Much to Father Porcini’s surprise, Death wore a bathing suit. It was pink with stripes. Orange stripes, complemented by florid pink stockings and ballet slippers.
It was not what he expected. She was not who he expected.
‘You can’t go about dressed like that,’ said Father Porcini.
Death grinned and reached into a fine lace bag hanging from her wrist. She pulled out a blue bathing cap covered in red flowers and put it on.
Father Porcini snorted. ‘It doesn’t suit you.’
He was being ungracious, and knew it. The cap was overlarge, but that was hardly her fault—the absence of ears made it difficult for her to keep it from falling over her eyes, or where her eyes ought to be.
Apart from the skullish head she was beautiful, a curvaceous woman with the kind of hips he loved to watch sway this way and that—which, in truth, is why he had always walked behind Sister Maria Gregory.
It was a moment before he realized he had spoken that name out loud.
The Bishop sitting in the chair by his bed muttered something inaudible and wiped his brow. Father Porcini winced. He didn’t like the Bishop, not since he’d caught him in the vestry with Mrs Devine and the candles. Afterwards, the Bishop had prayed for him. Father Porcini had prayed for Mrs Devine, and burnt the candles.
‘Why couldn’t you wear something more suitable, more refined,’ said Father Porcini.
‘What the dead wear belongs to me, ‘ said Death, pretending to tuck non-existent curls under the cap. ‘I can wear nothing else.’
She was playful. He liked that, though it scared him a little.
He gathered the remains of his well ordained wiles about him in defense. ‘Who would wear such a wretched outfit to the grave?’
Death nudged aside the bed clothes, nestled in next to him, touched his cheek, ran her fingers across his lips. ‘Cardinal Beazley.’
Father Porcini listened for the lie. He had heard many lies, both fascinating and dreary. There were no telltale signs of either.
‘I’d heard a rumour,’ he said, resignedly. ‘It’s a surprisingly good fit.’
‘He was a surprisingly shaped man,’ said Death. Her voice was low, melodic.
‘It was the pancakes,’ said Father Porcini. ‘He ate them for breakfast and lunch. Loved them with butter and syrup, and those little sugary sprinkles.’
The Bishop rested his hand on Father Porcini’s head and prayed.
‘If I’m truthful’ said Father Porcini willing the Bishop to remove his hand. ‘It wasn’t the Mrs Devine thing, I’ve always disliked him. He’s petty. Petty and dull. No one’s got a right to be both, one or the other perhaps, but not both it’s entirely too taxing on the patience.’
It was like listening to the chorus of a song he’d loved as a child.
‘Can we go?’ he asked.
Death said nothing, caressed his brow, leaned forward and kissed him full on the mouth. It was soft, warm, sweet.
He sighed deeply. ‘Thank-you.’
The Bishop faded as Death wriggled from under the covers and pulled Father Porcini to his feet.
‘Where are we going?’
She pulled off the bathing cap and handed it to him. He put it on, tucking his own thick white curls under the cap.
‘To the sea,’ said Death, walking from the room. ‘There are castles to be made, holes to be dug, shells to find.’
‘I do like shells,’ said Father Porcini. ‘Will there be currant buns? You know, those long ones with the pink icing.’
‘No,’ said Death. ‘But it’s warm, and there are others.’
‘I’ll admit,’ said Father Porcini, trailing along behind her, watching her hips sway this way and that. ‘You’re not who I expected.’
‘I’ve disappointed you?’ said Death, turning to face him.
Father Porcini ran a little to catch up to her. He caught her hand, it was warm, soft. ‘Oh no,’ he said, taking her fingers and pressing them to his lips. ‘Quite the contrary.’