There was a hand, emerging from the shadows. Slender and grey.
And the hand held a small, black, button.
Sophie’s heart moved from its usual place, upwards and up, until it tickled at her trachea. And it sat there for a time, like a fat, disgruntled frog.
And then she sighed it back down.
She’d known it was coming. Of course she’d known. She was born—like all children—with the year of her death inscribed on a metal pendant around her neck.
She knew, when the calendar ticked over into this new year that it would be her last.
The only question had been around which day.
And here it was, finally. Her Dying Day. Her Button Day.
She had done better than many she supposed. Her sister, Mathilde, had died at age twelve. She had grown many years older than that. She would die with her children around her, though, sadly, not her husband, whose own Button Day had come some five years before.
That had been a bad day. a day of quiet imploding. This day felt more like an unfolding. Like a gentle collapse. Like a sigh.
She took the button.
The grey hand curled its gnarled fingers and retreated into the darkness.
Sophie found her tarnished pendant, below her ivory blouse, and clicked the button into the slot. The slot that had been waiting, all her life, to be filled.
Immediately, the air filled with the most miraculous music.
Like hummingbirds singing to trees.
The air was thick with the scent of honey. The wind was gentle and warm.
And in the sky above her, the stars came out and began to dance.
And she began to dance, too.
At first, she was alone. Then, slowly, others emerged from the shadows.
Her children—all three of them. Still blessedly alive and so achingly beautiful that, for the first time this whole year, she thought she might cry. They joined her under the stars and began to dance too, wiping away at tears that made their faces shining and silver.
Her two surviving sisters came, too, and danced a slow waltz, heads bowed in reverence.
Sophie’s friends came and embraced her, one by one, and wished her good journey and safety in the land beyond the shadows.
She danced with all of her loved ones, in turn, and they sang, and they laughed, and they ate cakes that tasted of honey and wine that tasted like tears.
And finally, when they were all so broken and weary that they couldn’t dance another step, Sophie stood before them and she said, “Farewell, and live kindly, all you who I have loved.”
And they replied, “Farewell, and go gently, you who we have loved the most.”
And then, slowly and again, the grey slender hand emerged from the darkness.
And Sophie took it.
And walked on.
Over the hills. And on some more.