The sun dawned pale that morning, as if afraid to disturb the peace that had settled over the house of my childhood. Birds kept their gossip to themselves, and the wind from the night before remembered a prior engagement the next county over. Perhaps the silence woke me, for I sat on the bed rubbing sleep out of my eyes when my dad cracked the door.
“You’ll want to come soon. She held on through the night.” He blinked reddened eyes that had long grown tired of tears. I stood and snatched up a t-shirt lying on the floor, and tried to pull it over my head in a sleepy daze. I walked into the bathroom, and, by the time I finished brushing my teeth, my sister had come downstairs. We walked together into the room where cancer gnawed what little remained of the mother I knew.
She lay wheezing on the bed. Each breath came slower and more ragged than the last. We sat holding her parchment-like hands and waited—wondered if another gasp would follow the last exhale. Antiseptic tinged the air, and the timid sun stole a glance through the window. Mom breathed out again, and we waited. No inhale came. I brushed aside the few wisps of hair left to Mom's head and kissed her forehead. My dad left to call the funeral home.
After a bowl of cereal and some coffee, the three of us stood with the people from the funeral home in the living room. We began saying goodbye to my plastic-shrouded mother. As my dad whispered to his bride, I saw the screen on the front door open.
Knock knock knock.
Frustration flared to life in my chest at whoever dared visit in such a fragile moment. My dad nodded to the funeral director's unspoken question, and she moved to see who it was. My anger fizzled when she opened the front door—the porch stood empty. She walked out into the cold sunlight and found no one.
My mind squirmed in confusion. The echo of those three knocks shook me by the bones. The gurney rolled down to the hearse—Dad by Mom's side one last time. He returned, gently shut the door, and smiled at me. I hugged my widowed father and realization crystallized in my mind.
The hand that strangled Death itself had knocked on our front door. The Carpenter-King had come for my mother.