Friday, 17 August 2012

Something Happened On The Way To Heaven

A few minutes after I died, I found myself standing at the front of a staircase winding away skywards.

It had evidently once been quite a grand staircase, made of stone, but the edges were crumbling and grass and weeds were pushing up through the cracks. Some of the weeds bore really rather pretty flowers.

It rose into the air from the edge of the cliff on which I was standing, and wound up into the sky with all the wild abandon of a drunken snake. A fragment or two broke off and fell away as I watched.

“Doesn’t look too safe, does it? Do they expect us to walk up that?”

I turned round at the voice. The man who had spoken was short, fat, bald and apparently had a bad cold. His eyes were red and streaming, his nose also streaming. He sniffled and wiped it on the hem of his white linen nightgown.

“Who the hell are you?” I asked.

“There’s no need to talk that way to me,” he snuffled, “just because I’m dead. I can’t help it that I’m dead. It’s not my fault.”

“I never said it was your fault,” I told him.

“Everyone picks on me,” he said, blowing his nose into his nightgown and wandering away. “Everyone.”

Looking around, I noticed that he and I weren’t the only ones there. All around, sitting or lying down on the grass, were men and women, young and old, all in those ridiculous white linen nightgowns. I wondered why they wanted to look so ridiculous, and found that I’d got on one of those, too.

I was just about to pull it off when I found a woman standing at my elbow.

“Hi,” she said. “I’m your Angel.”

She was tall, dark, and beautiful, and her naked body played peekaboo with me through her long black hair. I reached for her automatically, and she slapped my hand away. It felt as I’d expect the kick of a zebra stallion to feel.

“Naughty, naughty,” she said reprovingly. “Mustn’t touch.”

“Ouch!” I said, rubbing at my wrist. “Why shouldn’t I?”

“Because I’m an angel. You ever heard of a dead man touching an angel?”

“I don’t know. I never met a dead man before. Or an angel.” I paused. “If you don’t want me to touch you, why are you naked then, and why do you look like that?”

She shrugged. “It’s the marketing agency the Boss hired. They said it made for better customer relations if we appeared to our subjects in the form of their dreams.”

“Wouldn’t it make for even better relations if you let us screw you?”

“What, have sex with a corpse?” She shuddered. “D’you think we’re necrophiles or something?”

“Well, if you put it that way…”

“Besides, just look at you. You think anyone would want to sleep with you? You’ve got high hopes, buster!”

That hurt me. All right, I’m no Prince Harry, and I know I was charred to death in that fire, but she didn’t have to say that. I was going to remonstrate, but she raised an arm and pointed me to the stairs.

“March!” she ordered.

I marched.

Those stairs were something. As we walked up, they quaked and snaked under us. I was afraid I’d fall off. “Why don’t you people have this repaired?” I asked.

“Repaired?” she snapped. “Who’s got the money to get anything repaired over here? All the money is down in hell.”

“So,” I asked, to make quite sure, “I’m going to heaven, am I?”

“Yeah,” she said. “You’re going to heaven…you poor thing.”

I walked up for a while on that jelly-step, digesting this remark. “What’s wrong with heaven?” I asked at last.

“What isn’t?” She turned to me bitterly. “Look here, have you ever been on a dance floor on a Saturday night? The music throbbing in your veins, the girl of your dreams in your arms, and the promise of a night of love to come?”

“Yes, I should say I have!”

“Well…heaven has none of that.”

I glanced over the edge of the step while I thought about this. We were still walking up, and by now had risen so high that the abyss below was bottomless except for a smoky red glow.

“What do you have in heaven?” I asked at last.

“Nothing,” she said bitterly. “Just lots and lots and lots of nothing.”

“Is that so? Then why do they call it the reward of a life well-lived?”

“Punishment, not reward, is what I’d call it. The lucky ones go straight to hell and have the wine, women and song.” She glanced quickly over her bare shoulder. “Listen,” she whispered, “do you want to make a deal?”

“What deal?” I asked suspiciously.

“I’ll tell you.” She leaned close to me. “This is what we have to do…”

And that’s how the angel is now one of the Devil’s handmaidens, whooping it up in Hell.

What about me? Well, I’m an angel now, of course. Step carefully on the stair there, it’s broken.

And, listen, do you want to make a deal?

Copyright B Purkayastha 2011/12

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