Here’s another story from Tales from the Hereafter, published in the September 2017 issue of The Mystic Blue Review…
The waiting room was cold and damp. The light was poor, but you were expected to fill out your application, hand it in, then wait. I had nothing but the suit I was buried in. If I had been able to dress myself, I would have had my good pen. But no one thinks to put a pen in your pocket when you’re dead. So the clerk, a stick-thin man of about forty with greasy hair, gave me a cheap ballpoint that wrote in light blue ink and skipped. They sat you at an old-fashioned child’s desk. The kind you had in elementary school, with the writing tray attached to the chair, and all scratched up, making it almost impossible to write neatly.
I was not alone in that dreary room. I could vaguely make out, out of the corners of my eyes, other souls hunched over their little desks, writing feverishly. But they were not in clear focus. A smoky haze seemed to permeate everything.
Filling out the form was long and painstaking: Place of Birth, Date of Birth, Date of Death, every institution of learning attended, any special achievements or distinctions at school, every job, promotions, reasons for leaving…
Then there was the essay section, in which you were able to make the case for your admission to Heaven. Good and selfless acts, how you made the world a better place. I had a lot of trouble with this section. It was hard for me to remember any special things I had done that were especially good—or bad.
One rainy night I rescued a stray dog and brought it home. But we had to bring it to the pound a few days later when it bit one of the kids. I guess they killed it.
I wrote about the many injustices to which I had been subjected. Honors at school and at work that should have been mine, but always went to someone else. How I had offered, out of the goodness of my heart, to share the driveway that was my designated parking spot with my new neighbor, a blonde girl from New England. And how she had then conspired with my landlord to get me evicted from my parking space, and how my car was relegated to the street. But I did not lash out. I choked back my rage. I maintained my composure. She remained my neighbor, her car occupying the parking space she had stolen, for ten long years. And I was always civil. I never said a bad word. Surely, that was a good deed.
I told how I had married. I was at the lowest ebb of my life at the time. Annie was a rather plain girl—very different from the flashy Hollywood types I had always gone with—but she was stable and intelligent. She had a rent-controlled apartment and a good paying job. I had bottomed out on cocaine and alcohol and had no visible means of support. Annie got me back on my feet. She provided a safe haven and helped me start a career in the music business. We had two children, a boy and a girl, in the space of less than two years.
Then I fell in love. She was someone I’d met through mutual friends. We both fell madly, passionately in love. But we were both married. I had two little children and she had a very rich husband. He had been her childhood sweetheart. There was no sex between them, but he was her devoted protector and provider. She was incapable of finding an ordinary job. She was thirty-five and had never had to earn a living in her life. And besides, she would never leave her best friend.
And so we deemed our love impossible.
Many years later, after my children had grown up and I had long been divorced from Annie, we reconnected. Her rich husband was dead, I had no wife, my children were no longer an obligation, and we still loved each other. She told me there had never been anyone but me. I told her she was the only love of my life. And still, she would not see me. She was inconsolable after the loss of her husband. She had lost her rudder. She was now surrounded by people designated by him to protect her. She was a prisoner in her own home; a prisoner of her newly-acquired wealth. We spoke often on the phone, and she always promised we would see each other soon—next week. This went on for four years. We never saw each other again. I died thinking I would see her next week.
At the bottom of the form was an affidavit I had to sign, swearing by Almighty God that all statements made were true and accurate. I signed and handed the form in to the clerk at the window. He stamped it and told me to take a seat and wait. In the haze, I sensed others also sitting and waiting. So I waited. And waited.
In death, time does not mean the same thing as in life. I waited for what, in the land of the living, would amount to about six months. Then, one day, the clerk called my name. Doing my best to suppress my excitement, I approached the window, and was handed a letter:
Dear (my name was filled in on a blank line),
Thank you for your application. As much as we would like to send each applicant a personal response, we get so many applications, it is impossible to answer each one individually. We regret that your qualifications are not a good fit for Heaven at this time. You are invited to re-apply during our next submission period, which starts at a time that will be filled in by the Waiting Room Clerk. In the meantime, you are free to apply to either Hell or Purgatory, whichever you feel yourself most qualified for.
Best of luck,
The Heaven Team
When I approached the window, I saw that others had received similar letters, and so I took my place in line. When I got to the front of the line, I cleared my throat and asked the clerk: “Hell is worse than Purgatory, right?”
“To be sure,” he said.
“Then, may I have an application for Purgatory?”
The clerk smiled condescendingly. “Where do you think you are?”