A place where rain falls upward and memories sink:
A short story about the afterlife.
I wake and the memory of damp skin and grass stains fade like Sharpied notes under a showerhead.
“Welcome,” says a chocolatey voice, and the lights flicker on, row after row, in yellowed lamps and vanilla candles. The voice belongs to a man with black hair and movie-star scruff, wearing a soft green sweater-vest labeled Sebastian.
I hold out my left hand to shake; so does he. We are at an impasse, yet he doesn’t move.
“I only shake with my left hand,” he says. “It is closer to my heart.”
He also doesn’t possess a right arm. I change my hands and shake.
He steps aside, mission unlocked, and behind him stretch long brown tables between rows of bookshelves, each one occupied by women in habits. The very first end-seat is empty.
“We weren’t sure which order you’d prefer,” says Sebastian. “Your religious beliefs were rather foggy.”
The rain falls upward in slanted strings. My hair tangles with the uncut blades of meadow grass; from my angle, it’s like the water is rushing away, shooting stars drying my face and racing back to heaven. Thunder rumbles; lightning grows from darkened soil and springs to greet the clouds. I feel guilty for taking the Lord’s name in vain; then I whisper, “Oh, God,” but it comes out backward. I used to love the rain.
I don’t remember my religious beliefs. I scan the rows of long tables; pausing for a moment to consider each style of habit. They are all the same to me, though I remember, suddenly, flying rulers and sparks of pain.
“You went to Catholic school,” says Sebastian. “But once you graduated, you never went to church again.”
I choose the first table, and the nuns all smile with crinkly eyes, and welcome me by name. There are steaming mugs in front of each of them: rich coffee, herbal tea, and a cloudy substance that almost shimmers.
Sebastian offers me a choice. “We are here to help you reflect on your life,” he says. “So choose whatever will make you feel most at ease.”
When I turn to my side, the mud stays among the grass. At the edge of the meadow are bushes of flowers, in varying colors and shapes. A river runs between the meadow and trees, fish hopping tail-first and water streaming upward, toward the distant hills. Out from the cover of trees come herds of gray sheep, zig-zagging backward among the strange flowers. Some pass by me and I get a whiff of shimmery, milky aroma.
“The afterlife is about reflection,” says Sebastian, and all the nuns nod. “This bookstore is filled with stories such as yours, and you have a chance to write your author’s note. Is your story a lesson? An inspiring tale? Or a Shakespearean tragedy? It’s up to you.”
“I don’t remember much.”
He offers me a mug of the unknown drink. “Try it.”
I do. It tastes like floral milk with the consistency of cream.
A guttural scream enters my mouth; it reverberates among the trees and the sky and I swallow it into my throat. The mud around me seeps into my side and I realize the reddish tint was due to blood, not clay. Behind me, a wolf retreats. The sheep calm their pace and begin grazing. The grass is bright with dew and the raindrops hop from leaf to leaf to clover bud. The clouds swirl like a sweet drink and I remember why I used to like the rain.