The woman rose from her bed with a bit of cheer upon her face. It was her 82nd birthday and she was a content woman, her husband of 56 years still alive. On this her birthday, she would be treated to a fine dinner out and perhaps a phone call from a daughter or grandchild and that was just about the right amount of celebration for someone her age. She finished dressing and while making her way to the kitchen glanced out a window to see three old friends hurrying up the front walk with gifts in their hands. A bit surprised at the morning hour she nonetheless was delighted that they had thought of her on this day. She hurried to the door and greeted them and as they entered the hall with smiles and all the little gestures that women make when coming in from the cold, touching the hair, adjusting a scarf, stamping their boots free of snow and ice, she noticed how really old they looked, much older than she expected, like hags in children’s stories of witches and goblins. Then they embraced her and kissed her on the cheek and at that moment she slipped to the floor remembering these friends had died, each of them, one of them long ago, and the other two more recently. She remembered now that she had read their obituaries and attended their funerals. On the floor she fell into a deep sleep and the three friends melted into the shadows of the house.
When he came down the stairs for his breakfast her husband found her on the floor of the hall. He spoke her name many times and touched her and then hurried off to make calls from the kitchen. Soon there were people in and out of the house and the words “heart” and “stroke” were spoken. Finally, men lifted her body and took it away but her spirit remained and the house grew quiet.
At the stroke of midnight the friends emerged from the shadows where they had hidden all day watching over the woman. Each gently touched her cheek. At that she awoke from her sleep and while they lifted her to her feet she saw that she had been wrong about her friends’ appearances. They were not crones, but young women in their twenties and thirties, women with soft unwrinkled skin and radiant eyes, as she had known them in their youth. How pleased she was to be with them again; her heart leaping with joy, her face with skin soft and eyes radiant. Then together embracing each other, the three angels of death carried their friend home.