You may not believe this, but one time I stole money from a charity. It was easy, because they weren’t the smartest people. First time, it was like a hundred bucks. Then like a thousand over a few weeks. I kept going, expecting to get caught. But there they were, those people feeding the homeless and finding clothes for them, and me in enough money to buy a scooter. I’m not kidding. That’s what I did, buy a scooter. Whipped around the roads on that thing, feeling like a queen.
As it happens, it was the scooter that did me in. I was drunk one night and rode through a red light. A bus hit me dead on and tossed me through the window of a massage parlor. Wonder what those people in there thought when they came out to the lobby to see me splattered over the wall, a tire in my belly, a handlebar in my eye. They say I died on the spot. I mean, of course I did! But the money I took from the charity? They never found about that, even after.
Heaven is like Boulder, Colorado. Mountains and rivers, thin air. You’d think everyone just hung around, but it’s not true. We have jobs. Mine is to oversee the pulleys that haul people into the clouds. Those big groaning wheels are made of gold, the ropes platinum. The pulleys always spin but it’s rare that people come up. I often wonder why that is.
I’m sitting on a chair made of cloud when I see someone coming up. They slip off the platform as it arrives, looking around. The guy’s dressed in a military outfit. “Hi,” I say to him, “welcome to Heaven! The drinks are free all day long and you never need to sleep! What’s your name?”
A look. “Japanese.”
I check my ledger, and sure enough, Shoko’s name is on it. “Well, God’s approved you. Come on, let me show you to your place.”
Shoko’s got long hair and a beard connected to his moustache. Doesn’t speak very much. I show him to his house: it’s a little cottage about halfway up the main mountain in the only city in Heaven. I show him how to bound up the clouds. For some reason, he doesn’t seem all that interested, even when I show him how to grow a full meal from the plants in his garden.
“Cool, huh?” I say to him.
He stares. Below us is the river valley through the city. People are playing on the sand dunes, using the clouds to thrust themselves into the air before diving. The water splashes. The cloud just bounces. “What is this place?” he whispers.
“It’s Heaven,” I tell him. It’s normal for people to need an adjustment period. I see it all the time. “You’re dead, bud. Left your mortal coil. Spun up your body and sent it packing. This is the rest of your existence.”
“Why am I here?”
I put a hand on his arm. “We all ask that question. It’s not like anyone’s pure, but there’s a balance of life events that tips each of us one way or the other. God makes the final call. If you’re okay, you come up the pulleys and you stay here. It’s that simple. God reviewed you. God decided. And here you are, so just enjoy.”
I leave him to explore his cottage and the garden. Down the block, Hanako runs to me. She’s got bead bracelets on both arms, crumbs all over her face. “Who is the new guy?” she asks.
“Shoko Asahara. Seems nice enough.”
“You are an idiot.”
“Excuse me?” It’s not like Hanako to be rude.
Her arms are crossed. “You didn’t check your list properly!”
I hold out the book. “He’s on it. Right here. Checks out fine.”
“Do you know who he is?”
I shrug. It’s not like we have the internet up here.
“He was executed,” she spits. “By hanging.”
“Look, Hanako, we have lots of martyrs up here…”
“No!” she cries, as though I really am an idiot. “Not martyr! Terrorist! Died by execution because he killed many innocent people! You didn’t look at your list properly!”
There’s only one pub in Heaven, it’s called The Slimy Snail. I don’t know why. It’s not like we have snails up here. Or slime, for that matter. Anyway, the pub is adjustable. If there’s only a few people, it stays small, cozy. If there are many, it opens up and expands, the lighting changes, the music gets louder. Best part is, you can drink as much beer as you want and you never get fat. And the buzz from the alcohol – it’s the wonderful type that never gives you a headache.
God’s at the bar, thumping her hand for another drink.
“Get me one too,” I tell the bartender.
“Shouldn’t you be working?” asks God. She’s been in here three days straight, drinking everything she can find. Plus, she’s grown a beard – a light, feathery thing that hasn’t been trimmed or groomed. I try not to notice, but it’s getting hard.
“Need a razor?” I ask, then wince. “Sorry, I didn’t mean that. I think you look great.”
“Don’t judge me, Beth! You don’t judge God!” She puts back the beer and slams her glass.
“Listen, babe. I think you messed up on the reviews. A guy came up this morning that used nerve gas on a bunch of people in a subway. Really creepy shit. The Japanese government hung him. I don’t think he belongs here.”
“Impossible!” she declares.
“Well, you got to do something. Word is getting out that we have a terrorist in Heaven. People aren’t so happy.”
“God makes all rules,” she says, lifting her chin imperiously.
“Yeah but God shouldn’t be stupid about it. Think you could have made a mistake?”
She considers the new beer in front of her. I love it when she looks like she’s thinking. It gives her this far-away thoughtfulness. One time, in a weak moment, she told me about her parents, and how they’d left her. I swear she looked like she was seeing into a different universe, far away, but what came into her mind as the sadness meandered through her blue eyes, I can’t say. She never told me.
