"If you had the choice, which would you rather - die very quickly or die real slow?"
The child looks up at me. The intensity of his eyes is like a scale in which he is trying to weigh me, trying to make me balance.
I smile. How to explain to him that death is always instantaneous, that no matter how far ahead you see it coming you don't really feel it until it finally hits you, like a truck careening towards you on a highway. That no matter how much time you have, you're never really prepared, never really done.
"When I was your age, I used to think of death as something that would just happen, without warning. I was happy with this thought, because I imagined that life would pass very slowly and I was tired of lingering about in it. Now that half my days have passed in an instant, though, I think I would like my death to take longer, to last forever, in fact. That way I'd get a chance to feel all the things I was supposed to."
His brow crinkles at this. "That's no answer", he says, "you've got to choose - one or the other".
"Why? What if I choose not to die at all?"
"You can't do that. Everyone has to die. You don't have a choice."
"I don't have a choice about how fast or slow I die either. If we are choosing things beyond our control, why not simply choose life?"
He thinks about this for a moment. "Because with your choice there's no chance at all, is there? With my choice you could get lucky and get what you want, you could win. And if you lose, well, it's not going to matter much at that point, is it? With your choice there's just no hope."
"And why does hope matter?"
"I guess because without hope it's not much of a game. Look, I don't know. I just know that's how you play it. It's the rules."
"So life and death is just a game to you?"
"Yes. Isn't it for everyone?"
"Pretty stupid kind of game."
He shrugs. "I guess. But you got a better way of killing the time?"
I shake my head. No.
"Well then. If you had the choice, which would you rather - die very quickly, or die very slow?"