"I have been waiting for you," the elderly woman on the bed said in a beautiful voice.
Death strode across the room silently, struck a careful, theatrical pose -- one arm behind, one arm raised before, a pale, slender hand held gracefully in the air -- and bowed.
The woman peered at her visitor, then leaned back among the abundant pillows. "You are not what I expected."
Death gave a small smile. The androgynous figure was tall and slim as a rail, clad in a black frock coat, black trousers, a pale grey waistcoat, and cravat tied in the Ball Room style. Long white hair was caught back and tied at the nape of the neck with a black ribbon. "Perhaps you expected a brawny German lord?" Death inquired in a low, melodious voice.
"Ah, no," the woman said with a brusque gesture. "I knew you would not be German. If you were German, they would have won the war."
Death smiled and half-bowed in acknowledgement. "I have been waiting for you as well."
"Have you?" the woman asked, adjusting the collar of her nightgown fretfully.
"Of course," Death said, still and upright. "Who would not want the world's greatest actress to adorn one's domain?"
"Am I simply adornment then?" the woman asked, shifting herself uncomfortably among the pillows.
"No," Death said. "You possess a peculiar brilliance that thrills and enriches. You have done me immense service through your life, bringing a fantasy of beauty to the act of dying. Why do you think I have let you live so long, through so much, nearly untouched? The fire when you were a child should have taken you. I have loved you for a long time, Madame." Death gave a wry chuckle. "And I have learned patience at last."
"I have said that I am an atheist," the woman said with a wan smile. "Should I not be sent to punishment?"
"Madame," Death said, "that would be a greater tragedy than even you could portray, than you should portray, after this, your greatest death scene."
"Feh," she said, sitting up in an abrupt temper. "My death scenes never ended in such squalor as I am sure this will."
"Madame," Death said again, this time with a low bow, "your scene is ended."
She turned and looked back at herself. "Ah!" she exclaimed, then leaned a bit closer to study the pallid, wrinkled face. "I suppose it is not so bad. Poor Maurice, who will find it." She turned back to Death, "I object, though -- I had no monologue, you must admit."
"I am sorry," Death said, extending a hand to the woman. "I shall see what I can arrange next time."
"Next time?" she asked, taking the cool hand and standing, for the first time in many years, upon two feet.
"Ah," Death said, half-hiding a smile, "perhaps."
She shook out her hair and smiled down at the ends trailing through her fingers. The memorable red tones she had chemically simulated for so long had returned to those curling locks. "Where shall we go, then, my love?"
"Wherever you like," Death said, "for a little while. What shall I call you for that time? Sarah? Marie? You have had many names."
She turned her beautiful face a little away from Death, studying her caller from beneath partly lowered lids. "Why not go back to my earliest name, if you are going to dredge up the past like that?"
Death offered her an arm. "Milk Blossom, then, Madame. Where shall we go?"
"I should very much like to see Louise again. I have not seen her in too long. This cursed motion picture has taken all my time. And now it will not be finished." Milk Blossom took Death's arm, sliding her hand over the beautiful coat sleeve. "And then, take me to see Duse's next show," she commanded. "Damn her for outlasting me anyway. But I should like to see her perform without thinking about what I should do in my next show."
"The Duse's time, too, is close, Madame," Death said, leading her away from her frail corpse. "But we shall see her while she yet lives. My carriage awaits."