She looks like she’s a cosmos away just now. Also, looks drunk. “Maybe. I guess. Could be. Accidents happen.”
“Accidents happen when admitting people to Heaven?” I ask her. “That’s awful!”
“I know,” she says, taking my hand and moving closer. She blinks. “But it does happen. It does.”
“So now what?”
Her face lights up. I mean, it would be better if she didn’t have the facial hair, but it’s still a pretty glorious face. “We drink!”
God is surprisingly heavy for a thin girl. I have an arm around her as I drag her to her mansion. It’s the only big house in Heaven, and while she tells me all the time that she thinks it’s a bit pompous, it’s not like she’s gotten rid of it. Around us, a party’s going on, streamers and fireworks, people playing instruments in tune, singing perfectly in pitch, and dancing like they were born to do it. Eating without a care. Drinking and smoking without a moment’s hesitation. A few people see me carrying God back to her house, but no one offers to help.
I open God’s front door and drag her up the stairs to her bedroom. Dump her on the bed.
“Aren’t you going to undress me?” she giggles. I stare at her. She’s a blond, curly hair. The only part of her she can’t shut off is the blue eyes, they glow no matter when or how. I get lost in those eyes. I just do. So I help take her robe off, and as I try to leave, she takes my hand and pulls me back. “You too.”
“Me too? You’re drunk, babe.” But even as I say the words, I look at her. Something about the way she’s lying there, one leg crossed over the other, her hair on the pillow. I don’t know. I just don’t. I let my robe slip to the ground. I get on top of her and before she can say a word, I kiss her. Arms go around me. Legs rise against mine. And just like that, I’m in that far- away place, the one she goes to sometimes, my eyes closed. She’s whispering as I kiss her neck. It might be a song, sounds like stars. I want to confront her, accuse of her of not being really drunk. But her skin is cool, perfect. I consume it. All of it. It’s the same as always, a moment fit for Heaven. When I put my lips on her nipple, she makes a sound, but this is not a song. This is a cloud, a mountain, a never-ending stretch of space where star creatures float and supernovas write poems about their dreams of evermore. I taste her. She moans. And when I look up, she’s staring at me, her hands on my head, her blue eyes lit up with a light that started before there was a start.
In the morning, I leave her sleeping. She never wakes up early. We never eat together. I just let myself out.
The streamers from the night before are vanishing one-by-one. The instruments scattered all over the place are finding their way back into their cases and winking out of sight. I head to Shoko’s cottage and find him in the garden, trying to make breakfast.
“Like this,” I show him. He eats gladly. “Why not come for a walk with me? I can show you around.”
He nods, and off we go. Beyond the city, there’s just a soft curled mass of cloud, sometimes bunching up into mountains, sometimes spilling over itself as though it’s a waterfall. Once, I saw a geyser of cloud matter heading into the sky.
“You’re a pretty quiet guy,” I tell him. We’re looking into a chasm of space. Below us, stars are twinkling. It’s the universe. The cosmos. The everything, right there beneath us, as we stand on a puff of star-spun cloud. I want to impress him, get him to react, but he just doesn’t.
“I don’t belong here,” he says.
“You don’t even want to know what the other place is like…”
“I’m not good. Not like you. Or the others.”
“Right, you’re a murderer. A terrorist. Killed a bunch of people, right? Did you maybe do enough good stuff to counteract that? Tip the scales in the good way?”
“No.” He looks at me. “Did you?”
You won’t believe this, but yeah I’ve done bad stuff in my life. I mean, I told you I stole from a charity and drove drunk. But there’s other stuff. Loads of it. I remember the day I came up the pulley. There I was, jumping off into a bank of cloud, wondering how the hell I got there. When I met God, I just stared at her blue eyes and didn’t bother asking if this was right, if I should be up here. It couldn’t be a mistake, right? It just couldn’t. Besides, it’s hard to be clear when you’re in love. It really is.
“Count your blessings,” I tell him, and take his hand. It’s surprisingly human. His fingers curl into mine and he takes a breath. For a moment, I can picture him jumping into the abyss of the universe, just floating away. His body tenses, like he wants to do just that. Instead, he stands there, his eyes floating far away, so far away that I can’t imagine what he’s seeing or where that gaze is going to end up. What do you see out there, I want to ask him? In all the bad that we do, where is there any good to be found? Maybe it’s in the stars. Maybe it’s beyond them. Maybe it’s curled in these fingers or contained in that kiss. I don’t know. I really don’t. But here we are, the two of us, on the edge of everything, a miracle or a mistake, or something stuck in the big endless spaces of the rainbow in-between.
I’ve just been reminded by Mr. Paxson that I’ve been down the route of this particular form of divinity before. If anyone’s interested, this is a little short story with perhaps the same divine character: https://trentlewin.com/2014/08/24/alaine-a-final-burst/