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The Problem With Paradise
I miss Johnny Carson. I'm watching this comedian who's young enough to be my grandson tell jokes that probably wouldn't be funny even if I did know who this Justin Bieber fellow was. But this is how I got to sleep every night ever since I could afford a TV in the bedroom. I turn over and look at my wife, Ann. She's already passed out, so I can switch the channel to something she doesn't like. I flip through the channels, and I end up settling on some show about these rednecks with long beards who...zzzz.....
I sleep for a few hours, then I see the bright white light that everyone keeps talking about. My eyes adjust, and it's a meadow. Sitting on a bench is my late first wife, Gretchen. She looks the same way she did before we married and had four kids. A daisy is pinned up in her long dark brown hair and she is wearing the same red sundress with white polka-dots that she wore the summer after high school.
She smiles when she sees me. It's her near-perfect original teeth, complete with the gap between the two front ones.
"Hello Frank," she says.
"Am I dreaming?" I ask.
"Nope." she says.
"Am I dead? Is this Heaven?"
"Probably and mostly."
She explains. "I say probably because I've seen people leave and come back. Miracles of modern medicine and all that. And it's Heaven, most of the time. There are a lot of other people here. More than you can imagine. You just have to be a good person to get here, not necessarily a nice person."
"Oh. Well how did I die?"
She shrugged. "I don't know. I wasn't there. You have to wait for someone who knows how you died to get here and tell you what happened. Your brother told me I fell in the shower and broke my neck."
"Yeah, sorry I didn't get that handhold bar installed."
She waved her hand to dismiss the matter. "Eternity is a long time to dwell on stuff like that. I could have called the contractor myself. We don't need to talk about that right now or ever again."
"Is anyone else here in this park right now?"
"Not if you don't want them to be."
"So we can..."
"That's why I was waiting for you," she says with a smile.
We roll around in the grass, again and again. I lose track of how many times. And I don't even have to rest in between times. It's like being 18 again, only I have even more energy.
Eventually she pushes me off. "That's plenty, big guy."
I sit in the grass, thinking about who else I would like to meet.
"I'd like to see Corey." Corey was the infant son that we had who died in his crib. Of all things that makes me glad that there's an afterlife, it's that.
Gretchen looks away. "I've tried to find him myself. I'm told it can be hard to find particular people."
"How can this be Heaven if families aren't together?"
"I'm told that when children die before their parents, someone else up here adopts them. He was so little when he got here and it's been so long that he just won't remember us."
Does Heaven have a complaint department? I drive the thought out of my mind; anyone who would complain about this place clearly doesn't belong here. "What else is there to do?" I ask.
Gretchen takes my hand, and suddenly we are in a restaurant that gives away unlimited steaks and beer. The place is crowded with an eclectic assortment of men in suits and uniforms from various countries and eras and women in robes, evening gowns, cocktail dresses, and pantsuits. Yet we have no trouble finding a table.
"Is there a waiter?"
"Nobody has to work as a waiter in Heaven. Just imagine what you want."
A glass of drought stout appeared on the table. I took a sip, and the glass kept refilling itself. Then this guy with a goatee wearing a old fashion tunic walks up and sits down next to Gretchen.
"Hey!" I protest, wondering what would happen if I try to punch this guy.
Gretchen blushes but makes the introduction. "Frank, this is Pierre. He is a 16th century French poet."
"Sure he is," I say. "Can we meet a real celebrity like Elvis or Marilyn Monroe?"
"They're pretty choosy about who they hang out with." Gretchen explains.
"My apologies if you don't recognize me, Monsieur," says Pierre. "I was never famous when I was alive. Most of my writings were lost in a fire. But up here, a full catalog of my work is available in every language. It actually sounds best when you read it in ancient Phoenician if you want my opinion." He puts his arm around my wife as if I'm not even here.
"Gretchen, what's going on here?"
"Our vows said 'till death do us part'. But I was going to wait for you until I found out that you got remarried."
"Monsieur, monogamy is pointless here," says Pierre. "There are no diseases or pregnancy here. You can be with Gretchen as many times as she'll have you, and you can be with countless other women as well." Then he shrugged, took a sip of wine, and added "But if you prefer, you can remain faithful to your wife who is still alive."
I thought about it. If I really can do whatever I want...and just like that I was in a hot tub with several strange women. I then began to act out every variation of every fantasy I ever had. Blonde Asian with blue eyes? That happened, though she admitted that she was actually a white woman who was really into anime. A lot of people change into whatever form they like. I declined her offer to hang out with some furries. As it turns out, there are way more orgies in Heaven than the Catholic Church will admit to.
I didn't think it was possible, but even I get bored with sex after a while. I was always more into the thrill of the chase anyway, so I decided to try auto racing. And straightaway I was inside a open wheel race car at the starting line of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. My competition includes dozens of cars from various eras, and even a couple guys on horseback. The green flag goes down and we are off. I mash the pedal to the floor. I get an early lead but I slam into the wall at the first turn. But my car is undamaged and I stay in the race. Horses and historic Frontenac race cars keep up with the pack at over 200 miles an hour. In the final laps I fight my way to the front and finish first.
An official approaches me with a bottle of milk and a trophy.
"They let me win, didn't they?" I ask.
"Well of course. You wanted to win didn't you?"
"Yes, but I wanted a real race."
"In a real race, you would have been killed in the first lap. How can we have real sports when the laws of physics don't apply? We gave up on baseball long ago when every pitch resulted in a home run."
I sigh. "Look, I know I can have anything I want, but what I really want is a challenge. Something I can succeed or fail at. Something with consequences."
The official raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure? Because we can make that happen."
"Yes. I'm sure."
Suddenly I am in a pitch black place that is wet and warm. Did I offend somebody important? I reach out with my hands and feet, looking for some kind of opening. The wall in front of me keeps bouncing back, no matter how much I hit, kick, and scratch. I am trapped and I can't get out.
Time goes on and it feels like I've been here longer than I was in Heaven. Then the walls around me squeeze, and my head is partially forced through an opening. It's very cold, but it's a way out. But I'm too weak to pull myself the rest of the way out.
The walls squeeze against me more, and the rest of my head emerges through the opening. The light is so bright that I can't open my eyes. Two giant hands grab my head, then I come the rest of the way out.
I am surrounded by giants at least a dozen times my size. They are jabbering in a language that I can't understand. A long, coiled cord connects my stomach to the crotch of a humongous woman who is smiling at me. And all I can do is scream in terror.
r.tornello - Not sure why but this would not be one of my favorite short stories. I'll have to think of it a bit more. In fact I have been since I read it earlier. I do have to wonder when a baby cries now, is it this story?
micheledutcher - mark211 said: This is excellent – there is really little else to add to that but in the interests of constructive criticism I will try: the narrator's voice is dry and witty, without ever being acerbic, which suits the tone of the story completely; you give enough detail to inspire sympathy but not so much that it descends into sentimentality; also of course, the problem at the heart of the story itself is a perennial one which most everyone can identify with – when we are near ground into the dirt by pressure of work, we long for little else but a little free time to be ourselves but then – on the rare occasions where we get free of such stress, life can seem strangely anodyne.
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