“Everybody follow me please,” said the angel, and a group of us proceeded into a large featureless chamber, dotted sporadically with round tables and chairs. It reminded me of an austere, oversized hospital waiting room in some impoverished Balkan state.
“Hello, Jack.” It was Dad, and there was Mum too, just as she’d been in life in middle age. We embraced and slapped each other on the back, somewhat half-heartedly.
“And here’s your Aunty Irene!” exclaimed Dad, as a lady with a long, thin face and compressed lips came forward and tearfully embraced me. I was too embarrassed to say I didn’t remember her.
Dad smiled. “Well, welcome to your first day in Heaven, son!”
“What happens now?” I replied.
“Well, we’ll have a nice cup of tea, then we’ll have a look at the news, then we’ll have a game of cards. We usually play bridge. Can you play?”
“I’m a bit rusty.”
So, the days passed. ‘In spirit,’ we didn’t need to eat or drink, or sleep even, but to make ‘life’ more interesting, we drank endless cups of tea. It wasn’t really much different from being alive on Earth, save for paying bills and worrying about who to vote for.
The ‘news’ was shown on televisions resembling those of the 1960s, a black and white picture with sporadic fuzziness. Endless reports of families welcoming ‘loved ones’, who just ‘passed over.’ Soon it became mind-numbingly boring.
“Don’t they have colour TV?” I asked Dad.
“No, you have to wait to the next level,” he said knowingly, tapping his nose. “Come on, let’s play bridge!”
We found an empty table in a corner of the room, and me, Dad, Auntie Irene and Maurice, someone whom Dad had befriended as he seemed to have no relatives of his own, sat down to play.
Dad took a pack of cards from a box. They were gold leafed on the back with a design of stars and planets. He started to deal.
“Is Jesus here?” I asked the table in general.
“Who?” Auntie Irene responded.
“You know, the Saviour, the son of God!”
“Oh, I dunno, maybe higher up.” She shrugged her shoulders.
Hmm, ‘Heaven’ was a bit different to what I’d expected!
We’d played a couple of hands when I became aware of a brilliant light behind me, which lit up my Dad’s curiously unlined face opposite me. I turned, shielding my eyes, and saw a towering angel with huge white wings. It seemed to be female, judging by the beautiful face and suggestion of breasts under the luminescent blue cloth. She approached a man, sitting at a table and reading a newspaper, and touched him on the shoulder. He stood up, an instant celebrity, bathed in the brilliant golden light emanating from the angel, and, grinning inanely, smugly followed her out of the room.
“Is he going to the ‘next level’?” I said.
“That’s right son. Lucky sod!”
“Well, how long do we have to stay here, at this level?” I asked.
“Well, it depends,” said Dad, “they have to wait for suitable, er, recipients for new souls, then we reincarnate. So, there’s a bit of a queue.”
“What, six weeks, something like that?” I said.
The table erupted with laughter. Card players at adjacent tables looked around.
“No, son.” Dad wiped his eyes, trying to contain his mirth. “It could be five years, it could be fifty, maybe even a hundred.”
“What, you mean I’ve got to sit here playing bridge for the next hundred years!”
Dad smiled reassuringly and shook his head. “No son, we can always play rummy.”
Featured in the book, To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories
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