By Joanna Bressler
God is interrogating me.
I’m not standing in front of any pearly gates. All I can see is a pale misty nothingness. A tinge of iceberg blue wafts by now and then. God’s voice, however, electrocutes me each time He speaks. It doesn’t kill me, possibly because I’m already dead, but being dead doesn’t seem to stop the pain.
When I was alive, I was the kind of person who couldn’t seem to grasp life by the throat and mold it to her wishes. Plans, goals, persistence, determination, these eluded me. I fancied myself a writer but never published.
I died of an extremely curable cancer. Thus, given the kind of person I was, most of the people who knew me assumed that my death was not from the cancer itself but from my failure to muster up the requisite fighting spirit.
God’s voice booms out into the ether. “This is your eternal life in the balance. Could you please try to concentrate?”
He’s already grilled me for hours. Or perhaps here it’s been days. Centuries?
And He’s displeased.
I was always late handing in assignments. Often I didn’t pay back money I borrowed. I gossiped. I was critical when I should have been humble. I flirted with my friends’ boyfriends, and girlfriends too, although God said it was the disloyalty that was bad, not the bisexuality.
I’m concerned now that He will start in about my worshipping graven images. I decorated my apartment with Buddha statues, Navajo fetishes, Balinese spirit masks. I consulted the I Ching, the Rune Stones, the Tarot, the Gypsy Fortune Telling Cards. Often. I was trying to find my spirituality. It’s clear in hindsight I made some piss poor religious choices.
I shiver with fear. And with cold. It’s freezing in the mists outside heaven. I died in a flimsy hospital gown. Try not to do that. If you possibly can manage it, die in a heavy sweater.
When a metal folding chair appears out of the ether — God is great! — I gather my hospital gown under me so I won’t stick to the seat. The two sides separate as I lower myself and I can feel my buttocks adhering to the metal.
I try to banish the thought that God should at least provide a cushion. He can read minds and, so far, not good.
“Why didn’t you clean your refrigerator coils?”
“What? Were they dirty?”
“On the same theme, why didn’t you wash your kitchen floor?”
“Wait, wait, God, I know the answer to that. I never had time for housekeeping because I was so devoted to my writing.”
A huge marble hand appears out of the mist. Its perfectly limned palm presses against my chest and clutches my heart.
The Hand of God. You’ll know it when you feel it.
As I’m disintegrating from indescribable chest pain, cold, fatigue, electrocution, bare behind, anxiety, shame, terror and poor self-image, God intones, “How come the overuse of metaphors?”
“Your metaphors. Why so many?”
“I thought metaphors were good.”
“Yes, when they’re original.”
I can’t say anything. First of all, I might come up with an unoriginal metaphor, and second, my teeth are chattering.
The pause is long.
I would say it was the calm before the storm except it is already storming. Stalactites are forming on my legs, or maybe they’re stalagmites. Which was which? It was something to do with direction.
“Stalagmites go up from the floor, young lady, stalactites come down from the ceiling. I think.”
Ah, you see, God is perfect but who doesn’t have trouble with stalactites and stalagmites?
“Did language mean nothing to you? Most writers try to avoid cliches. They search for exactly the right word to describe something.”
“I did try, God. I really did try. It’s just my parents couldn’t afford an Ivy League college.”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake. Why didn’t you apply to an M.F.A. program? Why didn’t you social network? Why didn’t you have a writing schedule? Why didn’t you finish your stories?”
God continues listing my writing sins. Flat characters, formulaic plots, cloying sentimentality, abrupt point-of-view shifts, erratic punctuation, resistance to editorial suggestions, memoir passed off as fiction, fiction passed off as memoir. He culminates with the accusation that I had absolutely no understanding whatsoever of the Omniscient Narrator.
And then God cut, not to the jugular but through the jugular, and not metaphorically, “And what did you do instead? What? What? I’ll tell you what. Minesweeper! Solitaire! Free Cell! Hearts! Mahjong! Marble Lines! Candy Crush!”
I clutch at my throat to stop bleeding to death — yes, hope does spring eternal — but God pushes me backward with His huge hand.
I lose the chair and pass out in the agony of my behind, without an epidermis and possibly without a dermis too, separating from the metal.
When I come to, the atmosphere is no longer white and wispy. It has streaks of red and black, sounds of screaming, a rancid smell of burning flesh.
However, I’m not quite as cold. I’m almost grateful as a hot wind blows my hospital gown off and I stand naked.
Another gigantic body part looms up in front of me. Definitely not God’s.
This one is an enormous head, nostrils flaring and filled with snot. Licking flames tattoo its cheeks. Its lips draw wide into a smile so savage and loathsome that any writer, even a really good one, would search in vain for the right words to describe it.
Extending a tongue like a bloated scarlet leech, the head blares, “So, girlie, you failed your post-mortem exam. What was it? Your writing didn’t meet God’s standards? Not to worry. We’ve got a required course in it. Seven hundred novellas due by Spring Break. Hand-written. Come on in, honey buns, plop yourself down in the fire.”