The man in the bed needs to hang on a little longer. I’m doing everything in my power to stall his demise, but things look grim. He forgot to wear a seatbelt and forgot to look at the road while driving down I-79. Smashed into a concrete barrier so hard that I’m sure he saw and recognized me while he swooped through his own windshield and over the turnpike. He luckily landed on the side of a dirt mound for a good roll. 3.2 for dismount, 9.3 for landing.
I can feel him now, hearing the sounds of the ER, feeling the pulse of his life. He’s conscious, but the game of his life is certainly in overtime. I get to hold the score sheet. I’m dismayed that he’s earning so few points right now, though.
At least I’m not one of those poor schmucks loitering around pediatric care. First, sitting around in that part of the hospital is always so disturbing--doctors take forever to attend to their patients and the walls are painted with a grotesque jungle scene with a blue sky behind it, smiling animals grinning through the slots in the canopy and under trees. I retch a little bit every time I walk through. Second, children are awful. They die and then they become a problem. What do you even do with an immaculate soul? The weigh-in at the gate comes back with a big 0, and those guys just have to let them through. No one keeps track.
Then, when one of us has to report the loss of a child on our event catalog, no one believes it because there’s no easy record of the child passing. Goddamn bureaucracy up there.
My man has a nicely ruffled soul, but he’s still in his 40s. His fear and inadequacy add up quite well. He has at least seven women he wishes he had dated. His favorite color is purple but he always says it is green because he doesn’t want anyone to accuse him of being gay. He won’t let his wife know that he doesn’t like her enchiladas because he wants to avoid a fracas, even though green chili ravages his stomach lining. It’s a heap of little things to which I would like to add “fear of death.” Possibly even “concerns about life insurance payouts.” A smidge of “leftovers didn’t get eaten and may poison a family member” would do nicely too.
He moans or makes a sound like moaning. Something isn’t quite right with his sound-maker. A doctor with a clipboard makes a sudden motion towards the bedside, and the blippy-blippy electronic thing next to the bed starts to draw straight lines.
“Shit!” I say. I’ve seen enough movies to know what the blippy-blippy thing is doing. He’s passing over, and I’m pretty sure he’s underweight and will have to go into therapy unless he can muster a few more moments. I put my ethereal hands around his and give him the most meaningless squeezes of life. Just then, his wife and daughter arrive.
“Hello! Welcome to a really sad moment!” I shout to them. The man already looks gone. His jaw is slack and his eyes are cold. Besides that, he’s not pretty to look at. I see the two clerks following behind, taking frantic notes. Their feet hover just over the floor, and their suits are on point. I’ve always thought we look cool when we move around in the material plane, but since mirrors don’t work for clerks, we have to help each other get dressed every day.
“Hey, Frank!” Tomas and Louie wave to me.
“Hey, good buddies. Looks like I’m going to be on to a new project soon,” I say.
“If he even weighs-in properly. What is the total burden right now?” Louis asks.
“About 14 thousand points. It’s hard to say how much this death will impact him, but now that you guys are here, I can start racking it up.”
“Don’t be so sure,” Louis replies, pointing over my shoulder at my client. He is convulsing and sputtering.
“Well, he heard his wife and daughter come in, at least. All that crying couldn’t hurt.”
“Good luck, Frank. Wherever you go next, I’m sure it’ll be easier than this gig. This guy was far too cozy.”
“Right?” I say, as my ethereal fingers find traction in a palm, which is connected to a spirit.
“WAAAH!” the ghost says as I drag him into Purgatory.
After I give him a cup of coffee, he starts to calm down. It’s really good coffee.
“So, I’m dead then?” he asks.
“Yessir. It’s my job to take you to the gates of Heaven and see if you pass muster.”
“What do you think?”
“I think you should have lived a more difficult life.”
“You settled with an easy profession. You fell in love easily. You even died rather gracefully, if messily. You were born lucky and scarcely ever pushed the parameter of that luck. You didn’t even outlive the majority of your immediate family.”
The ghost pauses between sips of coffee. “Are you saying that I should have suffered?”
“You carry few scars from your existence. How are we supposed to know if you’re a good person if you seldom ever met adversity?”
“Couldn’t I just tell you that I’m a good person?”
“Can you objectively prove that you wouldn’t have killed someone if they were the difference between you and your family eating another meal? Would you choose kindness if someone threatened your daughter at school, or would you hunt that person down and give them double what they promised? If that concrete barrier you rammed had been a pedestrian instead, would you have blamed them?”
The ghost looks mad. It’s hard to tell, because fresh spirits in Purgatory look almost identical to white pillowcases with scary smiles cut into them. It takes awhile to reclaim the human form.
“Look, sir. I’ve watched you for your whole life, documenting your actions and psychically prodding you to make meaningful missteps. Even so, you've never really done much. I’m not saying you’re a bad person, but maybe, if you have to go through spirit therapy, you’ll try and be a little bit decisive. Make choices that shake up your world and react to the consequences in ways that show your true spirit.”
Even in therapy, he will struggle to react. I know it will take him at least five years to go through therapy. By then, his wife could be in Heaven, and I wouldn’t want to keep her waiting.
“Alright,” he sighs. “I’m ready.”
“Good. It doesn’t do to loiter at Heaven’s gate.”
When he drifts up to the door, the guard lifts him onto the gilded platform that weighs the scarification of the soul. He comes in at just over 15 thousand points. The big door clicks, rattles, and swings open to him. I love that sound.
It sounds like payday. It sounds like a year’s paid vacation to anywhere in Heaven I want to go. Even though I never made it in, and therapy only found me to be a little too detached to pass on properly, it’s nice that sometimes I get to look inside.
Oh, but that first Monday back is hell.