We tried to keep calm, but we couldn’t stop shaking. It was just so exciting! The man in front of us was clearly unnerved, and asked if we wanted his place in line. We jumped forward without hesitation, shouting unintelligible thanks in the form of high-pitched chirps. He just rolled his eyes and continued reading.
“So, what do you think Heaven is going be like?” The large, ruddy-faced woman who now stood before us had turned around to face us. Though the question had been posed in what sounded like some Nordic language, we somehow understood perfectly. You gasped and said “It’s probably better than anything I could dream up, but I hope my father is there waiting. I have missed him deeply.” I said that I was too jittery to hold a conversation, and the woman sniffed her disdain for youthful disrespect. We didn’t even care, although back home, that would have definitely mattered to us. We were very sensitive.
The line edged forward.
We could see the gate now. Though the gate was immense beyond earthly reckoning, the dense cloud cover kept visibility down and nerves high. One man dashed from the line out of sight, and when we asked the woman why he had fled and where he had gone, she ignored us. She was probably still annoyed. Then you turned to me with serious eyes and asked what I was already wondering. “Do you think we need to prepare a speech or something for this?” I said that I had never died before, that I knew of, and was therefore not the person to ask. So once again, we returned to our only other lifeline, the unpleasant woman in front of us. “Erm, excuse me? Miss? What exactly can we do to prepare for this cold, distant judgment? It’s my first.” She turned slowly, like a planet in orbit. She wore a fur petticoat and big, blue sunglasses. In short, clipped tones, she said “I have been judged many times before, but this will my first real shot at getting in.” She grinned mischievously. “Just state your life as it happened. Don’t get too specific, life is general. And don’t be modest, this isn’t the time.”
You turned to me then. “Let’s practice.”
You began. “I was born in Berlin on May 6th, 1915. My parents were Jewish, we were relatively wealthy, and my early childhood was relatively pleasant. My mother left my father for a Romanian merchant, and we were estranged until her death. My father managed to take us to a friend’s house in the mountains of northern Spain, where I spent my adolescence. I was raped by that friend of my father’s and gave birth eight months later to a sickly baby boy. I was just 17. When that baby died of crib-death less than a year later, I fled to America and lived, briefly, as a prostitute in Brooklyn, New York. In the first month, I contracted a virus that blinded me in one eye and crippled me beyond repair. I became a seamstress and moved into Manhattan, where I gave birth to a second child, a girl. She lived. I gave her everything that was within my power to give. She was my first love. We managed a meager existence for six more years, but on my 25th birthday I received word of my fathers death through the man who had raped me years before, and returned to Spain with my daughter in tow, to visit his grave. Our boat was capsized in a storm, and I sank into the Atlantic ocean in confusion. Eventually, my feet touched the bottom, and you were next to me, and we were in the clouds, and we were happy, and my eye works, and I feel no pain, and now we are waiting on line.”
You paused. “The end.”
I asked you where your daughter was now, and you said you didn’t know or care. I didn’t pry further. “Your turn.”
I began. I told you that I was born in rural Kentucky in the mid-seventies, and that I was the youngest of seven. I went to school, went to college, taught high school band for a bit, and was killed by a bus whilst crossing the street at 25.
You clapped and laughed. “You were more general!” I told her that my life had been boring, and shrugged.
The line edged forward.
The two of us were so close now. We could see the glorious golden gate stretch into eternity, and were awed, and began to giggle nervously. In front of the gate, however, there was a ten-by-ten foot square brick wall. It just sat there, or floated there, looking out of place. I was sweating now. The woman in front of us was up. She strode up to the wall and knocked confidently. A brick was removed. A finger reached out and beckoned her closer, and she put her face to the hole and began to whisper. After an hour or two, she straightened herself and walked off in the direction of the gate. She looked pale and strained.
We glanced at each other nervously. It was your turn. You looked at me one last time.
Your interview took considerably longer. I actually fell asleep. When I woke up to find that you were still deep in conversation with the wall, I turned to the man we had skipped earlier.
“What are you doing?”
He grunted. “Reading.”
“What are you reading?”
He finally looked up at me. “Fuck off.”
I turned to face you again, and I could see you were finishing up. I called to you and smiled, but you didn’t turn around. And then, like a trap door had opened in the clouds, you dropped like a sack of rocks into void. I fell to my knees in shock.
I felt the grumpy man behind me nudge me with his foot, and I stumbled over to the wall for judgment.
I knocked on the wall with a deep sense of foreboding. The finger emerged to beckon, but my face was already peering into the darkness. It smelled like a basement. A voice that sounded like meat being tenderized poured through the hole.
“State your case.”
Silence. I shakily inquired if he was Saint Peter. It laughed like a child, a mean child. I couldn’t make out its gender. He ignored the question. “Do you believe that the Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior, and that He died for your sins?” He sounded bored with me. I said why not. The brick flew shut, and I braced myself for a fall. Nothing happened. I started dizzily walking towards the gateway, crying a little. I glanced back at the line, at the uncountable masses. I saw every color, religion, and age. Wouldn’t they be surprised. It was only then that I realized why you had joined the Fallen, and I sprinted back to the wall in fury. I shoved the grouch aside and shouted into the hole.
“Where is she? Is she in Hell? Her life was hard enough!”
The horrible hesitation. When the voice came, I was nearly washed away by the sheer cold anger of it.
“Who do you think you are to disrupt the Line?”
The hand flew out and smacked me.
After an awkward pause, during which I rubbed my stinging face, the voice seeped back through the hole. “You guys are the ones who set this shitty system in place. Don’t blame me for the outdated framework.”
I asked why an innocent person should be sent to Hell for simply believing in the wrong God. “Because that’s what the bible says, dipshit.” I asked if a veritable saint who didn’t believe in Jesus would be sent to suffer an eternity of agony.
“You betcha. Burn, baby, burn.”
I asked how that was fair. “It isn’t. Life isn’t fair, why should death be?”
I told him that I didn’t care if this was the way it was, that I didn’t want to worship such a merciless God. The hand flew out and smacked me. “You don’t like it, you can go to Hell.” I said fine, and I dropped here to find you.
But now you don’t know who I am. I just follow you around in this empty wasteland of wandering ghosts, telling you this story, hoping you will remember, and your eyes will light up and we will plan our escape. But you don’t, and we won’t, and your eyes are so vacant.
It’s going to be a long forever. I hope I made the right decision.