Reapers’ Portraits: April 1940


Her vitality was gone.

Erica Aldrich moved through the motions of life, failing to find joy in photography. She had taken in a pair of nephews, both of whom were highly motivated and thrilled to travel and take photographs as well as remain in the studio at times to work with paying clients.

She never allowed them to take the portraits of reapers.

In April, a man carrying a saxophone arrived at the studio, and despite the protests of her nephews, Erica sent them away. I bumped into both of them on Main Street, and it was how I learned that there was a musician in the studio.

By the time I reached the studio, I could hear the man playing.

The music was powerful and beautiful, tearing the breath from my lungs and depriving me of thought for a moment. When I shook it off and entered the building, I found Erica asleep at the table and the musician writing in the ledger.

He smiled at me, nodded by way of greeting, and finished his entry. Straightening up, he motioned towards Erica.

“She needed the rest. Poor thing hasn’t slept well in years, not since ’37.” He pushed a stray strand of hair gently behind her ear. Looking to me, he asked, “You’ll sit with her?”

“I will.”

“Good.” The reaper sighed. “I’m for Mississippi. Natchez, to be precise.”


He looked at me with a sad smile. “You know a fire in a dance hall to be good?”

I shook my head.

“Me neither. See you in France, Duncan.”

I took off my coat and draped it over the sleeping woman’s shoulders and closed the ledger as the reaper left the studio. I sat in silence for a long time, wondering how many would die in Mississippi.

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Nicholas Efstathiou

Husband, father, and writer.

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