First Day Jitters

On my first day in Heaven, I meet the man who molested me.

He’s just as I remember him: red flannel shirt, tight Wranglers, a Tom Selleck mustache parted in the middle, like an 1850s cowboy. There’s a slow graying happening with his hair. It starts at his sideburns, then moves up into the rest of his head. His glasses are the same: bulky and a gradient fade from top to bottom, where his eyes are hidden, but I can see his unclean pores around his nose. His boots are steel toe with splatters of paint covering the leather.

He doesn’t see me or at least pretends not to notice. The first thing I see from three people back in line was his hand. The dirt is still under his nails and that scar at the back of his hand. I saw it many times as he gripped me. Up and down the scar would move in my lap. I never forgot it.

We’re in line for rations. The woman in front of me won’t stop smiling.

“I just knew it would be this beautiful,” she says, “three years now, and still every morning I get up and I feel so wonderful. So glad that I prayed everyday. I knew it was worth it.”

I smile and nod. I look past her, trying to get a look at him.

“My husband told me I was crazy. He was always telling me that there was nothin’. That every Sunday we’s just wasting our time. But now, now, the minute he gets here I got a gigantic ‘I told you so’ waitin’ for him.”

I chuckle now. Knowing that was supposed to be a joke.

“What about you? How long you been here?”

“My first day,” I say.

“Oh my. Well, this is reason for celebration, son. Do you know anybody here? Have you found your family?”

“No family, but I do know someone here.”

“Well, you should get to findin’ ’em. Let me tell ya, even though it’s Heaven, it’s still a pretty lonely place if you don’t know anybody. It’s crowded that’s for sure. But I tell ya, as soon as I found my mother I was set at ease.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Do. Because this is it muh boy. There are no more steps. You are here forever so you better make it count.”

“Thank you. I will.”

I lean forward trying to meet his eye. He’s next in line.

“Next,” the angel behind the register says.

The line shuffles forward and he hands her his ticket.

“Can I give ya some more advice?” the old woman asks.

“I’m sorry, what?”

“Advice. Can I give ya some more?”

“Uhm, sure.” I say, breaking my gaze to look at her.

“Since this is your first time shopping, when they ask you how many’re in your family. Add about two. The rations are never enough. And they always give you the benefit of the doubt. A little flaw in the system,” she winks at the end.

“Thank you. I will.”

“Next.”

I look up and he’s gone.

The line shuffles forward again. I begin to panic as I search my eye line. I can’t find him anywhere. I see the line behind me with the people and their smiles. The hushed whispers of their petty conversations fill the building with an unsettling murmur.

“Next.”

“Oh, that’s me,” the old woman says. I hardly notice. I’m still looking for him.

“You okay?” the kid behind me asks.

“What?”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m just looking for someone.”

“Next.”

He couldn’t have gotten far.

“Next.”

“Sir, you’re next,” the kid says.

“Oh, sorry,” I say, turning to the counter.

“Your ticket sir,” the angel says.

I tear a small stamp from my ration booklet and hand her my list.

“How many in your family?”

“Uh, three.”

The angel presses buttons on the register and the click and clang and chirp of the transaction melds with the other clicks, clangs and chirps of the thousand other lines throughout the building. To a musical genius the sounds could be a symphony, but for me, the sound drives me to scream.

But I don’t.

“Here’s your receipt. You can pick up your boxes and checklists outside to the right.”

“Where?”

“Follow the line,” the angel says pointing her black finger to a line ending right outside the door.

“Thanks,” I say shuffling forward to the door, hoping to catch him in the line ahead.

“Right here, dear,” the old woman from the first line calls out to me. “Don’t worry, I got confused the first time I went out for rations too. But stick with me, I’ll get ya through it.”

I smile at her as I look beyond her to the back of his head.

“Excuse me. I think I know someone.”

I step forward, ahead of the lady and the guy in front of her, and force my way between him and my molester.

