top of page

Second Thoughts

Robert Duffy

Robert Duffy pays the bills by managing software projects, found his day job by technical writing, feeds his soul by playing piano and tries to make sense of it all by writing fiction and poetry.  He has had poetry published in Black Wire Literary Magazine and is looking to improve on that track record.  He currently lives in San Mateo, CA with his wife and two children.

The Reaper stood before him, merciless, unstoppable.

“It’s time.”  

William felt a shock of terror, that helpless over-the-cliff moment, that heart-stopping glimpse of the ugly black hole at the end of the barrel, the gleam of homicidal intent in a mugger’s eyes.  The moment of finality. 

It was over.

“Wait!”  He held up his hand.  “Can’t we talk?  Isn’t there something we can do?  Does it have to be right this second?”

The Reaper shook his head.  “Your time is up.”

“Completely?  Are you sure you’re taking everything into account?”

“Like what?” 

An unexpected response.  A fleeting bit of uncertainty in his gaze.   An opening!  

Negotiate, you fool!

“How about just a little more time?” 

Talking quickly now.  Thinking furiously.  Put it in terms that matter to HIM.  What does HE want? 

“We’re all given a certain amount of time.  You don’t believe in waste, do you?  You want us to make the most of what we get, right?”

A narrowing of the eyes. 

“Your point?”

“How about….how about…all the time I spent sitting at red lights?  Commuting every day for twenty-five years.  Add it all up.  All that time stuck in traffic.  Totally wasted time.  Can’t I get that back?”

The Reaper shook his head.  

“I didn’t tell you to live in Silicon Valley.  That was your choice.”

“That’s where the jobs were!” 

Losing the argument.  Push back fast.  Divert. 

“Do the math!  How much time was that?”

“It really only adds up to a couple of days.  Day and a half at most.”

“There you go!  Everything I can get done in a day and a half?  Reconcile with Margie and Veronica?” 

“You should have done that already.”

“Wait, wait!  How about…what about that presentation, Joe Ambrose’s presentation on process improvement metrics?  Two hours of Death by Powerpoint.  Can’t I get that back?”

Surprisingly this seems to impress.  

“I will admit that was pretty bad.”

“He read every single bullet point, word for word!”

“I hate it when they do that.”

“Me too!  I can read faster than he does!  Way faster! That presentation should have taken fifteen minutes, tops.  Instead, two hours of my life!”

The Reaper cocked his head. 

Is he agreeing?  He seems to be agreeing! 

“But if I make an exception for you, there were twelve other people in that room—”

Dammit!  He’s playing the precedent card.  If I do it for you I have to do it for everybody.  Classic coward’s way out.  I’d like to help you, but my hands are tied.  Pussy excuse.

“How about all those Sunday morning political talk shows I watched?  Several hours right there.”

“An impressive waste but really you should have known better.  Plenty of warning about those.”

He doesn’t seem to be impressed by TV.  Can’t really blame him.  He’s right, should have known better.  Try another tack. 

“That class on science writing!  The one during my Masters!  Remember that instructor who totally phoned it in?  I was trying to be the diligent student—”

“For once.”

“Yeah, but I really tried with that class.  You gotta give me that.  I never missed a session.   Even though I was ready to pull my eyeballs out by the end of the semester.   Two-hour classes!  Twelve weeks!  Teacher was an idiot!”

“No argument there.  But you worked off a lot of karma sitting through that.  You’re supposed to pay some dues you know.”

“I’m not talking about building character.  That was an outrageous waste of the precious gift of life.  You’re all about that, aren’t you?”

“Of course.  But I can’t give do-overs for every bit of adversity—”

“I’m not talking adversity!  I’m talking criminal negligence!”  Sudden vehemence, then a flash of inspiration.  “ISO-9000 training!  Remember when the whole company went apeshit over that?  How many hours was that?  And the CEO’s semi-annual state of the company presentations: ‘I’m really proud of the work you all do.  This is the best place to work.  These new budget cuts are really going to make us stronger.’  All that bullshit I sat through.”   

Getting breathless now.  Throwing everything up against the wall.  Nothing’s sticking.  The Reaper’s expression isn’t changing.

“OK, OK, wait a minute.   I got it.  You have to appreciate this one.” 

Deep breath.  This is your best shot.  Let him have it.

“Jonathan Livingston Seagull.” 

Pause for effect. Stare at him.  Let it sink in.  

He’s puzzled!  You can see it in his eyes.  Good.  Knocked him off balance for a second.

“I don’t—”

“The movie, not the book.”  (Hell, if you’d read the book too you’d have an argument for full-on roll-back-the-stone resurrection.)  “I sat through the whole thing, remember?”

He’s impressed!  You can see it! 


“I’ll never get those two hours back!  I knew it the minute the final credits started rolling!  You gotta admit—”

“Why on earth did you—”

“I was trying to get laid!  You can appreciate that, right?   Zhana and her New Agey girlfriend Caroleen.  Remember them?  I thought I had a shot at both of them.  Movie night together in that little cottage near Mt. Shasta?”

“That didn’t work out for you.”

“I just made the mistake of voicing my opinion about the movie.  Totally crapped the mood.  But I still sat through the whole damn thing!  That’s gotta count for something!”

The implacable gaze softened slightly.   

“Neil Diamond did the score, for crying out loud!”   Grab him by the lapels and shake him!  OK, he doesn’t have lapels.  His cowl, whatever it’s called.

For the first time, the Reaper was silent.  Musing. 

“That’s one hundred and twenty minutes,” he said.

“OK, not a full two hours.  It just felt like it.”

“What would you do with those hundred and twenty minutes?”

“What would I do?   I just told you.  Margie.  Veronica.”

The Reaper looked askance. 

“You’d lie to me?  Here?  Now?”

“Look, what can I really get done in an hour and half?  I acted badly.  I can at least apologize.”

Still that withering gaze. 

“Come on, be honest.  If I told you I’d just fix myself one more drink and watch a ball game would you have any more sympathy for me?”

The Reaper looked down.  

“That chair doesn’t look too steady.”

“That’s why I picked it.”

The Reaper sighed.  

“The choice is yours.”

Now it was William’s turn to think.   In a quick two seconds he slipped the noose.  There was still some tonic in the fridge that hadn’t gone flat yet.   Giants were about to play the Braves.

bottom of page