Dorian’s Unfinished Work

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This post was originally published through Patreon on April 9, 2019

Dorian’s fingers dashed across the keyboard—forward and back, like a concert pianist in the throes of a wild composition. The light from his laptop’s monitor lit up his face, making him pale like a ghost. And that was precisely what he would be soon enough, for Death was coming, and Death would brook no delay.

Words tumbled out of him, but none were the right words; like broken keys, not a single one fit the unique lock that shuttered his imagination to the outside world.

Have to finish before Death takes me away.

And, as if the thought were a summons, the clock on his desk chimed the hour. Startled, Dorian looked up, and there he stood.

Death.

He hovered in the doorway, staring at Dorian with thinly veiled amusement.

“Are you ready?” Death asked. “The hour grows late and I have others to visit before the night is done.”

“If you could just give me one more night, maybe two—”

“No,” said Death. “Seventy years is time enough to accomplish any task. It’s time to go.”

Dorian gazed hopelessly at the laptop. The ideas he wanted to communicate were all there in one form or another, but they were disjoint, jumbled, incomplete.

“Then could I at least have an hour?”

“I’m afraid not.”

“Please. I have to finish my work.”

Death offered him a smile.

“May I let you in on a secret?”

Death moved forward into the room, his shadow sweeping over the wide wooden desk, and Dorian shrank back.

“A human’s work,” he whispered, leaning close to Dorian’s ear, “is never finished. There will always be imperfections and some way to improve upon what’s already been done. It’s part of your species’ charm.”

“You don’t understand. If I don’t finish, others won’t know what I’m trying to say.”

Death offered him a sagely nod.

“Perhaps. But I’ll let you in on another secret. That, too, is part of your species’ charm. Consider Pascal and his Pensees. He only outlined what would have amounted to volumes before he died, yet what he did to commit to paper has inspired generations of philosophers, not to mention his notable contributions to science and mathematics. Sometimes, that which is unfinished provides the greatest value.”

Dorian weighed Death’s words, and at last, he nodded.

“Then could I take a moment to print what I have so my family can find it in the morning?”

Death considered Dorian’s proposal. “That,” he said, “would be acceptable.”

So Dorian and Death sat together in silence while the printer regurgitated his life’s work, and when it finished—when the last page emerged, the internal fans quieted, and Dorian shut down his laptop for the last time—Death crooked a too-pale finger, and Dorian, breathing deep, rose to follow after him.

“Will it hurt?” Dorian asked.

“Only for a moment.”

Dorian found this to be acceptable, and after taking Death’s hand, the two of them marched forward into the dark.

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