "I thought it was you." The next morning, he passed away peacefully surrounded by his grandchildren and great-children.
After that, Eileen began to take her duties more seriously. She stopped by the nursing home at least once a month.
"My turn!" an old lady hissed as soon as the orderly had walked away.
Eileen looked stonily up from her bingo card. "No, it isn't."
"But I want it to be!"
"B-2" called the activities coordinator.
"Too bad. It's Harvey's turn."
"Hah!" the little old man next to her gloated. "In your face, Ethel. I'll be in the great hereafter before Thanksgiving!"
The next month, she stopped to see a fragile grandmother with a few strips of whispy white hair above still-sharp eyes. "What took you so long?" the old woman snapped.
Eileen gave her a half-lidded glare. "I have a day job, you know. Being the angel of death doesn't pay the bills."
"Your generation just doesn't have any work ethic. Back in my day, the angel of death didn't piss around - you got old? Bam! You were gone."
"I'll keep that in mind," Eileen replied coolly as she took her leave.
"So how do you know?" Mona asked over the phone one day. "When people are supposed to, you know, go. Is it something you decide?"
"No, I just know. It's like processing an order form. I don't decide to place the order, I just make sure the copies get delivered to the right people."
"Huh. Sounds like a lot of work."
"Speaking of which, it's been a long day."
"You gonna go for the night?"
"Yeah, I'm dead tired." Eileen felt a chill as the words came out of her mouth. She stared into the mirror as Mona hung up. "Well that just figures," she glared and put out some extra food for the cat.
The newspapers the next day said it was an unexpected tragedy. They were only partially correct.