December 3, 2014

This was not part of the plan. She looked down and wriggled her toes against the spectacularly green grass.

Was it?

What was the plan?

Was there a plan?

She couldn’t remember.

The grass felt good, somehow prickly and soothing and cool against her bare feet all at once. Her feet were bare. Were they supposed to be bare? Had she been wearing shoes?

She supposed she must’ve been.

She remembered the press of her foot against the brake pedal, stomping down on the thing so hard that her calf muscle cramped. It was not cramped now. She must’ve been wearing shoes, because, after all, who drives barefoot?

Boots. She’d been wearing boots. The black ones with the silver buckles.

She remembered the boots and the brake pedal. She remembered the screech and hiss of tires and the cacophonous crash of hot metal. And she remembered pain, bright and hot and unbearable, but only for a moment, before the bright turned to darkness.

And now she was here.

She couldn’t see much, for the all the fog, nothing but the grass beneath her feet and what appeared to be a bridge a few feet away.

It looked, she imagined, like something Monet might’ve painted, a white wooden bridge, curving gently over a wide river. A low hand-rail supported by thick, white wooden spokes. Like something out of Mary Poppins, when the children stepped into the chalk drawing.

Or, at least she imagined it was. She could see neither river nor gentle curve, nor really curve of any sort, for all the thick white fog billowing.

Not that she minded. She wasn’t sure she wanted to see what was on the other side.

At least, not just yet.

She took one step forward. And then another. And another.

And soon the smooth wood of the bridge was under her feet.

Her hand slid along the railing, gripping the wood as she walked.

It was a long bridge. She watched her feet.

Step.

Step.

Step.

It was silent. No sound of her feet slapping the surface of the wood. No rush of the river beneath the bridge. No seagulls squawking in the sky.

At least, she assumed there was sky. She could not see it, for all the fog. She assumed there was river, also.

Hesitantly, she stopped walking, placing both hands tightly on the banister as she turned to face the river.

It’s just a river, she thought. Just a river.

But she still had to force herself to open her eyes and look down.

Her reflection looked back at her from water that was silvery, almost mirror-like. She met her own dark eyes.

Then she blinked and it was not merely her reflection. Around her reflection – beyond her reflection, really, as though she were seeing through a mirror into another world, images began to filter up.

Police and paramedics. Red and white flashing lights, bright against the snow, like some strange parody of Christmas. Old Faithful, trusty machine that she was, a steaming heap of twisted metal, looking even more dejected in the weird lighting. Her parents, standing, tucked into a corner, waiting for a police officer to tell them what they already knew. They looked hopefully at an officer holding a clipboard, trying, willfully, not to look at the wreckage.

More scenes continued to flash on the water, like some sort of bizarre movie, until the first tear fell, a silver drop into the stillness of the water beneath her, sending out a ripple that shattered the images. She waited for the water to still – wanted to see more – but the images never returned.

She had the urge to run. To just turn and run back the way she had come. Away from the stupid bridge and whatever lay beyond it.

She took a tentative step back the way she had come. She could run. She knew she could – off the bridge and … and… and then what?

What was there to go back to?

What was left?

She wiped the tears from her face, rubbing her palms against her cheeks. She could go back, but there was nothing left to go back to. The way she had come was shrouded in fog. The way forward was shrouded in fog, too, but it somehow looked less threatening.

She turned forward with a grim smile. This wasn’t what she’d expected. Not that she’d really expected anything. Images of bright, shiny escalators ascending to the clouds came to mind. This was at least marginally better.

The bridge felt like it would go on forever, but she kept placing one foot in front of the other until suddenly, unexpectedly, there was grass under her feet again.

Finally, the pearly gates.

Ok, so there were gates, even if they weren’t pearly in the least. A few yards ahead of her stood a gray stone wall, stretching as far to either side as the eye could see, punctuated by a simple wooden gate. The thick wooden slats were held shut with black iron bolts.

She could, she reasoned, climb over it if need be. It was too tall to jump, but the assorted stones looked like they’d provide decent hand-grips.

“No need for that, young lady.”

A brisk voice came from the foot of the wall.

“Step right up here, if you please.”

She stepped forward to greet the small man seated behind a large, cherry-wood desk by the gate.

As she stepped closer, she could see the surface was covered in paperwork.

The man had short-cropped white hair and a neatly-trimmed beard. Upon closer inspection, she noted the t-shirt he was wearing. “Jesus is my homeboy” it proclaimed in bright blue letters.

She tried really hard not to smile. And she failed.

“Hey,” he said. “If anyone’s gonna wear it, it should be me, right? And I’ll have you know that I started the trend.”

“Are you Saint Peter?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he said, shuffling a handful of papers and setting it aside. “You can call me Pete.”

She didn’t know what to say to that, so she just waited patiently as he shuffled around some more papers.

“Bureaucracy, right?” he said. “You can’t get away from it anywhere.”

A little more shuffling yielded a packet of papers with her name on it. Reaching into a drawer, he pulled out a white-and-gold cardstock folder and handed it to her.

“Here is your welcome folder,” he said. “All of the information you need will be in there. Rules and regulations… that sort of thing. And a coupon for a free massage. Magdalene’s massages rock – trust me.”

He handed her the folder and pushed the smaller packet across the desk.

“This,” he said. “Is just a formality. Sign and date on the dotted line, to confirm receipt of your welcome packet and a date-stamp of your arrival.”

She reached forward to take the gold-tipped feather quill he offered her, only to get a whiff of garlic breath. Her nose wrinkled before she could stop herself.

“Sorry,” he said. “Man cannot live on bread alone. I had Matthew’s Linguine Carbonara with lobster for lunch – his cheesy garlic bread is to die for, if you’ll pardon the pun.”

“And,” he leaned forward so that she inadvertently got another whiff of garlic breath. “You never gain any weight.”

She took the quill and hesitated before signing.

“This is it?” she asked. “This is death? This is heaven?”

“I wouldn’t say this is it, exactly,” he told her. “But it’s a start.”

“I don’t know what I expected,” she admitted.

She’d thought something along the line of glowing lights and a heavenly choir.

“Things are rarely the way you expect them to be,” he said. “In this life or after.”

She signed on the dotted line and felt a bit better for having done it. She handed the paperwork back and looked into his kind blue eyes.

“Up here,” he told her. “Just like down there, life is what you make of it.”

“If you find the beauty in every day,” he added. “Then there will be beauty.”

She nodded at him and stepped up to the gate, watching as it slowly creaked open.

“There will be beauty,” she whispered.

Writing Prompt: heaven garlic bridge

Prompt courtesy of: http://writingexercises.co.uk/take-three-nouns.php

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