Alison Brackett

It all begins with an idea.

Pushing Daisies


My feet lulled to a stop as I approached the corner of Van Buren and Plymouth, my shoes scuffing against the frigid concrete. A song was playing through my headphones, but I couldn’t seem to focus on the words—instead, all I could focus on were the sirens and horns produced by the cars whizzing past me, their motion slapping my face with gusts of wind. Their movements were so fast and so violent that as my feet teetered dangerously from the sidewalk toward the pavement of the intersection, I realized how easy it would be for me to step into oncoming traffic and face what I feared most.

In a matter of seconds, all that I had come to know would cease to exist. I would cease to exist. It was as easy as one step forward, as if I were back in time taking my first steps. My death would be as fast and violent as the oncoming cars—a quick way to go, a painless way to go, if things went well. All the grief and pain bottled up inside would be gone in a minute—poof—swirling out like a genie from a bottle, disappearing as if it was nothing—as if I went through all of that for nothing.

Was it my death that I feared? As a child, death didn’t frighten me, nothing did. All I knew was cartoons and sun-kissed summers in my backyard—I had yet to be exposed to the grim reality that existed beyond my fenced yard. I was unstoppable—invincible even, braced against the weight of the world with a Barbie doll in one hand and a smile on my face. In my eyes, death and all things bad existed in a land far, far away from mine. They were purely fiction, contained in the box of my TV screen. 

It was a time when death wasn’t something I considered, let alone my own. I lived under the impression that death only happened when you were too old to go on living. Grandpas and grandmas died—and that was it. I took my great grandpa’s death like a champ because at ninety-six years old, he had lived a good life and I knew that. That was what was supposed to happen. My naivety shielded me from the certainty that would one day come crashing down on me when I least expected—the truth that death was more than just old age; it was accidents, diseases, drugs, abuse. And it could happen to me or the ones that I loved most. 

On the given times that I happened to envision death, what it could possibly look like, it appeared in the form of the Grim Reaper. He was the shape of a man, and nothing more, dressed in black with a scythe that was meant to instill fear. He was a frequent character in my childhood cartoons, a folktale that spawned after the Black Plague, yet he was death. He pursued the old, the sick, the unlucky—waiting, just waiting, for the right moment to strike, for the right soul to collect.

The thing that nobody tells you, though, is that he’s real. No, not literally, but I’ve seen him—felt his presence in the air, smelled the death that lingered after him, encountered him more times in the past few years than I ever could have imagined. He’s the cause of accidents, cancers, overdoses, and all premature deaths. He’s the root of the problem. I thought I knew the Grim Reaper, as an innocent child staring at my TV screen, but I was wrong.

I’ve lost enough people to fill my tally sheet—one turning into two turning into a strike across the entire board. I thought it was fair enough to assume we were well acquainted; I knew him as well I knew my nosey next-door neighbor. You know the one, don’t you? Buttoned up Hawaiian shirt, receding hairline, a wife who sleeps in a separate bed—we all have one. So how is it possible we couldn’t be well acquainted? 

He wormed and wiggled his way into my life, made himself a main character that was not needed. He shocked me once; he shocked me twice; I didn’t think he could do it again. I told myself that I knew it all—the ins and outs, the grief that’s acquired when you lose somebody you love, the gaping hole left behind in your soul, the numbness that spreads throughout your entire body. I told myself nothing else could surprise me.

I was wrong. Oh God, was I wrong.

I wish I could have better prepared myself. Instead, I allowed myself to continue living in ignorance. The unexpected still existed in a faraway realm, way out of my reach. The sudden deaths and diagnoses I saw across my Facebook feed would never, could never, happen to me. Until it did.

Within just a year, all I had conditioned myself to know and accept crumpled with the deaths of two people close to my heart. One unexpected, one drawn out—neither was easy. Despite all the lies that had filled my head and told me otherwise, I wouldn’t know grief—or him—until then. My mind would not be able to fully understand the concept of grief until I was forced to grieve a person still living. I wouldn’t know death until I was left with no choice but to accept that a piece of my life as I knew it was gone. Unwillingly, begrudgingly, I had to pick up the pieces and continue forward.

I underestimated him. I took the luxury of the life and family that I had for granted. My comfort bubble was popped in the blink of an eye, in the matter of a day. I did what we humans do best, what we have been doing since the beginning of time—took things for granted.

He taught me to fear death. He instilled an uneasiness within me—one that causes me to draw out phone calls in fear of the possibility of a final goodbye and stress over every cough and sneeze. I fear the unexpected, for what is waiting in the shadows for those that I love. But do I fear it for myself? Do I realize that he can get me, too? Do I care?

Suddenly, the blur of a blue CTA bus whizzed past my vision—my reflection stared back at me, eyes as empty as I felt, yet questioning, as if to ask me what I was doing. She didn’t have to, though, because she knew exactly what I was thinking, what I was doing, and she was judging me. Wake up, she said. Wake upWake upWake up. The bus was gone as fast as it had come—it couldn’t have been more than a few seconds—but my reflection’s judging eyes were enough to draw me out of the grave I had found myself buried under. It was enough to bring me back to reality—enough to inch my feet backward, back onto the safety of the sidewalk, far from the fast and violent cars and my fast and violent thoughts.


Alison Brackett is currently residing in Montgomery, Illinois. An excerpt of her short story “Portrait of a Half-Empty Girl” was recently published in Hair Trigger, Issue 42, and in 2018, her short story titled “Sciamachy” was published in Horizons