The Dead Guy and the Angel
When he got there the angel presented him with a beautiful book. It was a gilt-edged quarto bound in tooled leather without a title anywhere on it.
“We had it done in your own skin,” the angel winked. “Thought you might like a memento.”
The dead guy opened the book and began to read. Here and there a passage struck him as obscurely familiar. A booklover in life, he sat down that first day of his death and got lost in the intriguing tangle of stories. When he finished, the angel was still standing there, an old hand at existing outside of time.
“Best stories I’ve ever read,” the dead guy smiled.
“Best stories ever written,” the angel smiled back. “Even if they weren’t.”
“I don’t get it.”
“This is a might-have-been book. It’s what you would have written had you written anything at all. I mean, apart from those depressing poems about your love life.”
“Published,” the dead guy added, piqued, “in several academic journals.”
“Yes,” the angel conceded. “Several. We thought about adding a brief bio to your book (I’ve always loved that phrase, ‘brief bio’) but in the end we decided that the omission improved it.”
“Okay. Touché.” He looked again at the book in his hands and softened. “How do you know I would have written these things?”
“You jotted down the ideas on little slips of paper and left them in your pockets. We extended. We can do that.”
“I see. . .sort of.”
“Didn’t you ever wonder when you cleaned the lint screen at the laundromat?”
“No, not really.”
“No, you didn’t wonder, or no, you didn’t clean the lint screen?”
The dead guy looked guilty. He was new at this but already sensed he wouldn’t get away with lying to an angel.
“You were supposed to.”
“I know,” the dead guy admitted.
“There was a little sign that said so.”
The dead guy felt embarrassed. He looked at the cloudy ground. Finally, he broke a silence that was part awkward cocktail-party moment, part the beginning of sleep.
“But I’m not a genius. I’m just a guy.”
“Past tense, technically.”
“Okay, I wasn’t a genius.”
“Quite right. So let’s not marvel that you’ve missed the point.”
“What’s the point?”
“We’re going to give you plenty of—eh-heh—time—yes, let’s just call it time for now—plenty of time to figure that out.”
The dead guy stared at his dead feet.
“Don’t take it too hard. There are lots of folks here who never lived up to their potential.”
“Thanks,” he muttered back. “That’s soothing.”
The angel smiled again and assured him that sarcasm, which he called “a tough little vine,” would go eventually, along with his memories and his pride.
“So enjoy it while you can,” the angel advised, turning to leave.
“Wait, one thing,” the dead guy called. “This is heaven, right?”
Vanishing, the angel answered with a laugh, which became a kind of permanent music in the place. Maybe it had been there all along. The dead guy poked around and soon found that he was not alone. There were dead guys everywhere, wandering the precious-metal streets, lounging on riverbanks, eating perfect peaches. He heard them first, whistling to the music of that laugh. Otherwise, the weather being what it was, he might not have noticed them at all.