A Better Place?
by Paul Blaney
It was some time before I made my inquiry. There was the welcome party to begin with, old friends and dear ones. And then everyone was so friendly, the accommodation first-rate. Nobody likes to rock the boat. But I couldn’t help feeling something was missing. "Where is He?" I finally asked.
"He’s gone," they said.
"Said he had other projects to pursue."
"The whole lot of them, angels, most of the saints went too."
"When was this?"
"Oh, a good long while ago."
"Will they be back?"
I wasn't altogether satisfied.
"Don't you like it here?"
"Oh, very much," I hastened to assure them. "The apartment. And I'd always wanted a double-garage. I sort of fancied some wings..."
They smiled in sympathy. "Yes, we did too."
"Only, what am I supposed to do all day? I can't sit home watching TV forever."
"What would you like to do?"
"I thought there'd be praising, singing and..."
"What did you do before?"
It turned out they had plumbers in Heaven, accountants, nurses, cab drivers, the whole lot — except, of course, for funeral directors. So I went back to work. Only, like a tap dripping, these questions kept on at me. I made discreet inquiries. Hardly anyone, it seemed, had actually met Him. When I found some old-timers who said they had and asked what He was like, their answers were vague. Divine, they said, majestic. Very tall.
Then one time I'm replacing a u-joint and I get talking to this elderly couple. Can you believe it, they're atheists, don't believe there ever was any God. Of course most, the old woman politely assured me, still did believe. The arguments were the usual: who could have designed and built this whole place if not Him?
The more I discovered about this Heaven, the more it seemed like Life. Commuting and work, shopping, celebrities, football, the weather — a bit better, to be fair — and TV — much the same. Different religions, each with a different name for Him, each claiming to know where He'd gone and why and when we might expect Him back. The political consensus was that he'd left "to foster a more democratic Heaven," but that was about all the various parties agreed on. What was the point of dying, I began to wonder, if it only led to more of the same?
For a while I went on asking questions and then I gave up. But they didn't stop nagging. And finally it struck me: there was one difference at least. Here, there was no wondering what came next. No better place to look forward to; no worse one to fear. No other place at all. No next, just an endless now.
Did that make it better or worse? I couldn't really say. I know I still felt a little cheated. I wouldn't have minded meeting God, though I'd probably have got nervous. Nice as it was, Heaven without Him seemed just a bit sub-par. Like a sponge cake without the icing.
Paul Blaney is a forty-something British writer who lives in Pennsylvania and teaches at Rutgers, New Brunswick. His novella, Handover, is forthcoming from Typhoon Press (Hong Kong) in 2012. His short fictions, "The Restaurant" and "North & South," appeared in Issue #27 of The Cafe Irreal, and "Four Short Fictions" in Issue #40.