Note: This is a quick, thoughtful piece I did for an anthology a (long) while back. The notions of rebirth and resurrection have always fascinated me. I wonder if heaven’s waiting room might be anything like this.
* * *
I was ready to die. Laying in the hospital bed, a feverish aching clinging to every crevice of my being, I welcomed death’s escape. I closed my eyes, let go, let the pain wash over me like a tidal wave, separating soul from flesh, carrying me out of my diseased body and away from the perils of Earth forever.
And yet I could still hear myself thinking, still hear myself wondering if I’d truly passed on, or if I wasn’t just living out the madness of another bout of delirium.
I opened my eyes and found myself lying on a rounded, sandy rock a dozen or so yards across. At the center of the rock a single apple tree bore its fruit and provided adequate shade from an omnipotent sun that seemed to shine from all parts of the cloudless sky.
Heaven, I thought. Somehow not what I’d expected. A desert island floating in the center of a vast, motionless ocean. I got to my feet (noting that my body was bare) and walked to the edge of the rock, where I peered down into the water. It was so clear and so still that I could have seen all the way to the bottom had it not been so incredibly deep. Everything here was pristine, but incomplete—like a painting that hadn’t been finished.
Nevertheless, I was content, free of pain, free of worry. I spent many days happily being. I went swimming; I basked in the sun; I sat in the shade of my apple tree and feasted on its fruit; I drifted in solitude alongside my thoughts without a care in the world. For a while it was all I needed, this eternal now. Without the incessant battering of society, my mind became serene; without environmental pollution or overindulgence, my body became lean and wiry, devoid of disease, devoid of excess. I could have continued like this indefinitely had the wish truly been mine.
Boredom, however, found its way into my new world. It crept closer with each passing day, each passing lifetime. At long last I found myself beginning to wonder: Was this all there was? Lying here on my rock, passing days as if they were minutes? Speaking out loud to myself every so often just to be sure I still recognized the sound of my own voice? Masturbating in silence while trying to recall a woman’s touch? There were, of course, no women here. There was no one here but myself.
On one occasion it rained. Torrents of water droplets fell from invisible clouds. Despite the initial thrill of such a change in routine, I soon became wet and cold. There was little to cover myself with, so I merely crouched under the apple tree and waited it out. The storm continued for what seemed like days, drenching me to the bone. Then, just as I got used to the incessant moisture, the rain stopped and all was serene once again.
I was unexpectedly disappointed.
Another lifetime passed, and nothing changed. I eventually became frustrated and so proceeded to pick all the apples from my tree and hurl them into the ocean. Then I sat near the water and watched for days as the apples floated in a stationary fashion. There was no current, no past or future. Only absolute peace. Absolute solitude.
Perhaps the former was not possible without the latter.
The apples eventually rotted, and my hunger became unbearable. I soon began wasting away, laying prone beneath the stripped apple tree and watching as the muscles of my arms diminished, the skin became loose and papery.
Funny, I thought. To die in Heaven.
I should have been upset, apprehensive, afraid—instead I welcomed the transition. It was a change, a moving path…even if the end result was yet another unknown.
At long last, I faded away, succumbing to the proverbial white light, which surrounded me like a blanket as an unseen force lifted me upward, carrying me by my feet through a murky tunnel, up above Heaven, above the deep womb of the universe, out into a frigid, stark room where I was suddenly surrounded by people much larger than I was, much louder.
As soon as the memory flashed in my mind, it began to fade away. I tried to talk, tried to open my eyes wider to see what was happening, but I’d forgotten how. Suddenly everything I knew was slipping away, fading into the recesses of my memory as a newness rushed in like air into a vacuum. I started crying, frustrated, saddened—elated.
“Congratulations, it’s a boy,” said someone standing above.
Alas, too late, for I could no longer understand the words.