“Hey man, no cutting.”

“Sorry, I know this man, and I need to speak with him.”

I grab him by the arm and turn him around in the most dramatic way I can. It reminds me at first of a movie. When the girl is getting away and the protagonist grabs her by the bend of her arm and pulls her towards him and they kiss. But this time there is no kiss. I stare at his glasses unable to see his eyes. I don’t know if he recognizes me, but I know now with no uncertainty that he is the man.

“Can I help you son?” he says as the edges of his lips curl up under his mustache revealing his dirty teeth. “Do you think you know me, partner? I just got one of them faces, you know, that everyone says they recognize.”

He tries to charm me just as he always did.

“Son, cat got your tongue?” he says and clicks his jaw together in a biting motion and I hear the sound of his teeth banging against one another.

Still holding his arm, I squeeze it tighter and his lips come back down.

“Listen, partner.”

“Hey man, let the guy go,” the man behind me says. “Everyone is going to get some food. No need for this.”

“Sweetie, are you okay?” the old woman, says from behind.

“I know this man,” I scream, and the entire line turns to stare at me.

“Listen partner, I don’t know who you think I am, but I don’t know you,” he says as he begins to squirm.

“Liar. I remember everything, and I know you do too. Tell them,” I say, raising my fist.

“Whoa, kid,” he says. “You don’t wanna do that. You’ll get into a lot of trouble for something like that.”

The man behind me breaks away from the line, in search of help as best as I can figure. The old woman moves forward, and tries to talk me through it.

“Listen son, I know it’s hard the first few weeks, you wouldn’t be the first who has trouble dealing with the change. But believe me, everything will be okay. You don’t know this man, okay. It happens. People often think they know someone or confuse someone with someone else, but this man says he doesn’t know ya. So, maybe just let him go and everything will be okay. We’ll get our rations, and all of us will move on with our lives. Okay?”

“Lives? This isn’t living. I can’t live where I know this man will be,” I say spitting a little.

“There,” I hear the voice of the man that was behind me say.

“Sir,” a new voice, the voice of an angel. “Let the man go.”

“No,” I say, “this man shouldn’t be here.”

“Sir, everyone is entitled to rations. Everyone is supposed to be here.”

“No,” I say, lowering my fist, but not releasing my grip on his arm. “He doesn’t belong here,” I begin to cry, “in Heaven.”

“Sir, everyone in Heaven belongs here,” the angel says.

“But…”

“Sir, let the man go or I will have to take control of this situation, and you will be hurt,” the angel says.

I look over at him. I know how I must look, my eyes filled with tears, and my face contorted in the most uncontrollable way. I don’t really know how to describe the physical reaction of the biggest betrayal I have ever been a part of. The angel is tall, beautiful, he seems to smile without smiling, and he’s black and strong and determined to diffuse the situation. I want to let him go, but I can’t and that’s what I tell him.

“I can’t let him go.”

“Sir, this is your last warning, release the man or face banishment.”

Banishment?

“He molested me,” I say, knowing for sure that would change the situation. I turn to look at the man. I knock the glasses from his face and look into his eyes. “You molested me. You shouldn’t be here.”

I can see now that he recognizes me, he always did. He wants to smile. He wants to say, “fuck you, kid” but he doesn’t. He stares at me and mumbles three little words: “He forgave me.”

The words burn through my ears.

“But I didn’t,” I whisper.

I feel the angel’s grip on my shoulder. It burns enough to where, if I had control of my body I know I would scream, but from the moment he touches me I seem to have lost the ability to control myself. He lifts me from my spot in line and we fly away. I look down as the line becomes smaller. I can see all the lines now. They become giant snakes weaving in and out. The busy streets look empty from such heights. I begin to think that maybe banishment was worth it just for the view.

I wonder where I’m going.

This is the fourth chapter of If Heaven Were a Real Place, a collection of short stories about Heaven and what it would be like after thousands of years of human corruption.




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