Death Pays a Social Call

Damon Runyon

Death came in and sat down beside me, a large and most distinguished-looking figure in beautifully-tailored soft, white flannels. His expansive face wore a big smile.

“Oh, hello,” I said. “Hello, hello, hello. I was not expecting you. I have not looked at the red board lately and did not know my number was up. If you will just hand me my kady and my coat I will be with you in a jiffy.”

“Tut-tut-tut,” Death said. “Not so fast. I have not come for you. By no means.”

“You haven’t?” I said.

“No,” Death said.

“Then what the hell are you doing here?” I demanded indignantly. “What do you mean by barging in here without even knocking and depositing your fat Francis in my easiest chair without so much as by-your-leave?”

“Excuse me,” Death said, taken aback at my vehemence. “I was in your neighborhood and all tired out after my day’s work and I thought I would just drop in and sit around with you awhile and cut up old scores. It is merely a social call, but I guess I owe you an apology at that for my entrance.”

“I should say you do,” I said.

“Well, you see I am so accustomed to entering doors without knocking that I never thought,” Death said. “If you like, I will go outside and knock and not come in until you answer.”

“Look,” I said. “You can get out of here and stay out of here. Screw, bum!”

Death burst out crying.

Huge tears rolled down both pudgy cheeks and splashed on his white silk-faced lapels.

“There it is again,” he sobbed. “That same inhospitable note wherever I go. No one wants to chat with me. I am so terribly lonesome. I thought surely you would like to punch the bag with me awhile.”

I declined to soften up.

“Another thing,” I said sternly, “what are you doing in that get-up? You are supposed to be in black. You are supposed to look sombre, not like a Miami Beach Winter tourist.”

“Why,” Death said, “I got tired of wearing my old working clothes all the time. Besides, I thought these garments would be more cheerful and informal for a social call.”

“Well, beat it,” I said. “Just Duffy out of here.”

“You need not fear me,” Death said.

“I do not fear you Deathie, old boy,” I said, “but you are a knock to me among my neighbors. Your visit is sure to get noised about and cause gossip. You know you are not considered a desirable character by many persons, although, mind you, I am not saying anything against you.”

“Oh, go ahead,” Death said. “Everybody else puts the zing on me so you might as well, too. But I did not think your neighbors would recognize me in white, although, come to think of it, I noticed everybody running to their front doors and grabbing in their ‘Welcome’ mats as I went past. Why are you shivering if you do not fear me?”

“I am shivering because of that clammy chill you brought in with you,” I said. “You lug the atmosphere of a Frigidaire around with you.”

“You don’t tell me?” Death said. “I must correct that. I must pack an electric pad with me. Do you think that is why I seem so unpopular wherever I go? Do you think I will ever be a social success?”

“I am inclined to doubt it,” I said. “Your personality repels many persons. I do not find it as bad as that of some others I know, but you have undoubtedly developed considerable sales resistance to yourself in various quarters.”

“Do you think it would do any good if I hired a publicity man?” Death asked. “I mean, to conduct a campaign to make me popular?”

“It might,” I said. “The publicity men have worked wonders with even worse cases than yours. But see here, D., I am not going to waste my time giving you advice and permitting you to linger on in my quarters to get me talked about. Kindly do a scrammola, will you?”

Death had halted his tears for a moment, but now he turned on all faucets, crying boo-hoo-hoo-hoo.

“I am so lonesome,” he said between lachrymose heaves.

“Git!” I said.

“Everybody is against me,” Death said.

He slowly exited and, as I heard his tears falling plop-plop-plop to the floor as he passed down the hallway, I thought of the remark of Agag, the King of the Amalekites, to Samuel just before Samuel mowed him down: “Surely the bitterness of death is past.”